Sunday, July 21, 2013

RAGBRAI Review - We're back for 2013

The last time I posted, I was in Colorado.  That was only a week ago, and now the whole family is in Iowa, again.  Somehow, the strange tradition of biking across Iowa in the summertime keeps drawing us back. This is mine and Neva's third run, and our second year as a family.  Maybe it's the mid-western hospitality, maybe it's being able to rule the road with throngs of other cyclists for an entire week, or maybe it's Beekman's Ice Cream.  Whatever it is, you make friends for life year after year to go along with fun memories, and you get a wicked bike shorts tan.

Throng of cyclists waiting in line for a delicious burrito.  THIS is RAGBRAI.

In 2011, Neva and I were offered the chance to bike RAGBRAI with Ben and Todd about a week before it started.  Not knowing what we were getting into, and in the middle of moving, it sounded like we were going to have a fun summer.  We decided to start out in Omaha, Nebraska, and stay with Todd's mother.  We left a day early getting in 30 miles to the start in Glenwood, Iowa.

Two men, a woman, and a baby about to head to the start.

2011 was a great year to be initiated into the RAGBRAI family.  With high temperatures and lots of rollers, it was a standard 'Welcome to Iowa' greeting.  That might sound terrible at first glance, but when you're all in it together, it's lots of fun.  One of the days even had a hill that boasted the name Dead Man's Curve.  I remember how great the 2 mile downhill felt as the wind blew through my hair at 30+ mph, and then about half-way through remembering that what goes down must eventually go back up!

Ben and Neva smiling nicely...with me poking in some bunny ears.
We did all make it to the end though, a little more addicted to food-on-the-go and a lot more tanned.

Neva at 20 months old on her first RAGBRAI.  Neck cooler + Cold Emergen C water = 1 happy Neva

In 2012, I talked Christian into joining us.  I think he may have been a little bit skeptical, but dove right in to whatever RAGBRAI had to bring.  He even decided to join the festivities and adorn his face with a mustache before we left.  

Christian fitting in very well.

2012 was an extremely hot year for RAGBRAI.  Three days in the middle of the week were over 80 miles, and all three days were over 102 degrees F.  Plenty of root beer floats were consumed.

Me - laying down exhausted, Neva - in tackle mode and eager to play

We had lots of animal interactions this year.  One of our warm showers hosts had horses, and there was a petting zoo with ponies, goats, pigs and chickens.  Not only do you discover the little gems with biking through small towns, but you also get greeted by the entire town, with banners and food.  Really, any cyclists dream.

Neva watching the horses.  Later, she got to ride one.

We always start and end our RAGBRAI adventure at our friend Sue's house in Kansas.  It's a nice stopping point between Iowa and Texas, and we get to wind down with Sue at her ranch.  Sue has llamas, vegetable crops, and a knack for hospitality, so it's easy for us to settle in and rest our biking bones for a day.

Sue and her youngest llama at the time.

We stopped in to see Sue for 2013 and enjoyed waffles and stories before heading toward Omaha.  We dropped our car off near the airport and biked twelve miles to our warm showers host in Council Bluffs.  On the ride, we got to cross a beautiful pedestrian bridge that links the two towns.  This is where you might do the traditional tire dip, but we decided to stand next to the water instead.  Fully loaded bikes with a trailer are not as easy to dip!

There is the bridge in the background.  We are on the Nebraska side about to cross over.

Apparently, there is some controversy and friendly rivalry over the bridge between the two towns.  In the end, they get along, but some  might refer to the bridge as 'The Bridge that Leads to Nowhere".  

A local (possibly bridge-crossed) couple enjoying the view of the bridge from the Iowa side.
We made it to our destination right as it was getting fully dark.  Dennis and Denise welcomed us right away and made us feel at home.  I whipped up a quick 9:30 pm dinner for my family from left over traveling food.  With some substitutes from the O'Tooles, we had quite the tasty meal.  

Vegan turkey and havarti cheese on a whole wheat pita.  Denise gave me some fixin's of home made tomato basil mayonnaise, with lettuce and tomato.  A couple slices of citrus (grapefruit) on the side was a great compliment.

