Monday, September 28, 2009

MFM Day 27: Pump It Up

September 25th, 2009

Motor Free Month Day 27: Pump It Up

The weather held up, my legs held up, my bike held up -- mostly. I made it. “There and back again,” I might say, just like Bilbo Baggins, starring broken glass as spiders and trucks as dragons. It was quite an experience; frustrating, joyous, exhilarating, nostalgic, challenging. A weekend I'll never forget! Allow me to share it with you, good reader.

As mentioned in my previous post, I was to ride my bicycle from Fort Collins to Denver for the weekend. The reason; I was volunteering for Buckbean Brewing Company at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The plan was to ride down to Denver on Friday, and return on Sunday. And here's how it unfolded.

I left Fort Collins for Denver on Friday afternoon, about 12:30 pm, hoping to make it to Denver by 5:00 pm. You can click on the map picture here to go to an interactive map of my actual route to Denver. Note that this was not exactly my intended route, but as usual I did not follow my own plan. Wing it; just make it up as you go along. My actual route covered about 71 miles from Fort Collins to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) at the Convention Center in downtown Denver. I don’t have one of those cyclometers to I don’t know my average speed but I suspect it was pretty slow; I didn’t arrive at the GABF until about 6:00 pm, making this a 5.5 hour journey. I was delayed by 2 flat tire changing sessions but we’ll get into that, all in due time.

At it turns out my planned route, the route I should have taken, was much better. On my Sunday return I did follow the planned route more carefully, and had a much more enjoyable ride home as a result. But partly my route changes were unavoidable; Friday I intended to leave FTC via Shields, and take it all the way through Loveland and Berthoud. However just South of FTC my plans were thwarted by construction. Shields was blocked to traffic at Trilby, necessitating a detour. But I thought oh, oh yeah? I'm on a bike, I can sneak around this construction stuff like a slippery eel!, so I snuck past the barriers and continued down the road, happy as can be on the deserted road. Big mistake.

I got stopped about one mile further down, this time by a construction worker. Apparently they were re-paving Shields all the way from Lovelend to FTC. Our stimulus money at work, at it turns out. “The asphalt is 350 degrees, it's gonna melt your tires right off,” the construction worker said. “You’re going to have to turn around.” This was undoubtedly the highlight of his day. I had no choice, I had to backtrack a mile back to Trilby, and then go a mile West to Taft Hill to get going back South again. This ended up being a 4 mile detour, and I was less than 10 miles into my route. I was not getting this thing off on the right foot!

And of course my detour took me by the intersection of Trilby and Taft Hill, which is the site of yet another recent car vs. bike accident: Allan Baclasky in critical condition following accident. I felt a little nervous and superstitious approaching the intersection, but there was not much traffic so I navigated it without incident. It did serve as a dark reminder that what I was doing was on the whole more dangerous than driving to Denver, and certainly more dangerous than watching TV, so it put me a little on edge.

Finally heading South again, I made my way through sleepy Loveland without any additional mishaps, and then headed back East to rejoin my original intended route on the South end of Loveland, turning back South near Schmidt’s German bakery and restaurant. We’ll see more of them in a couple of days but for now it was all business as I pedaled towards Berthoud.

And we're going old school 80s for the Song of the day: Visage, The Horseman. Picture a montage of me riding past sun-baked subdivisions and farms, my face set with grim determination and purpose. Something like that.

At any rate, as I approached Berthoud I let my impatience get the best of me. My plan was to go back West at Berthoud, and take a route that would put me on the West side of Longmont (on Hover Rd.) But I was still annoyed at my 4-mile detour from an hour ago and decided that I did not want to “back-track” West, as I knew Denver was to the East, not West. So this I now resolved. No more West! Only East!

And South of course. Mostly Denver was to the South, so where I should have turned West I forged on ahead to the South, on a county road I’d never been on before. Adventure!!! I had no idea how I was going to get to Denver now, I just knew I was not going to backtrack! So now South, and now East, and now South again, as these infernal county roads kept ending in T-intersections. Soon I hit another T-intersection, and this time I inexplicably decided to turn West (I can’t even follow my own made up rules). This road bent South again which was good, but turned into dirt which was bad on a road bike. The road was in ok shape but for the wash-boarded sections, but it slowed me down considerably. The upshot was there was little if any traffic to deal with, it was a nice day in the country, and the weather was lovely. Eventually the road became paved again, and I was able to make good time the rest of the way to Longmont.

A quick lunch at Subway in Longmont, and I was off again towards Denver. I ended up on “WCR 1” which is the road that borders Boulder County and Weld County. A pretty nice road but heavily trafficked at this time of day. Along this road I saw a farm that had a cool sign stating that they were 30 miles from Fort Collins and 30 miles from Denver. As it turns out I had gone about 40 miles by then so clearly I wasn't taking the most direct route! WCR 1 took me all the way to Highway 7, aka Baseline road, aka the 40th parallel. Even though I was well past half-way to Denver by now (mileage-wise Longmont was closer to my half-way point), Highway 7 felt like my Rubicon; South of Hwy 7 I was in the Denver Metro area, and there was no turning back now. Again I backtracked to the West here, because I was not sure if I could find a route to the East at this point before hitting the interstate, which is best avoided on bike.

