Bike Tour 2022 – Walden, Colorado to Saratoga, Wyoming

It was the best of winds; it was the worst of winds.

We knew what we were getting into. The weather forecast called for light tailwinds in the early morning followed by strong gusty winds in the afternoon. The route called for us to descend from Walden, Colorado at 8,099 feet to Encampment, Wyoming at 7,277 feet. Downhill yay!

We left Walden around 8 and had a nice tailwind. The road wasn’t exactly downhill but we were cruising along without a care heading north.

Then the road, the very bad road turned west and we felt the power of a crosswind. Bad.

Soon we were once again enjoying a tailwind. La di da.

Somehow somebody put a honking big hill in our way and a mighty crosswind began blowing us all over. No fun. Corey thought the hill was harder than Hoosier Pass. I think I agree.

After way too much wind and four stops by yours truly the big bad hill was defeated. Mark had been waiting a long time at the top so we didn’t linger very long after I crawled to the crest.

Back on the road, Mark took off. Corey and I did not give hot pursuit. Corey is tall and I am wide (plus my panniers act like sails).

Here we are being good bike tourists getting blasted all over the place when we came to an 11 mile stretch of road maintenance. Crews had milled the pavement for re-paving. Of course, it was downhill.

It was scary riding. The tread on my tires did not agree with the milling. Add in some strong gusts and you have Danger Will Robinson!

The milling stopped at Riverside, a town adjacent to Encampment. After conferring with a vintage barkeep, we decide to ride on to Saratoga.

Turning north, we caught a tailwind to die for. Corey zoomed ahead. Dang. Mark pulled ahead of me but he stopped to talk to two eastbound TransAm tourists. We heard interesting things about Jeffrey City which we will ride through soon.

The last few miles to Saratoga were a slog through truly brutal crosswinds. We caught up to Corey who had been waiting 20 minutes at a grocery store. After shopping we rode to the St Barnabas church in town where there is a hostel for bike tourists.

In a sense we were fortunate that temperatures remained in the 50s for most of the day. We started to see more wildlife. I watched four redwing black birds in a dogfight with a crow. I also saw a seagull snatch a small rodent (alive) off the roadway. There were several pronghorns and cattle from time to time. Corey saw a bald eagle perched on a roadside fence post.

Oh, and The Mule turned 66 today.

And, Wyoming became the 35th state I’ve ridden in.

Total miles: 68 Tour miles: 1,572.5

The Chicks sang about this.
Too bad my camera couldn’t capture the wind
Wyoming: we have rocks
The Mule turns 66

Bike Tour 2022 – Eureka to El Dorado

Last night was full of worry. How was I going to ride 72 miles with no services in a brutal crosswind with gusts up to 50 mph? Add to the challenge my super hard 84-mile ride yesterday and the fact that the only breakfast place in town was closed for Memorial Day.

What’s a Rootchopper to do?

For a start I spotted cars pulling into the Pizza Hut across the highway as I was lubing my chain last night. I decided to buy a pizza and save some for breakfast. That solved one aspect of the problem. I had saved half a Dagwood sub from yesterday’s lunch at Lizard Lipps. (Basically it’s a small brick of meat and bread.) I could get 30 miles out of that bad boy, for sure.

But the crosswinds would be even stronger. Gusts of up to 50 mph were forecasted. About 58 miles of the TransAm route would have featured crosswinds.

I woke at 4 a.m. and came up with an alternative. Instead of following the TransAm route through Cassoday to Newton, I’d ride 31 miles straight west to El Dorado on a two-lane highway. If I was feeling my oats, I could continue on to Newton from El Dorado. This route would be a few miles shorter than the TransAm and give me a viable bailout point if things got nasty.

After downing some cold pizza, I headed for El Dorado. The first 19 miles coincided with the TransAm. I figured that if things were going well, I could scrap the El Dorado idea.

Things did not go well.

The first four miles weren’t too bad but the winds intensified as the ride wore on. Once, again, again, again, and again gusts blew me off the pavement onto the 8-foot wide unpaved shoulder. My right arm was getting worn out from trying to control the bike’s direction. Big vehicles zooming past at 60 mph either hammered my front with their wake or sucked me to the left. The latter was quite scary.

I had to be on my toes constantly. (Speaking of toes, my shoe repair last night seems to have worked. Dunno about the tent repair.)