In RAGBRAI tradition, there must be sweets.  Denise served us a dessert made fresh by her grand daughter.  A rhubarb crumble from scratch, a la mode.
A mixture of tart and sweet with crispy and soft textures make this a wonderfully complex and tasty dessert.

Thanks Denise and Dennis for the great RAGBRAI welcoming!  

And off we will start tomorrow.  What will it bring this year?  High temps, hills, rain, winds?  I'll let you know.  One thing I can tell you for sure, there will be lots of corn.

Monday, July 15, 2013

How to Compress a Sleeping Bag - By Neva

Are you tired of spending time trying to stuff and roll your sleeping bag?  Can't quite get it small enough to fit into your gear?  Are you just plain fed up?

Well now, you don't have to be!  Thanks to the Ortlieb compression bag with valve and straps.  You can compress your bag so small that it can double as a mace.  Here's Neva to show you how it works.

STEP 1. Put the sleeping bag into stuff sack and pull the lid over the top.  Everyone has their own technique with this, Neva is using a fork for added leverage.

STEP 2.  Tighten down the straps as much as possible.

STEP 3.  Release excess air using the nipple.

And for added compression or if you need an extra chair, you can always sit on it.  The straps should tighten all the way for maximum compression on full sized sleeping bags up to 20 degrees.  The bag is also waterproof, for withstanding all of the elements*.

*Disclaimer:  Bears do not fall under "the elements".  Bear attacks, bear hugs, and bears in your sleeping bag are not issues covered by the Ortlieb compression bag.

No more worrying about how you're going to put away your sleeping bag!  You can just sit back, relax, and be a happy camper!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Porquito Mas El Rito

I am far passed the small town of El Rito in northern New Mexico, but I wanted to show extra love for this tiny community of less than 1000 people.  El Rito has few people, but a lot of heart and a lot going for it.  Northern New Mexico College really impressed me with the cultural diversity and welcoming atmosphere.

Adobe architecture is seen all around the campus.  Here are two stoves.

El Rito has had a collection of unique and sustainable programs from adobe building to fiber arts weaving and renewable energy.

Neva playing peek-a-boo through the various recycle bins in the cafeteria.

The kitchen is equally amazing, with Shirley as their head chef.  Shirley and her team make everything fresh three times a day, every day.  This culinary department has been given a grant to make their kitchen the first fully sustainable kitchen in the US, complete with an on site green house for fresh greens and an $8000 composting machine for all organic matter processing.

Shirley and "The Machine".

During the summer, the college opens its doors to various research groups and exchange programs from around the US to lodge and eat on campus for one to four weeks.  There were geologist groups and environmental science groups working in the area while I was there.  Neva and I were allowed to dip into the community pot of strawberries that had been picked earlier that day from a local, organic farm.

Neva and I bumped into our first cyclist that was touring the Divide, and not in the GDT race.  Richard biked into El Rito from the north, and was ready to relax.  El Rito is wedged between some of the toughest portions of the Divide.  Though Richard wasn't racing, he was averaging over 80 miles per day and covering some pretty aggressive terrain. I was glad to see another tourer, with an orange bike, no-less, and we discussed routes, difficulties and triumphs over dinner.  The next morning, we shared breakfast and a few more stories before he rode off.  He decided to end his tour in El Rito, and bike back the way he came, towards his home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

The smiling Richard and his orange bike about to head northbound again.

Neva and I spent the rest of the day just seeing what the town had to offer.  There are lots of local artists, and a Mexican food place called El Farolito that is known in the surrounding towns as having the best green enchilada sauce in the area.  At the end of the day, we ended up back at the college and enjoyed the mountain views and moderate climate.

The view from the college.

Thank you El Rito for giving us a place to stay, good food, and a warm and sustainable community atmosphere.  We will return.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Riding the Divide - Baby Tracks (final leg)

Looking at the Adventure Cycling maps, I noticed that the historic Toltec train crosses the Great Divide Trail.  After weeks of hard riding, I thought we could use a break, and I decided to treat Neva to her first steamer train ride.  The train goes round trip from Chama, NM to Antonito, CO, and there are a variety of train route options between the two cities.