As I started back to the West on Highway 7, here occurred my first major mishap. Second song of the day: Elvis Costello + The Attractions, Pump It Up. That's right, a flat! I think it was a slow leak. In retrospect I’d been pedaling slowly the last several miles. Now I knew why. It was time for a break anyway. I stopped and replaced the tube whilst sitting on the side of the car-choked highway. And totally made a hash of my tube-replacing attempt; I bent the valve stem horribly when I pumped up the new tire, and it would not keep air either. This I found out not right away of course (well I did see the bent valve stem but figured it would hold. Wrong.), but rather 5 miles down the road as I climbed the first of my Never Ending Hills of North-West Metro Denver Mini Tour, featuring the delightfully sassy Lowell Boulevard. So I pumped the tire back up, thinking I could get it to Denver at least. Not so much. 2 miles later it was flat again. Stop, inflate, ride, repeat. This cycle of ineptitude I did one more time before deciding “enough is enough” and stopped to replace the tire for good.

I'll also mention here that my road bike was being annoying in other ways as well. My rear derailleur was slightly out of tune, and my lowest gears were making some awful squeaking noises. We're talking nails-on-chalkboard type stuff. I'll be the first to admit I'm no expert bike mechanic but I do know this: noise = bad. But in my attempts to save weight I'd stupidly decided not to bring any bike tools or any sort of chain lube or grease. Adventure!!! Also I found out later that one of the little derailleur pulleys was squeaking due to lack of grease, but only on one particular lower gear; of course it seemed like I was hitting that gear all the time as I climbed up the hills separating myself from Denver. I didn't know how bad the problem was, if it was an indicator of total system failure or not, so I ended up avoiding that gear if at all possible, which had the effect of putting my bike into all sorts of unnatural gear configurations. I was not happy with my bike anymore, I'm sure it also regarded me with some measure of disdain.

Me: I will trade you in for a new bike today, you bucket of bolts, you watch your step!

Eric (my bike): Oh yeah, well I'll go flat on you but ever-so-slowly so you don't notice, how do you like that, punk!

I get the feeling I was going a little schizophrenic by the end of my ride on Friday. I think this adventure would have been more enjoyable with company. Anyone care to join me next time?

Yes my bike's name is Eric. Eric Estrada, fully named. We just named it after this ride; The bike is a Novara Strada (Novara is REI's house brand of bike), so, Eric Estrada. Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho.

Anyway on to Lowell Boulevard. Lowell was my planned route into the city, and I accessed it at 92nd street just after 5:00 pm. I also could have taken bike paths at this point but I thought that Lowell would be faster since it was straighter. I think I was terribly wrong there, for two reasons; one, the bike paths are blessedly stop-light free. Two, while the paths may be more circuitous, they do tend to follow creek drainages and avoid hills.

Lowell does not avoid hills. Lowell loves hills. I'm pretty sure Lowell Boulevard took me over Highest Point On Earth, aka Belleview College. I get it now; anything with the word "view" or "vista" is code for "pointless soul-sucking climb". Next time I'll look for "valley" (but not Sudden Valley), "glen," or I'd even take "swamp". The windswept vista from Belleview College was nice though; I got my first look at downtown from there. It was nice to see my destination in view finally! And after cresting the Belleview College hill I got a long break as I descended towards Denver proper. But for all the stop lights I was making good time and knew this day's journey was in the bag. Provided I could avoid getting killed by the traffic at rush hour on Friday.

Denver, I will now point out, is nothing like Fort Collins. Fort Collins is smaller and less crowded for one thing, as one would expect. But Fort Collins is also blessed with the widest streets on earth. Even minor streets in old town are extremely wide. I understand they were made wide to accommodate a u-turn on a horse-drawn carriage back in the day. Whatever the reason, by happy accident they make naturally bike-friendly streets. By comparison, the humblest old town street in Fort Collins would be considered a major thoroughfare in Denver. Denver would shoehorn 6 lanes of traffic into each street in Fort Collins. Denver's streets are insanely narrow from my perspective; I once witnessed two delivery trucks clip side-view mirrors while passing each other on Zuni street in Denver, which is considered a pretty major street. Something tells me these types of incidents are not uncommon, since neither driver bothered to stop after their little pas de deux avec métal et verre!

So I must admit it was pretty nerve-wracking as I continued down Lowell and the street numbers descended into the older part of town. It was 5:30 pm on a Friday, and everyone was out and about, plans to keep, places to be, no time to waste. I had to keep my head on a swivel and ride defensively, but I was able to avoid trouble as I rode through the Highlands neighborhoods to downtown. It got me thinking how lucky I was to live in the Fort with it's wide streets and limited traffic, and how I don't think I would enjoy being Motor Free as much if I lived in Denver. But more on that in tomorrow's post.

As mentioned, eventually I made it. As I crossed over the Interstate on the 15th st. bridge and pedaled into LoDo, I was awash with a feeling of excitement and joy. The big city! It was exciting to see the buildings, the people, the bigness of it all. I've been to Denver hundreds of times, but in a way I was able to see it fresh this evening. For one I don't think I'd ever been on a bike in Denver before, so right there that was novel. But also I'd gotten used to being in the Fort so much this month, that even though everything in Denver was familiar, everything also felt new and exciting again. And I was proud that I had done it, I had completed this leg of my crazy journey. Motor Free to Denver. Felt good.

The Beer Festival was a lot of fun as well, I looked like a total dork serving beer wearing my biking shorts and jersey for the first 30 minutes before I finally got the wherewithal to go change into my "non biking" outfit. After the festival session closed for the evening, I headed out with Lou for a pint and a late night burger at the Irish Snug pub, and I eventually turned in sometime before midnight, tired and content. Adventure!!

Continued Tomorrow...

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