Cycling up Pike’s Peak

wp-1467245211437.jpegThe second leg of the bike tour began today. I said a tearful goodbye to Noah and Eli early this morning and then headed out to the great big world all by my lonesome.

As I rode out the driveway I had two alternate plans for the day forming in my mind. Plan one: ride the 65 miles to Hartsel, Colorado and rejoin the Transam Trail. Plan two: ride up to the summit of Pike’s Peak and spend the night in a campground ten miles away from my brother’s house.

The entire time my family and I were visiting in Silverthorne, I had planned to ride up Pike’s Peak, but when Noah and I returned to Colorado Springs with Eli, I made a grave mistake.

I googled, “cycling up Pike’s Peak”.

Suddenly I realized that the climb would be really tough. I got scared.

So this morning I made a deal with myself. I would ride up to the toll gate (using the road to the summit costs $12) and ask the rangers if they could hold on to my heavy panniers while I rode to the top. If they refused, I would turn around and ride to Hartsel.

wp-1467245404240.jpegBut the lady collecting the tolls was super awesome and did not hesitate in allowing my panniers to hang out with her in the tollbooth. I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or petrified, but either way it was time to climb.

I made the turtle my role model for my ascent, I had 19 miles of road to travel before the summit and those 19 miles were the slowest I have ever ridden. It took me five hours in total! Halfway up the mountain, I met a young, thin guy who was also climbing to the top. We chatted for a bit, complaining over the price of water (3 bucks a bottle!!!), and encouraging each other that we could indeed make it to the top of this stupid road. He was going faster than I and I tried keeping up with him for a few minutes but then I realized that I would not finish the climb unless I did it at my own gentle pace. The thin alpine air was my enemy and I wasn’t letting it beat me down.

wp-1467245323922.jpegI rode up switchback after switchback, wondering which bend in the road would be the one that would trigger extreme suffering. But physically and mentally I was doing great. Many of the people passing in their cars cheered for me as they left me far behind and it meant the world to me on that lonely mountain. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Then the thunderstorm came. I have never been afraid of lightning before, but above the tree line there was no shelter and I felt so exposed to the furious power of the storm. The thunder ricocheted its explosive blasts across the mountain range. I prayed for safety with each pedal stroke and then, just like in every snowstorm, I felt the overwhelming presence of God. He had been with me the entire time, I just hadn’t been paying attention.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything was easy-peasy, pumpkin pie. Oh no, because that is when hail/sheet stuff began a barrage against me. I stopped to put on another layer of clothes, those things hurt!

With four miles to go, things looked bleak.

But my pace was so slow that the storm only lasted for three miles. Then the sky cleared and the people coming down the mountain kept yelling out of their cars, “You are almost there!”

And suddenly I had finished the last switchback and I was clear up to the highest point of the mountain. I couldn’t control the dry, weird sobs that came from the back of throat.

First, I felt relief.

Then, I felt happy.

And then, I got scared.

I had a mountain to descend, and it was wet. I began seriously considering trying to find someone who could haul my bike and I back down the switchbacks. As Noah will readily confirm, I have terrible descending skills. One curve on a hill? Cool, I got that. But if things are more complicated than that, I crawl down hills at speeds that would only make snails proud.

But while I was eating greasy doughnuts and hot dogs, the road dried up. I bought a warm, very expensive, hoodie (my clothes were so soaked that I would have frozen in the first five minutes of my ride back), took a few pictures and shakily got back on the bike.

It was time to fly. Within a few miles my fears dissipated like the water on the road. This was fun! Even though I remained very cautious, I was passing car after car. I sang happily all the way down to the tollbooth.

Climb every Mountain. It’s worth it!

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Life after the tour.

wp-1466727043445.jpegThirty-four days isn’t much time. But Noah and I changed so much over the past month, that coming back to civilization has been a bit of a shock. We no longer need to scrounge around for water, food, showers, wifi, electrical outlets or bathrooms. Everything we need (and much more) is available to us 24/7. We have pillows again, real mattresses, a kitchen to cook in, fluffy bath towels…it is insane how much stuff I took for granted before this trip.

And what have I been doing with unlimited wifi? Mainly keeping up with the  TransAm race, to be honest. I cheered so hard when Lael Wilcox sealed the win. Seeing a woman win a endurance race like this is unbelievably cool.

It is also weird that suddenly riding my bike is just a part of my day instead of the main activity of each day. Riding at the higher altitude (9,500 ft) means fantastic views and cool descents but my lungs are constantly telling me that they hate me for bringing them here. I haven’t felt this out of shape in a long time, which is rather ironic because technically I am in the best shape of my life.