I plodded along going slower and slower up the ridges in the Flint Hills. Every so often there would be a wind break but increasing elevation seemed to anger the wind gods. By mile 14 I’d been blown off the road 10 times. Then a truly powerful series of gusts knocked me off the road four times in a mile.

I gave up trying to spin in my lowest gear and started walking. When the winds calmed (to perhaps 20 mph) I started riding again.

At the town of Rosalia, where the TransAm turned north, I decided to continue west to El Dorado. I was pooped. What a shame to miss out on 20+ miles of tailwinds to Cassoday.

The highway dropped the unpaved shoulder but I still had about three feet of paved shoulder to work with. The big gusts had abated and there were continuous wind breaks for several miles. Yay! My speedometer rose into double digits . Yay!

But I was toast. I stopped every two miles to rest. I made it to El Dorado a little after noon about four hours after I left Eureka.

Having already had lunch for breakfast, it seemed logical to have diner breakfast for lunch. Bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast, coffee, and two gloriously tall glasses of ice water.

Kansas has the best bacon. Wide, crisp, and salty. So salty. Did I mention salty?

Once I got back on the bike, my legs decided that I was done for the day. I rode to one motel then another to find one with laundry machines. The Baymont Inn not only had them but they were operated by credit card.

Tomorrow the winds out of the south will continue until late morning then shift to the northeast. Storms are forecasted for much of the day. It’s about 40 miles to Newton. I’ll stop there unless the wind gods push me to Hutchison where there is free lodging for cyclists. Then I’ll let the weather forecast and motel availability decide if I’m going south to check out the Gyp Hills Scenic Highway and Dodge City.

I’m pretty much on schedule to get to Canon City by June 11. Plenty of time to take a day off unless something unforeseen happens.

Mileage today: 34. Tour mileage: 544.

Long overdue OCP, obligatory cow photo
There’s lots of flint in these hills. The further west, the more rocky the fields were.
Couldn’t resist buying this yesterday. Came in handy at laundry time.
Well played, Mule

Bike Tour 2022 – St. Charles Mo to Hermann, Mo on the Katy Trail

Today was supposed to be a 60-mile slow roll but things happened and it wasn’t.

To begin with the 60 miles did not include riding East on the Katy Trail for 3 1/2 miles to attend a day-after-the-wedding donut picnic breakfast in a park along the trail.

Of course I had already filled my tank at the hotel breakfast bar. It was well above average. As a result I had half a donut and some coffee at the picnic before heading out. The picnic delayed my departure to 11:30 which is much later than normal.

Before I left I had trouble filling my tires up to proper pressure. I decided to roll with it and it worked out fine. Along the way I found a bike repair station at a trailhead and used it’s floor pump to fix the issue.

The trail surface is unpaved but for most of the way you’d never know it. It’s as hard as pavement. Local trail users have an annoying habit of walking abreast on the trail, something I’ve never seen elsewhere. At one point a group of horses were hogging the trail. The riders moved to single file with military precision when I approached.

The trail is FLAT. The surrounding terrain varies between rivers (most often the Missouri), farm fields (occasionally flooded by recent heavy rains), wooded areas, and cuts through rock. I like that the variety keeps you from getting bored with the view.

I rode nonstop to Defiance where there was a trailside eatery. It was crowded and the bike parking didn’t work with my panniers so I forged ahead. I came to Augusta where I found a bike shop, ice cream, and a brewery. I chose the brewery and selected a “to go” box and a Coke.

The to go box had grapes, a clementine, carrots, celery, some cold cuts, cheeses, crackers, peanut butter, and hummus. Dang. I could barely put a dent in it at the brewery so I brought it along for dinner.

About 45 miles into the ride I arrived at Marthasville. Daniel Boone was buried near here so I followed the directions at the trailhead and backtracked 1 1/2 miles to see the gravesite. Along the way I rode the loaded Mule up one of the steepest hills I’ve ever ridden. I can’t believe I made it up without walking.

The Boone gravesite was a bit disappointing as it was adorned with a modern tombstone that look completely out of place.

Back into town I realized that my 60-mile route has somehow ballooned to over 70 miles! Good thing I started late.

I ground away into a light headwind. I decided not to stop to eat, choosing instead to make sure I finished before dark. I made it with ease.

The final town on the trail was McKittrick. Unfortunately all the services at this trailhead are located 2 miles north on the opposite side of the Missouri River in the city of Hermann.

