Sunday, June 25, 2006

Howard's 2006 Ride the Rockies

419 miles later... and we spent the entire weekend recovering. It wasn't enough. And there's not enough Advil in the world to make us all better.

My best girl now frowns when I'm in her field of vision. And when I suggested today that we go for a 20-mile "victory lap" through town to "get back in the saddle", she wasn't pleased. But we did it anyway -- at least until her back tire decided to blowout about 2 1/2 miles from home. Lacking the proper parts to repair her bike--parts I carried in a pack on my bike for Ride the Rockies, but unloaded when we got home as unnecessary weight--I rode home as fast as I could, got the car, and went back out to rescue her. For my reward she announced that she didn't want to go on the 350-mile Tour de Wyoming in July. We'll see...

Here is a day-by-day description of our particular 2006 Ride the Rockies experiences:

Day 0 and Day 1 - To Cortez & Cortez to Durango:
My dad drove with us to Cortez, Colorado where we checked in and unloaded our bikes and two 40-pound bags at the camp site located on a grass field behind Montezuma-Cortez High School. I had paid for the gas to get us there, and I gave my dad another $100 in cash so he could find his way back home. Off he went. I think he headed north to Montrose for the night.

We had the community dinner offered in downtown Cortez, a very nice and sleepy town, demonstrated by the fact that all downtown businesses closed before 8 pm on a Saturday night, despite 2,000 visitors. Dinner was pretty good until I dropped my tortilla on the ground. Unsure if the five-second rule applied in Cortez, it remained uneaten.

Our first overnight was uneventful, interrupted only by honking and the exuberant shouts of teenagers at midnight, a dramatic helicopter search and police sirens at 12:30 am, a thoughtfully pleasant two-minute fireworks display--perhaps by the same teenagers--over tent city at 1 am, and then my fumbling with the digital watch as I tried to turn on the watch's light to see what the time was. Unknowingly, I advanced the watch's time by two hours, which was discovered in the morning as the sounds of zippers and nearby murmering woke us up at 5:30 am. The watch, however, said it was 7:30 am, and fearing that we had overslept, we rushed to get dressed and get going on our first day of biking. Unfortunately, 5:30 am proved to be the usual wake up time for us each day of the week -- not out of eagerness to get going, but due to the sounds of zippers and nearby murmering, which increased in intensity six-fold every 30 seconds like one of those increasingly insistent clock alarms.

We ate a decent breakfast inside the school cafeteria, packed and loaded our gear on the "middle" luggage truck, and left at 7:30 am for Durango, a very short trip east on Highway 160 of 49 miles. We rode past the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park and through the sleepy town of Mancos. Are all southwestern Colorado towns sleepy? It would seem so.

The ride was very pretty and moderately paced -- at least for us. But about halfway through the day while going uphill, I wasn't paying attention as my wife decided to pull over to stop, and I ran into her. Not able to release the cleats of my shoes from the pedals in time, down I went. Actually I flopped over sideways, rolled once in soft dirt, and bounced back up on my feet with a flourish. I'm still not sure how I did it, but the first reaction of my audience was oohs and aahs, but then came the "are you alrights?" Of course I was. After all, Howard is a graceful man. But my wife was not. Alright, I mean. She was upset and decided that it was time to quit right then and there. I explained to her how it was my fault and that I was okay and that we should keep on going, which we did. Being quick learners, we both learned to watch our stops around 2,000 other cyclists after that, which proved to be a good lesson to learn early as dozens of other cyclists had much worse collisions during the mass starts and stops at aid stations throughout the rest of the week.

After a wildly fun 1,800-foot descent into Durango, followed by a vicious 300-foot 3-mile climb up a bluff to Fort Lewis College overlooking the town, we finished our first day of Ride the Rockies, put up our tent, and went in search of showers, grub, and beer. McDonald's and Belgium Brewery to the rescue! A pretty nice first day, though my wife might disagree.

Distance: 49.12 miles
Maximum Speed: 42.2 mph
Average Speed: 13.9 mph
Ride Time: 3:31:35
Total Time: 6 hours 30 minutes

Day 2 - Durango to Pagosa Springs:
Durango is a very nice town, much like the place where I grew up only with mountains, trees, and rivers. Oh yeah, and relatively few mosquitoes. Fort Lewis College, as I said, is on a wonderful bluff overlooking the town, and it is very quiet. Except for the womens softball complex that was noisy and lit up until 10 pm (we went to bed at 9 pm). A man we nicknamed "Bobo" camped right next to us and he could probably hear us breath... and other stuff. So we didn't do any other stuff. My wife said she never slept so close to another man who wasn't a relative (or her architect.)

Breakfast in the school cafeteria was the best we had the entire week since the food was buffet-style and all-you-can-eat for the summer students in attendance. I gorged. Howard has a bottomless pit of a stomach, though still mysteriously retains a pleasing profile.

The initial climb out of Durango was tough, but everyone was in a good mood, supportive, and optimistic. After the climb, the payoff via downhill glides were scenic, fun, and through some of the prettiest pastoral landscapes visited during the entire week.