The condo we are staying in has a really great view of Bear Mountain and so today all seven of us decided to climb the 3,000+ ft to the summit. I have hiked in the Adirondacks before but I have never attempted to scale a mountain like this. It was pretty intense-and then we got to the boulders. Instead of bothering to find the trail, we clambered staight up the rocks.

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Little marmot friend

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Flowers at 12,000 ft

I am deeply afraid of heights and the possibility of falling makes me shudder in fear, so climbing up the mountainside in this manner was terrifying. Every time I felt a rock shift or made the mistake of looking down, I could feel the panic setting in.

“God, help me!”

And He did, one boulder at a time. I made it the end of the rocky section and rejoined my brothers with a spring in my step.

“That is the scariest thing I have ever done in my whole life!” I exclaimed.

“Well then, you need to do more scary things.” One of my brothers responded. He may be on to something. Before I started winter biking I avoided scary situations like the plague. But riding in snowstorms taught me that some “scary” situations are not scary at all. They are just fun mixed with adrenaline. Winter biking started a snowball effect in my life, slowly I gained the courage to do things that I never thought possible. But I still have some fears to overcome, maybe I need to keep climbing up mountains until heights no longer disturb me.

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We found snow! 

And then we made it to the summit and it was beautiful! (I just had to keep reminding myself that I was safe and there was no danger of falling…)  We saw a pika and a ptarmigan and lots of mountain goat droppings, but no actual goats.

I twisted my ankle on the way down, so the rest of the hike was rather painful. It is a mild sprain though, so I should be good to go biking this evening.

Speaking of biking, I have figured out what I am doing after hanging out in Colorado with my brother and the rest of the family. Originally, I was thinking of biking back home and/or doing some organized rides out here, but now there is only one thing that I really want to do.

I ordered the next two maps of the TransAmerican Trail which will take me up to Yellowstone park. I had no other option: I have the gear, the time and the resources to keep riding  the trail…the temptation to continue touring was more than I could resist. In a week or so I will be on the road again and I am very excited indeed!

Tour Completed!

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34 days.
2,320 miles.

We made it to our brother’s house early this afternoon. He is not actually here, he is working right now, but he stopped in last night at the city park where we were camping to hang out for a few hours which was super awesome. It has been such a long time since we have seen him!wp-1466468961818.jpeg

My parents and two of my other brothers are coming to Colorado tomorrow (they are flying in a plane…how weird is that, everyone knows that the best way to get to Colorado is to bike here) and we are all going to Silverthorne, Colorado together.

The mountains are breathtaking, I haven’t seen mountains like these since I was ten years old and I am having a hard time believing that these things are actually real. They are so big!

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We can see Pike’s Peak from my brother’s balcony, it’s insane. (I will take better pictures of the mountains at some point…I am just feeling lazy today)

After settling in at my brother’s house, I went for a two-mile ride to the grocery store and back-it was the most scenic grocery store run I have ever been on in my life. I was so awestruck that I had to keep reminding myself to pay attention to traffic. If I had caused an accident I would have blamed it on the mountains, how dare they be that enchanting!

After I post this, I am going to figure out where I want to ride tomorrow-I can’t wait to get an even closer look at these intimidating, magnificent peaks.

I thought this tour was gonna be fun.
But I didn’t realise it would be this much fun.
I thought we would make some cool memories.
But I never dreamed we would make this many cool memories.
I thought my brother would make a great riding partner.
But I didn’t imagine just how great he would be.
I prayed that God would bless us.
And I feel blessed all the way down to the tips of my toes.

 

Cycling In Kansas

wp-1466106860502.jpegThis is the sixth day we have been riding in Kansas. Contrary to a former personally held belief, riding through Kansas is not boring. At all.

First of all, we have met some really great animals. We saw prairie dogs yesterday, a whole colony all chattering their heads off. Randomly seeing a herd of Zebras was awesome, even though they just wanted to bite our fingers off. My favorite was the wild mustangs which you see in the picture above.

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Noah and I had stopped in a tiny diner in a tiny town to ask to use the restroom and the smiling owner said, “Of course!” and pulled out a registry where thousands of other cyclists that have stopped in at this diner have signed their names over the decades. (The registry thing is a common occurrence, many small-town stores, libraries, churches, city halls and restaurants have guestbooks for us cyclists to sign, it is really neat to read through the pages.)