The ride to Hermann was interesting. A wide smooth shoulder made for quick work. With the same effort I used to ride 12 to 13 mph on the trail, I was easily cruising at 15 mph. Once in town I searched for the town park that allows trail users to tent camp. It wasn’t much to my liking (nor was the declining temperature) so I opted for a divey motel instead. If they filmed Psycho at a Midwest hotel, Norman Bates would be from Gurjurat.

I am knackered. Tomorrow’s ride is supposed to be 55 miles. I sure hope it’s not more.

The trail goes through Rapa Nui, MO
I could not come close to eating all this.
The trail has many of these short trestles
Doesn’t look a bit like Fess Parker
Earlier I had to lift The Mule over a fallen tree. We could just squeeze under this one

Bike Tour 2022 – The Night Before

The car trip to St. Louis went without a hitch. All told it took about 15 hours including a stop to visit an ailing family member.

The last two hours were through torrential rains and blustery winds. We stopped near Frankfort, Kentucky for the night. Despite the weather, The Mule arrived in one piece.

Before we left yesterday morning I took The Mule for a quick spin so that I can legitimately say that I’ve ridden a bike in Kentucky. US 60 where the motel was located is a godawful road to ride on so I dipped into a neighborhood and declared victory. 15 states to go.

The last five hours of driving yesterday involved super strong crosswinds. Weather in the Midwest is surprisingly violent. After we arrived thunderstorms raged through the area for the next 24 hours.

Today we attended my niece’s wedding. It was a lovely affair. My only concern is that all the human interaction doesn’t come with a side of Covid which could hit when I’m nowhere near medical facilities.

The tour starts tomorrow. There is some discussion of a post-wedding get together in a park near here to have donuts for breakfast. The hotel we are in is very close to the Katy Trail so finding it will be a breeze.

The weather for the next two days will be cool, 50s and 60s, before giving way to two or three days of rain. This is a concern because indoor accommodations are spaced about 20 miles apart. Also the trail is unpaved which can cause problems with cables and such. And to add to potential problems, the trail runs along the Missouri River which is prone to spring flooding.

It looks like I’ll be rendezvousing with Mark and Corey in Canon City, Colorado instead of Colorado Springs. This works out great because Canon City, unlike Colorado Springs, is on the TransAm and is easy to get to. my hope is that I can get there a day early to acclimate to the altitude.

I may have to modify my route, because of the weather and Memorial Day weekend crowds. I’ll try to stay flexible.

When I’m 64

The Mule reached yet another milestone today. It turned 64, thousand miles that is.

The Mule turns 64.
Will you still need me? Yes!

I bought this bike from the Quaker Lane location of Spokes Etc. bikes in Alexandria Virginia sometime in 1991. I bought this bike because my Trek 1200 road bike couldn’t handle the stress of commuting. It’s a bit ironic that the Spokes Etc. chain of local bike shops recently was bought by Trek Bicycles.

It’s also a little odd that Spokes marketed this bike as a commuter bike. Little did I know that it was the best selling touring bike in Europe back in the day.

The Mule will be my steed for this summer’s bike tour. Tomorrow I’m taking it in to Bikes at Vienna for its annual fix everything service.

Autumn

The DC area does a pretty darn good job of falling. Here’s some examples.

Foliage

It always seems to take longer than last year, but the fall foliage around these parts, while not in the same league as Vermont, isn’t half bad. My vote for tree of the year is this one, located near the Virginia side of the Memorial Bridge.

Stopped me in my tracks

Cider

The last bicycling event ride of the year, at least for me, is the Cider Ride. It is staged by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. There are three routes of which I picked the longest, 55-mile one. The course winds its way up and down the branches of the Anacostia River and spends about ten miles meandering around a United States Agriculture Department research facility and its adjacent suburban neighborhoods. On the return the course passes through Greenbelt (which I always confuse with Beltsville). The three pit stops had dozens and dozens of donuts (I had one with white frosting and sprinkles), apple pie, and, of course, warm cider. (The Greenbelt pit stop also includes yellow jackets which find cider irresistible.) Normally I don’t like cider but on a cool autumn afternoon, warm cider is just about the perfect drink.

Kevin W. contacted me the night before and we rode together from the start. At the first pit stop about 13 miles into the ride at Proteus Bicycles in College Park we were joined by Michael B. These two gents have been the anchors of my last several 50 States Ride posses and are the best riding companions. They wait for me at turns because I am old and they are not. At the end of the ride we indulged in libations. A pleasant time was had. As you can see, the weather was splendid.