Then not so good. The countryside became dry and dessicated, and the aid stations were exposed and without shade. The trip from Durango to Pagosa Springs could have been short, steep, and direct via Highway 160, but the tour planners decided on a sort of sin wave of a route where the grade changes were much more gradual, the scenery was scenic, the distances were twice the direct route, and the bottom half of the sin wave was painfully awful and very, very hot. Vans called "SAG wagons" patrol most bike tours like vultures on the prowl for weaklings and dead or dying meat. The SAG wagons on this afternoon were actively circling and plucking up the weaklings and the unprepared. No weaklings we, Howard and Mrs. Howard chugged on, though Advil and shade were in high demand and low supply.

After a long rest at an aid station at the intersection of highways 151 and 160 where bananas were given away as if they were free (they were), and cans of Mountain Dew were sold as though they cost a dollar (they did), Mr. & Mrs. Howard got back on their chrome-alloy horses for the final 20-mile push into Pagosa Springs, where surely good fortune, ample food, cool shade, and warm springs awaited them.

Pagosa Springs was the greatest disappointment of the entire week. Tent city was at the bottom of a dusty trail below the Community Center, which lacked eating facilities and adequate showers. Thus, mobile showers were trucked in and unfortunately located next to tent city. The pumps and compressors made constant noise until the showers were loaded and trucked out at about 10:30 pm.

But the worst came when we decided to eat at the nicest restaurant we could find in town as a reward for the exertion of our 9 1/2-hour ride. Someone recommended Dionigi's Italian Cafe, which turned out to be our worst decision of the entire week. When we and two other couples from Ride the Rockies arrived off the shuttle bus, we were told by the hostess we would have to wait maybe 20 minutes. Forty minutes later, we were at the top of the waiting list, followed by the other two couples. At least we were ahead of them.

Fortunately, the conversation was good and spirits remained optimistic.... until twenty minutes later when the hostess stepped away from the front desk and four women off a new Ride the Rockies shuttle walked straight in and were directly seated by a balding horndog of a manager. Needless to say, the six of us who had waited an hour were not pleased. The hostess said it wasn't her fault, but made no effort to make it right. When my wife asked her what she intended to do, she accused Mrs. Howard of yelling at her. I, who was sitting 10 feet from both of them, could not hear the conversation and was informed of the specifics later. So I'm pretty sure no voices were raised.

They then seated us and one of the other couples. The horndog threw menus at the other couple, but preceeded to ignore us while the third couple left. We never heard from them again.

After 10 minutes without menus or water or a waitress, we also left. I couldn't stand the thought of giving them a cent of my money, and stiffing the waitress her tip made no sense. I've never been to a restaurant where they waive all blame, thus by implication deflecting that blame onto their customers. And then making no effort to make it right. Dionigi's: Worst excuse for a restaurant ever. And Howard is not an exaggerator. Not this time anyway.

The couple that stayed, Jerry and Linda from Lakewood, Colorado, told us afterwards that Dionigi's did not comp them a damned thing. And the food was mediocre to boot. Which made us glad that we walked a few blocks to KFC where the calories were ample and inexpensive, and the servers were gracious, prompt, and eager to help. And the bathrooms were clean.

Thus, we resolved to eat fast food during the remainder of our trip, unless the community meals sounded particularly appealing. Fortunately, they were, despite being typically overpriced and under-caloried.

We finally crawled back into camp and into our sleeping bags at 9:15 pm and tried to go to sleep, despite the noise from the mobile showers. And if you're wondering, we didn't have the chance to soak in the famous hot springs due to a long day on the road and a long evening of abuse and disregard by incompetent hostesses.

Is it fair to blame a whole town for the actions of two miserable idiots? Probably not, but I'm doing it anyway. Thus... Warning: Pagosa Springs sucks. If you must pass through, do so as quickly as you can, but remember to plug your nose as you pass through the western end where Dionigi's is located. That place stinks.

Distance: 87.49 miles
Maximum Speed: 36.7 mph
Average Speed: 13.8 mph
Ride Time: 6:20:17
Total Time: 9 hours 30 minutes

Day 3 - Pagosa Springs to Chama, New Mexico:
The day began with zippers and murmering at 5:30 am, but due to a bout of insomnia, I didn't get to sleep until 12:30 am. I got five hours of sleep. Mrs. Howard, of course, sleeps like a log. And occasionally sounds like the saw that cut it. But you didn't hear that from me.

Breakfast was decent, but they didn't give enough of what I wanted. I swear these community meals are portioned for the little 110-pound girlies and not for us 210-pound manly men who need twice as many calories.

It was great to leave Pagosa Springs, though we didn't escape until 8 am. The road immediately turned southwest where it remained pointed for the next 35 miles, but before we could completely escape Pagosa Springs' evil web, Mrs. Howard had the first and only flat tire of the week. Howard is especially good with his hands, and replaced the punctured tube in under ten minutes. Try doing that sometime!