The owner chatted with us for a while and mentioned where we could find a herd of wild horses. These mustangs originally lived in Colorado but to preserve the herd they now live on a ranch here in Kansas. Noah and I watched the horses gallop across their “range”, and we could still tell how untamed and free their spirits were. (And how ungroomed by humans they are, if you look closely at the photo you can see how many of the horses tails are matted.)

Also, the people of Kansas have been amazing. From the friendly cops, to the waving motorists and the random strangers who ask us where we are from and where we are headed-everyone has been wonderful. Of course, some folks go even beyond that, giving us a place to stay for the night, a free meal or both!wp-1466013066574.jpeg

Meeting up with other touring cyclists is always a joy, it is a great feeling to know that there are others who are traveling “along with” you. Some cyclists we only see in passing: they are headed east, while we are headed west-but even so we usually stop and chat for a few minutes and it is fascinating to discover how global cycle touring is, we have met people from all over the world!

But some cyclists are going our direction so we get to see these folks frequently. Ayana is a young lady from Israel and she has been great to hang out with. We met Dan and Brianne and their two children, Aaron and Connor in Fordsville, KY  and they have been looking out for us ever since on the road. Dan is great fun to ride with and I have really enjoying talking with Brianne. I can’t even explain how awesome their family is (and their dog!) we are really gonna miss them when we reach Colorado!

And finally the past few days have been filled with heady excitement as the TransAm racers have started to fly by us! The TransAm race is one of the most intense endurance races that exists- and each racer is completely on their own. They carry everything they need for the trip, they have to stop to get food and water and find places to rest, just like Noah and I and yet some of them will cycle 4,400 miles in under 20 days.  They are insanely talented athletes and it has been ridiculously cool to see them racing.

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Steffan

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Lael and Evan

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Kai

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Sarah

They are super friendly as well, everyone smiles and waves. We have also chatted with Steffan, Sarah, Ken and Markku. One thing that blows me away is how open they are about sharing their struggles in this race. Whether it is the headwind, homesickness, heat or just the overwhelming feeling of pain that comes with pushing your body to its absolute limits, these cyclists are giving their all to do the best they can in this race. As a woman cyclist it has been so inspiring to me to see Lael, Sarah and Janie riding across the nation at top speed.

So if you ever want to have immersive experience in an epic race, ride the TransAmerican trail during the TransAm race. I would recommend Kansas as the ultimate state to meet the racers in, the flat terrain and long stretches of open road make it easy to spot the riders coming and cheer them on. (Also, if possible, have someone who can text you about who you will meet up with next. Thanks so much, Dad!!)

Noah and I are plodding very slowly across Kansas compared to the racers, but I gotta admit, we are making good progress. Today was a 64 mile day which is pretty average for us, but the three days before that we rode 77, 85 and 90 miles-and it has been really hot out too! It is so weird, yesterday was our 90 mile day and it should have been really rough but a magical thing happened. The last 20 miles of our day we had the most perfect tailwind I have ever experienced. We ended our 90 mile day soaring down the road at 20 to 25+ mph and we got to our campground before we even knew what had happened. (The only sad thing was that there was no where to get food in town so to celebrate our epic ride we ate clif bars and trail mix…)wp-1466107560898.jpeg

 

Everything is better on a bicycle!

wp-1465418482600.jpegYesterday was our most physically challenging day of the tour so far. The distance was doable (70 miles) but the terrain was hilly and we ended up climbing over 3,500 feet. So today we decided to be smart and give our bodies a rest. Not sure if a 20 mile bike ride in the Ozarks is really a rest day, but it has been a rest compared to yesterday!

Here is the thing though: we may have climbed 3,500 ft yesterday but we descended nearly 4,000 ft. It was incredible and sure enough those speed records of ours got smashed. For two days in a row now I have reached speeds of 47mph on my bike and, yeah, that feeling is hard to let go of, it is unbelievable!

The sound of the wind screaming past.
The sensation of flying free.
The crazy adrenaline rush.

I would re-live yesterday over and over again if I could!

Our rest day has been a good day to catch up on jotting notes about the trip so I will conclude this post by sharing a few of our exploits, especially those concerning panniers.

You see, before this trip, I thought I was pretty handy in using my bike to transport anything, but the last week has proved that I have only scratched the surface of what a bike can haul.

First up was the pizza box. It doesn’t push the boundaries of ingenuity or creativity by much but the responsibility of carrying pizza on a bike is a grave one. If the box had slipped and the pizza had crashed with a sickening thud onto the pavement…Noah and I probably would have cried like little, hungry puppies.

The next challenge was a bit trickier.

I was riding in front of Noah when I heard a very insistent meowing sound coming from the grass alongside the road.