Kevin (L) and Michael at the after party

A big thanks to the folks at WABA who spend many hours planning this event. On the day of the event they get up way too early and resist the temptation to eat all the donuts. So thanks to all the WABA staff Garrett, Ursula, Kristin, and, Anna (as well as any I haven’t met or didn’t see), and the scads of volunteers. Somehow volunteer Dana got assigned pie duty at the furthest pit stop from his house in Arlington. Hope you didn’t get stung. And a big shout out and thanks for the hug to Monica, the queen of merch at the after party.

Floods

Although not strictly limited to autumn, the flooding of the Potomac River is always an interesting thing to see. A week ago, we had the highest water since the epic storm surge from hurricane Isabel in 2003. This picture of the lower end of King Street (the main tourist street) in Old Town Alexandria was taken several hours before the high water mark. News reports showed a couple canoeing here.

Fall Back

We just switched back to standard time this weekend. One annoying aspect is that I have to reset all four of my bike computers. Of course, I have three different kinds, each it its own sequence of buttons to be pushed. My big worry is that when I start futzing around with the buttons I’ll accidentally delete the mileage on the odometers. So, before I start, I take a picture of all four computers’ odometer settings. I’m a bit over 155,000 miles on these four bikes. This means I ride a lot and I, and my bikes, are old. (This does not include mileage from my Raleigh Grand Prix and my Trek 1200, both of which left the stable decades ago.)

Clockwise from top left: The Mule (Specialized Sequoia), Big Nellie (Tour Easy recumbent), Little Nellie (Bike Friday New World Tourist), and my Surly Cross Check.

Welcome to the El Norte Zoo

It has now been over two years since the Irish government received my application for citizenship. (My paternal grandmother was born in County Mayo.) Between Brexit and the pandemic, the delays have become rather frustrating. I guess I’ll have another Guinness while I wait.

My experience is not uncommon so I get chuffed when I learn that someone I know has been granted U. S. citizenship. The latest is my friend Peter’s wife Ona. I confess that I barely know her but it’s quite obvious that Peter is an hombre con suerte. Ona became a US citizen over the weekend. I saw her at the Cider Ride after party and she was still beaming. Congratulations, Ona.

One Way on the WOD

I’ve really been cooking with gas on my bikes lately. It always takes me a few months after winter departs to get my mechanics working right, but the last week I’ve been riding like a boss. After ten consecutive days of riding over 30 miles a day, I popped a 52 mile ride on my Surly CrossCheck. My route took me up to DC where I rode up Rock Creek Park to Bethesda. After a couple of miles of connecting roads, I hooked up with the Capital Crescent Trail for the return. Beach Drive. the main drag through Rock Creek Park, is closed to through auto traffic in the upper half of the park. This is a positive pandemic dividend. I hope the National Park Service continues this policy because it’s a beautiful ride.

Near the end of yesterday’s ride, the CrossCheck hit 20,000 miles. As is my practice, I am now switching over to other bikes for a while.

Today, The Mule got the call. My wife and daughter drove me out to Purcellville, Virginia where the Washington and Old Dominion (WOD) trail has its western terminus. I bid them farewell and headed for home.

The WOD is about 45 miles long. (A few detours here and there add about a half mile by my odometer). Since it starts at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains the ride loses about 545 feet along the way. The decline isn’t constant, but there are long stretches of gradual downhill that allow for riding at a respectable clip.

A couple of hundred feet from the start of the ride I noticed that my riding position on The Mule is much less aggressive than my position on the CrossCheck. I decided to try an experiment. I adjusted the tilt of the saddle down just a bit. At first it felt strange to have additional weight on my hands. And my butt seemed to have been raised much more than it actually was. After about three miles, I didn’t notice the difference at all and I seemed to have much better power transmission to the pedals.

Dang was I riding fast. I think I had about a 2 mile per hour increase in cruising speed.

To be honest, making a tweak to your riding position before riding 50 miles is not a particularly good idea. But for me. it work out okay.

The more I rode, the more my body liked the new position. Cruising along at 20 miles per hour is not at all normal for me. I blasted through a tunnel of green for ten miles before stopping at Leesburg for a Mule photo op.