Unfortunately, it meant we fell behind in the Race of Rexes. What does that mean? It's like this: The serious cyclists develop these massive calves and quads, while completely neglecting their upper body. Thus, with their shriveled arms and their beefy legs, they resemble a Tyrannosaurus Rex in body build. And so the nickname for all these type of cyclists of 'Rex'. Howard is not a total Rex since he does 50 hard-earned pushups every morning. Still, his proportions decidedly favor the southern hemisphere, if you know what I mean.

The highlight of the day for me was when I left Mrs. Howard behind at one point and completely let loose for five miles before the final aid station. Blew by everyone over hot, dry, and hilly terrain. Nice to know I still had it. At the aid station, while I waited about five minutes for the Mrs. to catch up, everyone took a good look at me, curious to know who the damned fool was who nearly killed himself in the desert of New Mexico. If you were there, just know that it was I -- Howard the Architect.

I can't begin to tell you how wonderful and gracious and welcoming Chama was to their 2,000 guests. Chama, New Mexico -- a town of only 1,100 and home of the starting point of the Cumbres & Toltec narrow-gauge railroad -- was the smallest town to ever host Ride the Rockies, and they were also the first town ever to host Ride the Rockies riders outside of Colorado. The town was small, sun-baked, and wind-blown, but the people were the best we met the entire week. One Episcopal church even handed out free bottled water and fruit, which was, well, a Godsend. It was all very wonderful, particularly considering our miserable previous evening in Pagosa Springs.

While buying a couple of Mountain Dews, we even met the mayor, who recommended of the three community dinners being offered in Chama the one at the Elk Horn Lodge. He was right, which I suppose is why he is the mayor. It was the best meal we ate yet, and we spent the entire meal talking to a nice couple from Tennessee. The wife drove their own private support vehicle from town to town while the husband did the cycling on a Trek carbon-framed bike. He was a serious cyclist. She was seriously into comfort. A nice match.

If Mrs. Howard decides that cycling is not for her, this might be an option for us in the future.

Distance: 51.06 miles
Maximum Speed: 38.5 mph
Average Speed: 13.5 mph
Ride Time: 3:46:58
Total Time: 6 hours

Day 4 - Chama, New Mexico to Alamosa:
Now for the big hill. While it was sad to leave Chama behind, at least [sarcasm on] the Ride the Rockies planners made it worth our while with a 2,200-foot climb during the first 12 miles heading back to Colorado to the northeast [sarcasm off]. The scenery was certainly spectacular as the route followed the Cumbres & Toltec railway for most of the climb, finishing with a 200-yard cliff climb to the Cumbres Pass and a spectacular overlook of the valley below.

After a short descent, we faced another climb of 500 feet in three miles that took us over La Manga Pass. Two mountain passes with flat-out the most spectacular scenery and vistas of the week in 20 minutes time. Wow. Don't blink. And don't Bogart the oxygen since we're at about 10,250 feet altitude.

I don't mind climbing hills because you always get back what you put in. I call it the payoff, although other cyclists prefer the term, "Payback". Since payback is a bitch, it's always sounded a bit too mercenary to me. So I use payoff instead since it represents a return on investment from the exertion of climbing. Wind, on the other hand, just plain sucks. And blows. I've written about this before in case you're curious to know more on the subject of wind.

All this talk about payoff is leading us somewhere, of course: One can't climb two mountain passes and not expect a screaming descent somewhere on the other end. And that's what we faced -- a drop of over 1,500 feet in only four miles! Wheeeeeeee! The stench of burning brake pads was overwhelming. The blur of Rexes zipping by at 50+ mph was frightening to consider. One person did fall, we heard, and broke a collarbone. I can't imagine that the injuries were limited to that one simple break, but I'd rather not think about it further, thank you.

Once the cliff subsided and the feeling in our white knuckles returned, we set about finishing the remaining 55 miles, most of it slightly downhill (and into a breeze) into Alamosa.

The last few miles of the day were difficult for Mrs. Howard, who is remarkably able to keep focused and resolute and on task for hours on end until the final few miles are reached. Then she lets that focus and resolve slip, resulting in remarkable displays of emotion and pain and.... blame. Kinda like childbirth, which became her favorite metaphor for Ride the Rockies.

In Alamosa, we got to stay at the Alamosa Family Recreation Center, which wasn't equipped with ample showers and eating space for 2,000. So they brought in the mobile shower units, thoughtfully placed in the exact center of tent city. Which again meant the noise of compressors and idling diesel truck engines until 10:30 pm. But the showers were wonderful, so who's complaining?

One final note: We shared a delicious $8 BBQ chicken wrap thing offered by Hub's Grub, one of the vendors for Ride the Rockies, and it turned out that the owner of Hub's Grub lives in Kyle, Texas in the same suburban development as Mrs. Howard's brother. "Hub" didn't recognize the name of the brother, but he was pretty sure his wife would. Small world. And to be reminded of that in Alamosa, Colorado...