“Is that a bird or a cat?” I called back to him.

“I think it’s a bird.” He responded.

But it wasn’t a bird. Noah saw a little black kitten pop it’s head out of the grass. He stopped and coaxed the kitten toward him.wp-1465420719151.jpeg

The poor little kitty kept meowing, it was obviously lost, alone and hungry. So we fed her cornbread. Then I called the Sheriff’s office and they said if we dropped her off they could find her a good home. Now the dilemma facing us was how to take the kitten the eight miles to the Sheriff’s office. Finally, I placed her inside my breathable, athletic bag and placed the bag inside my open pannier.

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At first we tried stuffing her in my back pocket, but that clearly was not gonna work!

I was so nervous she would jump out, or overheat in the bag that I kept one of my hands touching her for most of the eight miles. During the ride, she alternated between napping, meowing noisily, licking my hand and trying to escape. It was a relief to hand her over safely to the lady in the office, but for the next few miles my pannier suddenly seemed depressingly boring without a squirming little kitty.

Unfortunately, the last hauling experience wasn’t cute or fun, it was just plain tough. Noah had broken two of his spokes and spoke repair is something I have no experience with (yet). I was completely flustered so I called my bike shop back home. Before the trip, Jake had told me that I could call him if we ever needed advice on the road, it was such a relief to dial to his number. He told us that the bike was rideable until we reached a bike shop, but that it would be wise to lighten the load on the back wheel as much as possible.

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This is me, contemplating what my life has become.

We only had 8 miles left to go that day, so the easiest solution was to pile Noah’s panniers on my bike. Both of us packed light for this trip so that we could carry everything on the backs of our bikes, but really it is ideal to have the weight distributed between the front and back. Now I did have a heavy load and it was all in the back. While going up one steep hill, I found it nearly impossible to keep my front wheel on the ground. Yes, learning how to wheelie on a bike would be cool, but not when that wheelie would cause me and my bike to tumble-down a hill.

As I was straining, red-faced up the hills, Noah danced up them on his practically weightless bike. He teased me the entire way by groaning dramatically about how steep the climbs were and complaining about how exhausted he was. I couldn’t laugh over my huffing and puffing so I just rolled my eyes at him and warned him that I was going to break my spokes so that he would have to return the favor.

My question is this-is transporting a cat, a pizza or a person’s stuff or going 47 mph in a car very exciting? Probably not.

But on a bike? Oh yes, because somehow bikes turn everything into an adventure!

West of the Mississippi

wp-1465251175947.jpegIt has been such a good day today.

First of all, we crossed the Mississippi! (And I took zero pictures because there was no place I felt safe to do so…) We are in Missouri and have begun our climb into the Ozarks. There were so many little rolling hills today, the perfect kind where if you sprint really hard on the downhill you can fly up the next hill without even trying.

Noah is more a fan of gradual grades, so I don’t think he was quite as delighted as I was but we both broke our personal speed records on one glorious downhill slope and I think he would agree it was mad fun. He broke the 40 mph barrier for the first time and got up to 40.7 mph and I made it up to 43.6 mph. I have a feeling we will be setting new personal bests again soon, the Ozarks have some great hills to fly down.wp-1465251329215.jpeg

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The state routes in Missouri are marked with letters not numbers and the signs look like scabble tiles! Noah didn’t believe me until he saw the signs. Kept us chuckling all day long.

The scenery is insanely beautiful, sometimes even biking seems way too fast to take it all in. We also saw armadillos for the first time today. There were three of them and they were all dead. Thank you, vehicles.

That is the roughest part of cycling for me, seeing all the roadkill every day. In the past week we have seen dozens of smashed turtle shells each day. But we do help some cross the road successfully so that makes us smile!

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The entire point of bike touring is to make friends with animals along the way.

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This cat was something else! While we were petting the horses, it dashed across a field to steal the spotlight. What a friendly kitty!

Another thing that made Noah and I happy was the news that our parents have booked a place to stay in Silverthorne, Colorado for the week of June 21st and they and two more of our brothers are going to fly out and we are all going to meet up together there. So exciting!!

The only bad event of the day came when I met a beautiful collie as I was passing a farm. I thought he was friendly, so I kept up a medium speed and just said, “Good dog!” as I passed him.

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This dog on the other hand, was a good dog. He never barked at us, just joyfully ran alongside us for half a mile before running home. (He did run right in front of Noah’s wheel and both of them got a few scratches…but it was an accident.)