As I rode the din from the Brood X, 17-year cicadas was my constant companion. From time to time I heard other summer bugs such as the annual cicadas. The Brood X sound is a low pitched drone coming from the tree tops; the annual bugs make a higher pitched sound that seems to be only a few feet over your head.

The best part of the WOD is the ten miles from Purcellville to Leesburg. After that, development encroaches on the trail corridor. For those of us who remember when much of this area of the corridor was farm land, this change in scenery is a bit depressing.

It is what it is so you just keep rolling along. I past a few turtles in the Ashburn. Later I east of Vienna I saw a deer eating grass on the fringe of the trail. No worries.

Trail traffic was light probably because of severe weather that had raised the humidity noticeably since yesterday.

I booked along through Sterling and Herndon and Reston. Vienna came and went as did Falls Church where some major trail work caused a half mile on-street detour. It brought to mind the fact that I have very little idea what this area looks like beyond eye sight of the trail corridor.

I ran out of WOD in Arlington and stopped for a couple of other photos, one of the trail sign and the other of the Weenie Beenie, an Arlington culinary institution for decades.

With the WOD conquered. I switched to the Four Mile Run Trail which took me three miles further east to the Mount Vernon Trail at National Airport. Turning south on the MVT, I made honest work of the last nine miles. My pace had slowed but by this point my brain had shut down and The Mule and I were on autopilot. Every few miles I had that how-did-I-get-here feeling.

Did I just ride 110 miles in two days? Why am I not crippled? A month ago I would have sworn that my 65-year-old body couldn’t stand a bike tour anymore. Now, it’s telling me “You still got it, kid.”

The Mule Turns 30 and 61

It was 30 years ago that I gave up trying to commute on my Trek 1200 and bought a commuter bike. The Specialized Sequoia that I bought came with a generator lighting system that was wired through the metal fenders. The lights were lame (3 watts as I recall) and the generator contacted the tread of the tire and wore tires out.

Over time I replaced everything but the frame, fork, seat post, and rack. The bike was priced to move, at $300 off list because, back in those days, people shied away from heavy bikes. What I didn’t know was that this bike was the best selling touring bike in Europe.

It is an awesome touring bike. Stable. Comfortable. Dependable.

For a while I stopped riding it when I switched to Big Nellie, my recumbent bike. Nerve problems in my legs eventually drove me back to the bike I have come to call The Mule.

Today The Mule turned 61 as in 61,000 miles. Still going strong.

2020 – One Last Recap

It was such a fun year!

Okay, let’s start again. 2020 sucked but at least I salvaged some decent bicycling. I managed to go 10,240.5 miles this year. My Cross Check edged out The Mule for most miles: 4,179.5 to 4002.5. The other 20 percent of riding was split between Big Nellie (my Tour Easy recumbent) at 1,458.5 miles and Little Nellie (my New World Tourist) at 600 miles.

My bikes now have a total of 145,082 miles on them. Either one of them break or I do.

End of YearOdometer MilesMiles Ridden
Specialized Sequoia60,0204,003
Tour Easy44,2431,459
New World Tourist22,598600
Cross Check18,2214,180
Total145,08210,241

The monthly distribution was kind of Bell curvy. (I took stats, can’t you tell?)

As a prize for finishing in first place, the Cross Check got a new look. People used to pick me out during events by my humongous Carradice saddle bag. No longer. I switched to an Arkel Tailrider. It kind of wrecks the all black look, but it weights a bit less than the Carradice. The bike still weighs a ton but that will be addressed when I replace the tires with something lighter.

The Mule Turns 60

Indiana Jones once said. “It’s not the age; it’s the mileage.” Don’t know if I agree with him. I bought my Specialized Sequoia nearly 30 years ago. I almost gave up on it twice but a mechanic named Paul (now at Bicycle Space in DC) fixed a vexing problem with the headset about 20 years ago. When I complained about five years ago that he bike had too many miles on it to be trustworthy on long tours, my rando/touring/mechanic-y friend Mike told me not to worry. The Mule’s old steel frame would last a lot longer.

So here we are. At 60,000 miles. The frame, fork, seat post, rear rack, and wheel skewers are original. I fully expect to one day get on the bike and have it disintegrate beneath me. Until then, The Mule abides, baby.

By the way, if you’re thinking of getting a bicycle computer, don’t get the Cateye Padrone. It has never worked properly but I bought it at the start of the pandemic and returning it was fraught with peril.