Distance: 83.22 miles
Maximum Speed: 35.3 mph
Average Speed: 14.8 mph
Ride Time: 5:36:56
Total Time: 7 hours 30 minutes

Day 5 - Alamosa to Salida:
Have you ever seen the salt flats in Utah west of Salt Lake City? Totally flat and featureless except for mountain ranges on a distant horizon? Colorado has its own version of that between Alamosa and Salida. Fortunately, Colorado's version has a bit more color and the people are really great.

After a nice breakfast served outside the Rec Center, we loaded our duffel bags on the middle truck [there were three luggage trucks -- early, middle, and late -- and we always made the middle truck.] We headed north. And north. And north. For the first 40 miles the elevation never varied by more than 30 feet. It's true. I've seen the contour maps. So everyone settled into pace lines -- groups of riders with similar abilities and ambitions riding along at similar velocities. Drafting directly behind someone one or two feet in front of your front wheel can reduce wind drag by up to 20%, which is why cyclists organize pace lines of eight, ten, or more riders. The one in front is said to "Pull" the others, and he or she is always gratefully thanked. In well-organized pace lines, the leader stays in front only a minute or two before peeling off and falling to join the rear of the pace line.

Of the groups of paceliners during the 2006 Ride the Rockies, there was Team Angry -- men in their early 30s who clearly pumped iron in addition to pumping pedals, and who rode fast and hard, but stopped frequently and for long periods of time. I can't tell you how many times they passed us... at least until the next aid station, where we would take our break and then leave before they did. Slackers and showboats, every one.

There was Team Integer, composed of technonerds in their twenties who were mostly in good shape, though they kept leaving stragglers behind. I overheard one Team Integer woman say she trained all of 350 miles in preparation for Ride the Rockies. She was one of the stragglers.

Howard trained for 3,500 miles and was a cycling locomotive, and together with Mrs. H we formed Team Fortysomething. Slow uphill due to lack of air, slow downhill due to lack of nerve, but hell-on-wheels on the flats.

At the completion of 40 miles of the straight and narrow -- narrow because the shoulders were scant while the traffic was heavy and noisy -- we came upon the town of Moffat where the Colorado Potato Growers Association was giving away free baked potatoes with all the fixin's. Each bite a little piece of heaven, as far as I was concerned. Because of the length of the ride -- 85 miles -- and because of the exposure to the sun that day, I wore an all-white breathable jersey with no text or graphics on it whatsoever. I called it my sponsor-free jersey, although I once or twice said my sponsor was the Beatles White Album. At the aid station, the potato growers were handing out stickers, and I was so happy to receive a free baked potato [with all the fixin's], that I put the sticker on my shoulder and told the guy that the Colorado Potato Growers Association would be my one and only sponsor of the day. He clearly liked that. I should have asked for cash.

Back on the road, Mrs. Howard began to suffer from the heat and pace of the long ride. So we slowed our pace as the road's elevation finally began to rise bit by bit. At Poncha Pass, 9,000 feet elevation and 1,500 feet above Alamosa, we reached aid station number five.

Each day of Ride the Rockies, there were typically four or five aid stations spaced about 12 to 15 miles apart. The first one of the day had free bananas. The second had orange slices and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches [cost - $2]. Each of the aid stations had water and free Gatorade Endurance, a disgusting concoction of portapotty juices and fake lemon seasoning. The fourth or fifth aid station would have a live disk jockey and sound system with music blaring and T-shirt giveaways between songs. Once the disk jockey gave away a T-shirt to a woman who sang the national anthem. She started on too high a note and then got herself into trouble later on, but still did a great job. Another time, the disk jockey gave away a T-shirt to the person with the largest shoe size [14]. Mrs. H was peeved because she would have won a T-shirt if they had a separate Bigfoot contest for women only. Mrs. H has boats.

Anyway... on the top of Poncha Pass, the disk jockey offered a T-shirt to anyone who could show him a library card, a penny, and a bug -- dead or alive. Howard went to work because he knew that most of the other riders probably didn't bring the entire contents of their wallets with them like he did, and also because he knew that cyclists are an uncultured and unread mob, not prone to library affiliation. Howard dug out his card, pulled out a penny, and then set about finding a bug. Which wasn't easy. But he did it. For his efforts, Howard received a large T-shirt [Howard is an extra large] with a handsome graphic on the back showing a cyclist riding into the mountainous sunset with the words of Doug Bradbury, "The Best Rides Are The Ones Where You Bite Off More Than You Can Chew -- And Live Through It."

As you can tell by now, Howard likes the free stuff.

From Poncha Pass to Salida, we had to drop 2,000 feet in 13 miles, which meant more stench from burning bicycle brake pads and more Rexes screaming by. One couple on a tandem recumbent cycle went flying past us down the middle of the highway's single traffic lane going at least 45 mph. The speed limit of the highway was 45 mph, so I guess they could justify it. However, the volume and proximity of the trucks and traffic to us white-knucked cyclists convinced me that this was the most dangerous stretch of the Ride the Rockies route so far.

I wasn't off by much.