But he was not a good dog. He bared his teeth and bit into my pannier, snapping one off my clips and pulling the entire bag off the rack. He tried to drag it off the road but I yelled at him and then Noah came to help me as well. Of course, the owner was mystified that her dog would cause that sort of damage.

“He always chases the cyclist’s but he never hurts them!” Hmmm. I love dogs, but I really wish more dog owners would understand that dogs instinctively chase and bite things that move. Bicycles are the perfect dog magnets! Whether they mean real harm or not, it always puts me on edge to see a dog running across a field toward my bike. I asked the owner to please restrain their dog because I knew that one of the cyclists we have met on the Trans America Trail would be passing by later and I didn’t want the dog to take out his panniers as well! (He and his family are awesome, here is their website if you want to check them out.)

Noah rigged up a couple of bungee cords to keep the pannier in place and we rode the rest of the day without anymore problems.

And now we are at a nice little campground and the only thing I can think about is how I never, ever, ever, want this trip to end.

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Camping a few nights ago on Crab Orchard Lake

 

 

 

Bumps or blessings?

wp-1464918205818.jpegMay was such a cool month, this whole “touring and being able to ride whenever I want to” thing ended with a record amount of cycling for me, 1474 miles in total! But I have to admit the very last day of May was a tough one.

We planned to make it to Hawesville, KY, which was 94 miles away but at 3:30 in the afternoon, we realized that I had miscalculated the miles and it was a total of 112 miles to Hawesville. Noah insisted that he could do it, but we had done our first 90+ day of the tour the prior day and I could sense that his muscles needed a rest. I didn’t doubt that he could do the full 112 miles, but they were over hilly terrain and I was afraid that it might end up being a slow crawl that would overtax our bodies and leave us sore for days.

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When I see a cute calf I have to steal it, that’s why!

It was the hardest thing to hold Noah back and say that we needed to find a different place to stay for the night. I felt so bad about my poor planning skills that I began bawling my eyes out. Noah was quite concerned over my emotional meltdown, but I tried to reassure him that I was okay, I just felt a lot of responsibility and I was feeling like I let him down. He was expecting to conquer another high mileage day, but now that hope was crushed. By me. (Yeah, it seems like a silly thing to cry over now, but in that moment, crying was the only logical thing to do.)

To make matters worse, the only place we could find to stay was in a town only 5 miles away that had no campground. I wasn’t looking forward to spending an extra $60 to stay in a hotel room that night. We were both discouraged, but we rode to the town and went to a grocery store to buy food for the night.

And that is when a lady walked up to us while we were in the fruit section and asked us about our bike trip. She had seen us in town earlier, while we were looking over our maps. (Just a reminder to you all-we never get lost, when we are stopped and looking at maps we are doing it for entertainment purposes only.) We chatted for a bit and found out she and her family had moved from Watertown, NY (25 miles from where we live) nine months ago. A few moments after our conversation she came back and offered to host us in her backyard that night.

We were two sweaty, smelly strangers but Jay and Amy welcomed us into their home like we were treasured guests. It just got better: Jay and Amy have two wonderful children, Ian and Linnea. As Linnea explained to me, “I am an outdoor girl and I love animals.” We hit it off just fine. She enjoyed looking at all the animal pictures I had taken on the trip, and I told her I would take more pictures. So Linnea, these pictures are for you!wp-1464918838993.jpeg

wp-1464918731513.jpegwp-1464918605443.jpegwp-1464918485016.jpegNoah and I were also delighted to be around dogs again; Sam and Morgan were great to hang out with. Jay, who has served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan, pulled out a box of MRE’s for us to take to help out with meals.

That night as I lay in my tent, watching the fireflies flash in the trees next to me and the stars light up the sky above, I started to cry once again. This time though, my tears were falling not out of frustration or embarrassment but out of awe. God had taken the mistake I had made and turned it into something great. I felt so thankful for Jay and Amy and their willingness to show kindness to a couple of random cyclists.

I can be pretty tough on myself sometimes, but maybe it is okay if I mess up. I may have let Noah down but God will be never let us down. He can transform my failures no matter how big or trivial they are and use them for good.

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The Ohio River

The next morning I woke up feeling renergized and when we were leaving Amy and Linnea prayed with us for safety on the road. In my whole life I have never felt so loved by a family that we had just met the night before. And tonight I am writing this post from First Baptist Church in Sebree, KY, a church that offers wonderful hospitality to passing cyclists. We ate a home cooked meal provided by Bob and Violet with other cyclists who are also riding across the country. (They are cooler than us though, because they are riding all the way to the west coast!)

God is good. And so are the people He has placed in our path.