When we reached Poncha Springs at the bottom of the descent, Ride the Rockies volunteers directed us past Highway 50/Rainbow Blvd. and over to a series of county roads leading us away from the heavy traffic of the commercial street and towards our day's stop at the Salida High School. At the school, we grabbed our gear from the middle truck, set up the tent in the deep grass of a well-watered lawn, and showered in the crappy high school locker rooms -- you know the kind -- no shower curtains. Fortunately for Howard... well, you know...

Deciding to buy some Gatorade of our own, and in search of McDonalds ice cream cones, we boarded the shuttle. The bus driver dropped the full load of passengers off at the downtown park that was hosting the beer garden and community dinner, but me and the Mrs. stayed on the shuttle bus, sitting up front with the bus driver. Off to find a grocery store and Mickey D's the three of us went.

The bus driver then told us that a rider with Ride the Rockies died not two hours earlier. Shocked and horrified, we let the driver tell us what had happened. A 65-year-old woman and her daughter had come down the mountain as we all did, and the daughter went on ahead to the high school, perhaps to get their luggage. The woman, along with a number of other riders, turned off the Ride The Rockies route into Salida onto Highway 50/Rainbow Blvd. Along the way, she was killed in front of the Wal-Mart in a collision with an RV.

The bus driver, who had been a paramedic and a fireman for decades in Denver, was the first responder on the scene, and when he arrived, the couple in the RV were on their knees weaping over the cyclist, whom they had covered with a blanket. The bus driver, thinking she might still be alive, took a look under the blanket, but it was clear that the woman had died instantly as the very large RV had duel-ly rear wheels and was also towing a car. Afterwards, we realized that the bus driver was surely traumatized and needed to talk about it, and we were glad to be there for the 10 minutes that it took him to tell his story. When we finally found a McDonalds, I gave him a large tip and he dropped us off.

During those 10 minutes, the bus driver told us many details that seemed to differ from the story printed in the newspapers the next day. The newspapers said that the woman was riding in the traffic lane and wasn't riding in the bike lane on Rainbow Blvd. However, Rainbow Blvd. has no bike lanes. The newspapers said that the woman on the bike swerved and caused the accident by hitting the side of the RV first with her handlebars. That may have been true, but we heard a few more details. Whatever. The police investigating the accident decided not to charge the couple in the RV, and the daughter was quoted saying some very gracious words, adding that her mother loved doing Ride the Rockies for the last 11+ years.

It was a horrible tragedy for everyone involved, including our bus driver, and we hope it was resolved with understanding and Solomonesque wisdom. All the participants in the 2006 Ride the Rockies were deeply effected by the tragic news for next 24 hours, and a long moment of silence for the woman and her family was observed at the closing ceremony in Canon City the next day.

Later that evening, we went down to Salida's Riverside Park and the community dinner next to the Arkansas River, where we had some steak, and walked along the river. Salida definitely needs to continue developing the river walk. Right now, it's only a few blocks long, located only along the stretch of river where the kayak racing route runs. The Arkansas River is an amazing amenity for the town, and they should do more to celebrate it than they have.

Distance: 85.39 miles
Maximum Speed: 34.8 mph
Average Speed: 16.5 mph
Ride Time: 5:11:21
Total Time: 7 hours 10 minutes

Day 6 - Salida to Canon City:
The last day. And according to the tour booklets and contour diagrams given out at registration, we have already travelled 352 miles in five days with a long final descent still scheduled to bring us to a hard climb lasting a few miles before crossing over the Arkansas River 1,000 feet below via the Royal Gorge bridge. If only it was that simple.

The day began with an excellent breakfast in the Salida HS cafeteria. As usual, when given the chance, Howard overeats.

We packed up and loaded gear on the middle truck, and then set off for Canon City. Immediately, the increased police presence was obvious. The previous day's tragedy, combined with the complete lack of shoulder space through many of the narrows of the canyons of highway 50, compelled the Colorado Highway Patrol to bring out every available motorcycle and patrol car to keep us safe. There were probably a dozen stretches along the highway where the cyclists were forced by a complete lack of shoulder to ride to the left of the white line in the traffic lane. A few 18-wheeler truckers were completely impatient with the riders, and I was always glad when those idiots were out of my sight.

And yet, with the exception of a number of minor scrapes and a dislocated shoulder as other bicyclists went off the road and tumbled alongside the highway, we all survived.

The neatest moment of Ride the Rockies came in Canon City during the closing ceremony when a dozen motorcycle patrolmen rode past the congregation and over the finish line. Everyone spontaneously stood up and applauded the highway patrolmen for two minutes solid as the director of Ride the Rockies, Paul Balaguer, read the names of the patrolmen. Those guys worked hard and constantly for the entire week to keep us safe. New Mexico highway patrolmen also accompanied us during the days we visited their state, and they deserve recognition too.

But I'm getting ahead of the story, because the hardest moments of Ride the Rockies were still ahead of us.

About five miles before arriving at the Royal Gorge bridge, we were directed off of highway 50 and up a barely paved private road that led to the backside of the privately-owned bridge. This stretch of road was the steepest patch of road -- climbing over 800 feet in two miles, with many portions over 12% grade -- and the grade forced all cyclists off their bicycles to walk up the steepest parts.

Well, nearly everyone walked... except for Howard. You see, he has a Fuji Touring bike that is geared for all extremes, including 12% grades. Technically speaking, the Fuji's smallest front chainring only has 30 teeth, while the largest sprocket in back has 32 teeth. This ratio of less than 1:1 allowed me to continue climbing while all others around me were forced to walk. As far as I know, I'm the only one who rode his bike up the entire stretch of private road without walking once. It wasn't pretty as I was breathing very hard and sweating half to death. If others were also able to do it, at least I was surely the oldest one to do it. [Note: A reader in comments also climbed The Beast without dismounting. Congrats to him. However, he notes that 80% of the riders around him also did so -- a claim vastly at odds with Howard's observations. Perhaps Howard purposefully surrounds himself with inferiors to inflate his own self-image.]

The Royal Gorge bridge crossing was glorious. Mrs. Howard is usually terrified of heights and couldn't bring herself to the railing edges of the bridge. But even she was stunned and delighted by the views and the engineering achievement represented by the bridge.

After eating some lunch and "Gorging" on a couple of ice cream cones at the north end of the bridge, we continued on towards the finish line. Another damned hill to get us back on highway 50 exhausted us once again. Today was supposed to be an easy day, right? Wrong.

Back on highway 50, we finally headed downhill and east towards Canon City. We were directed through housing neighborhoods where families were waiting to applaud and cheer us. Young boys ran out into the streets to give us high fives. Volunteers waived us through stop signs, and after one more turn, we faced the finish line. I slowed and joined hands with Mrs. Howard, raising them as we approached the finish line. The crowd cheered even louder, no doubt encouraged to see a married couple in their 40's crossing the finish line together. And then we were done.

My wife's parents had volunteered to assist the riders at the finish line, and we quickly found them. My father-in-law first looked at me blankly, said congratulations, before actually recognizing me behind my bike helmet and sunglasses. Hugs all around, we loaded our bikes on the bike carriers on their car, and then we set off to get our luggage and take our showers at Canon City's High School.

We had brought $300 cash with us to pay for meals and other necessities, hoping to also use the credit card for a few dinners in restaurants. However, when we rode into Canon City, we hadn't used the credit card once, and we had exactly $1 left, which we used to buy two bottles of water.

The CCHS showers sucked as the shower heads were set too low, leaving me with a very clean belly button. As you know, Howard is a very tall and statuesque man. And all the showers he designs have high shower heads.

Cleaned and packed up, we then headed to the closing ceremony in Rudd Park near the high school and finish line, during which two bicycles were given away -- one a woman's hybrid bike and another a $4,500 Serrotta road bike that was available to be won by men or women. My wife suggested that if a woman won the second bike too--despite the male-to-female ratio of about 3 to 1--that Ride the Rockies would be facing an unruly riot which would have to be subdued by the heroic motorcycle patrolmen!

The rule was that the winner needed to be present to win. And four times they drew names of men and women who weren't there to claim their $4,500 bike. Each time Paul Balaguer read the name of the winner, the crowd would count down from 10 in hopes that nobody would claim the prize. Four times the winner wasn't there to win.

Finally, a massively "supplemented" Bobo in the back of the crowd, a seriously serious cyclist for whom a $4,500 bike represented a letdown, claimed the prize. We all appropriately hated him. And then the 2006 Ride the Rockies bike tour was over.

Distance: 67.17 miles
Maximum Speed: 37.6 mph
Average Speed: 16.2 mph
Ride Time: 4:09:07
Total Time: 6 hours 15 minutes

Final Stats --

Distance: 423.25 miles
Maximum Speed: 42.2 mph
Average Speed: 14.8 mph
Ride Time: 28 hours 36 minutes 14 seconds
Total Time: 42 hours 55 minutes

Calories Burned: 21,322
Final Note: A 2006 Ride the Rockies jersey is already up for sale on Craigslist... Wow.

Final Final Note: Another RTR rider wrote about his week at this link. And for what it's worth, if you look to the right of the first picture from his Day 5 report, you will see Howard in his sponsor-free white shirt and Mrs. Howard crouched behind her bike. Yes, that's really us.

Friday, June 16, 2006

On the Eve of My Destruction, the Next Gauntlet Lies Before Me

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My best girl and I leave for Cortez, Colorado tomorrow morning for the start of the 2006 Ride the Rockies bike tour through 419 miles of Colorado and New Mexico highlands. I won't be able to update this blog during that time, but I will keep a journal and take some photos with the idea of posting them here when we get back.

In the meantime, a friend of mine who is a scant 24 years of age, has offered to compete in a triathlon with me in August, if I'm interested. I am, but I am more intimidated at the thought of swimming half-a-mile, mountain biking for 12 miles, then running another three, all while the clock is ticking.

When my best girl, who fortuitously happens to be my wife, heard about the *next* self-destructive idea bouncing around my noggin', she got all... well... girlie giggly. So now I may not have a choice. Especially after she said she would love to watch me be humbled by the experience. Nice, huh?

That's why I married her.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

About Halfway Done Now

Time for another update. Here's a photo I took today -- Wednesday -- when it was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I include the word Fahrenheit for our European and Asian readers so they don't freak.

You can also tell how hot it is because while the electricians were busy wiring up the house, they opened all the windows. One of their vans is barely visible to the right... blocking a better photo angle of the front of the house.

The decks and railings are finished, though construction of the exterior stairway off the back deck continues.

The roof -- soon to be taper-sawn cedar shingles -- should be installed within two weeks.

The stone wainscot around the base of the house and over the column bases will be installed within about a month.

The mahogany Arts & Crafts front door was delivered to the site yesterday and is being stored in the garage. In case anyone might be thinking, "hmmm, free door," the garage and the house are tightly locked up at night and on weekends. I, of course, have the combo to the lockbox, so late at night I think to myself, "hmmm, free door."

The client and I have begun discussing paint colors for the siding and trim, though I've encouraged him to wait until the stone is in place before we finalize that all-important decision.

Construction started on January 2nd and is conservatively expected to be complete on October 31st. That would put us a little past halfway to completion. Stay tuned...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

American Sports Are So..... American

[Updates below]

I have a friend -- yeah, I know how implausible that sounds -- but I have a friend. He is a grad student from India, and he is months, if not a matter of weeks, from being a graduated grad student. Or perhaps the correct term should be graduated never-again-student? Whatever. Let's move on.

Being from India, he loves cricket and soccer, and loves nothing more than the various international cricket championships and soccer's World Cup. Seeing as how American media pretty much ignore both these sports, he's had to scramble for news and event coverage via alternative [meaning: pay-per-view] media.

We recently shared an interesting back-and-forth, and I have to hand it to him -- he's right. I conceed victory to him. The World Series is nowhere close to a true "World" Series. The Olympics are one continuous advertising event covering only American athletes. And the World Cup, which is a true worldwide sporting event, has not received it's due by the American media because Americans can't and don't win at it. Plus, ratings would be abysmal and thus selling television ads would be too great a challenge for network geniuses -- but only if they could figure out how to squeeze them into a game without timeouts.

Here's our email conversation, in the order that they were sent:

Friend: The world's biggest sporting event is in progress, and the news channels are showing Broncos' preseason camp news. Oh, and the elimination al Zarqawi. I can't even see highlights on TV?

What the ****?

I hereby put a curse on the US football team. I hope they get thrashed in the group stage....

Don't know what you're complaining about. The media also has to cover NBA Playoffs and Major League Baseball and the College World Series. There just isn't enough time in the day to cover every little World's Biggest Sporting Event that comes along -- especially if it's one of those foreign games played only in America by small children and confused teenagers who can't hack a sport requiring actual skill... like basketball or baseball or football [American-style].

If you must have something, here's New Republic's World Cup blog:

You're welcome.

And thanks for the curse. It's not like we care.

Major League Baseball? There are 162 games in the regular season every year. Plus, it isn't even the half-way point of the season yet.

NBA playoffs I can understand. But College World Series? Give me a break.

Who wants to read a blog about the game? We want to see footage....
"especially if it's one of those foreign games played only in America by small children and confused teenagers who can't hack a sport requiring actual skill... like basketball or baseball or football [American-style]."
Don't know what you meant there.....

Howard: That's good. If you knew what I meant, you wouldn't talk to me again for a while.

Ignorance is bliss. ;-)

Friend: American sports require skills? Yeah, right. Basketball maybe, but for other sports the sequence is kinda like this:

Here, let's run one play. STOP THE GAME. The coach/manager needs to give 50 instructions to bone-headed players. Run one play. STOP THE GAME. The coach/manager needs to give 50 instructions to bone-headed players. STOP THE GAME. Half the players go out. Other players come in. That's because each player can do only one thing. The coach/manager needs to give 50 instructions to bone-headed players. STOP THE GAME. Half the players go out. Other players come in. That's because each player can do only one thing. The coach/manager needs to give 50 instructions to bone-headed players. STOP THE GAME. Half the players go out. Other players come in. That's because each player can do only one thing. The coach/manager needs to give 50 instructions to bone-headed players......

And so on......

Soccer doesn't require skills? Yup, ignorance IS bliss.......

Howard: LOL! Gotta hand it to you. THAT's a funny riff on American sports... :-)
Update: Anonymous in comments upps the ante, conceding that continuous stops in the action of American sports are unfortunate, but then making the point that it is use and skill with hands [opposable thumbs and all that] that separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. And without use of said hands, no activity can be considered sporting. Thus, soccer is not a sport, he/she/it concludes. Provocative and debatable. I would like to finish with a quote from Henry Kissinger's article in this week's Newsweek about the World Cup: "Soccer at its highest level is complexity masquerading as simplicity." He's absolutely right.

Update Updated:
I don't know what my friend is bitching about. It looks to me like every World Cup soccer game is being televised by ESPN2, with half-hour or longer updates between every match. Keeping India's culture and religious beliefs in mind, I can't resist asking, "Where's the beef?"

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It's All About Me

Great googly moogly, what a day! But before I get started, I have to apologize for the second-rate writing you will encounter, should you choose to continue. My head has hurt all day and I'm only now administering medication. Excuses in place, we may now continue...

My day began as I scrambled to finish as much of the hippie house construction documents before 4 pm, when I emailed the drawing files off to the print shop to be plotted.

After picking up the drawings -- they looked great -- I then picked up the contractor for the addition/renovation project at 6:30 pm and together we drove up into the foothills for a 7 pm meeting with the clients. I explained everything to the lovely and patient couple and they liked it all... well, except they want larger windows [who doesn't?]

When I got home at 9:30 pm my wife told me that Performance Bicycles took delivery on my new Fuji Touring Bicycle, and that they assembled it within hours. I can pick it up tomorrow morning and go for a long test-ride... before watching my youngest son's American Legion baseball doubleheader in the afternoon.

What a life I lead!

But before you go all envious for the Howard Lifestyle, I must repeat that I've had a headache all day, but never found the time to pop an Advil or three -- that's how busy I've been.

But now the Advil is flowing freely, I'm practicing my 12-ounce curls with a Skinny Dip Beer by New Belgium Brewery, and contemplating another Wonderful Howard Day tomorrow. I earned it.

Reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: I believe in luck. And the harder I work, the luckier I get.

Believe it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ride the Border

Yes, it's been a while since you and I talked. I wouldn't blame you for feeling snubbed and ignored. But I promise I wasn't snubbing or ignoring you. No, I was preparing to Ride the Border, busy riding The Border, and then painfully recovering from the Border Ride.

My best girl and I woke up last Saturday, climbed on our bikes, and rode 35 miles north to a mountain summit over 3,000 feet higher in altitude than our starting point, and then rode another 30 miles into the teeth of a 20-mph wind to the city of a neighboring state. 65 miles in one day.

The first 35 miles were all uphill. Even the stretches we thought were flat, after driving the route hundreds of times in a car, were proven to be uphill via bicycle. There were painful stretches where we could only go two or three miles at a time before stopping for rest and rehydration. We brought over two gallons of Gatorade and finished them as we pulled into town. Altogether on Saturday we rode for five hours at a pace of just over 12 mph and we rested for another three hours. Total trip time = 8 long painful hours.

We soaked in the hotel pool and hot tub, ate Mongolian Beef at our favorite Chinese restaurant in town, and watched The Revenge of the Sith on HBO -- in that order -- and then went to sleep. Nice bed. Thankfully.

The next morning, we ate a hearty [and free] Continental Breakfast which included [for each of us] two packets of instant raisin oatmeal, two hard-boiled eggs, English muffins with jam, Cheerios with milk, multiple glasses of orange juice, and bagels -- again with jam. My best girl drank coffee. I despise the bitter venom, so drank more orange juice.

Then back home we headed.

I hate wind. Did I ever tell you that before? Funny I overlooked mentioning that. Hills I can abide because you go up, you get to go down. There's always the payoff for the hard work of climbing. But not so with wind. If the wind is coming from anywhere within your peripheral vision -- a full 200-degree arc for those of you with mathematics skills -- then wind works against you. Even if it's coming from your side, and even slightly behind you, it adds drag to your forward progress. Hard to believe, I know, but that's what the aerodynamics experts have to say. And even when you ride with the wind in your face for a while and then turn around, I swear -- I have experienced it too many times to claim otherwise -- that as often as not, the wind will shift so it's working against you on the return ride as well. Wind sucks AND it blows.

Anyway, the first 20 miles back home were both uphill and into a 20-mph wind. But after two hours of hard climbing and leg churning, the wind died down and the grades pointed steadily down as well. Wheeeeee!!!! One stretch of coasting even went on and on for about eight miles!

While our trip on Saturday took us eight grueling hours, our return trip on Sunday only took us six hours -- a bit over four hours of riding at about 15-mph, one-and-a-quarter hours of rest breaks, plus we stopped for a wonderful half-hour lunch at the only rural/rustic restaurant along the whole route and chowed down on bratworst, saurkraut, onions, relish, black olives, chips, and Mountain Dew. Yum!

From now on, we only ride downhill. And we stop at all rural/rustic restaurants for lunch.

Ride the Rockies is less than two weeks away now, and I can say with total confidence that we are as ready as two 40-something rookies can be. We have read the scouting reports of the route from the tour organizers. Sounds like days two and four will be the ones to which we need to bring our best stuff. The rest stops will be about 15 miles apart, the Gatorade will be free, and the panoramic vistas will be plenty.

Plus, I get to ride my new sweet ride -- the Fuji Touring bicycle pictured above with oversized 64-cm frame because Howard is a very large, yet sweet-tempered, man. At the risk of being repetitive: Very Sweet! I ordered the bike last week. It's scheduled to be delivered to me one week from today, which will give me less than a week to get attuned to its quirks and foibles. I can only imagine how easy the biking life will be when I drop 12 pounds of metal and friction from my 40-pound squeeker to a 28-pound bronze bomber. Am I wrong to expect that all rides will feel like they're downhill... even when they're not?