Neva and I biked to Abiquiu from El Rito and hopped on the North Central Regional Transit District blue bus to Chama.  The blue bus covers an extensive route of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, making it easier for people in small towns to get their shopping done.  All free of charge.  There is a slightly higher tax on goods in the area to keep this wonderful bus system alive.  There's a bike rack on front, a handi-capable ramp and helpful and friendly staff to assist.  We had an hour layover at the Wal-Mart in Espanola and right across the street was an organic local food stand stocked with local veggies.  The farmer's market in Espanola is only on Mondays, but this farmer has her stand up most days.

Beautiful looking squash, garlic, onions and snap peas.


We arrived in Chama, and noticed fairly quickly that the train is 'the thing' there.  It was fun to watch as the conductor waved his arms around, directing the train forwards and backwards like a smoking symphony as the cacophonous efforts of many coalesced into the fluid movement of a multi-ton mass of metal, fueled by coal.  Watching the train is hypnotic and seductive, and it's easy to catch yourself unable to turn away.

Neva was excited to see the steam train, but much to our surprise, she noticed a bright blue, familiar train on a nearby track.  That's right, it's Thomas the Train.  Star-struck, Neva could think of nothing better to do while taking a picture with Thomas than to immediately pretend to pick  his nose.

Neva and I camped at the Chama RV Campground, which is right next to the train station.  The campground also happened to be catty-corner from our route toward Pagosa Springs where we would head toward Del Norte to pick up the Divide again.  However, the 160 leading to Pagosa Springs was closed due to fires.  The flashing yellow sign next to the campground let us know we could go no further north, and that traffic was being redirected through Alamosa. 

That's smoke, not clouds in the distance.

We decided to change our ticket from round-trip to one-way to Antonito and get to Del Norte through Alamosa as the sign had suggested.  The first part of the ride is high up in the mountains, and you go through lots of aspens and pine trees.

There are different parts to the train.  You can sit in your coach, middle (tourist) or first (parlor) class seat, or anyone can enjoy an outdoor view on the gondola.  The train stops for lunch at the mid-way point in a little place called Osier.  The cook staff greets the train, waving and smiling, and a delicious hot buffet awaits guests inside.  It's all you can eat and quite the variety, so it's a good idea to save your appetite!

View from the  gondola.

From there, you start to drop in elevation, and the forest turns to plains where you see lots of deer, elk, and antelope.  We saw a mother elk and her new baby in the distance.

Tis the season to see baby elk popping up.  This one is no more than a month old, still showing evidence of the young calf camouflage spots.

Getting closer to Antonito, the scenery turns to desert with lots of cool geological formations.  We ended up passing through a movie set of a film called "100 ways to Die in the Southwest".  As we passed by the trailers, sets, and actors, we received more welcoming waves.  If the film makes it to the big screen, maybe you will see our heads poking out!


Good bye.

So long.

All to say, Neva very much enjoyed her train ride.


We arrived in Antonito on the train, and I had the 4th flat on the trailer.  This one ended up being irreparable in that when I pumped up the tube to see where the puncture was, the entire stem came off when I removed the pump.  My replacement tube had a half inch slit in it, and wouldn't patch.  I hadn't gone through a town yet since the flats happened to replace my spare tube, so I was stuck, tubeless.  Kind-hearted Rob came to the rescue, taking me all the way to Alamosa to pick up a tube.  I got a slime tube and two spares this time.  I'm hoping the slime tubes fare better than the 20" Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. 

View from Rob's vacation cabin.

Rob has a weekend getaway in Horca, and 'works' as a fly fishing guide while he's there.  Seeing Rob all suited up and grinning, I could tell that working 6-7 days a week wasn't too hard on him.  He dropped me off at the fly shop in Antonito, and off we went, not entirely sure where we were going, but continuing northbound.


We decided to reroute from Alamosa, and take an off-road route via road 15 to Monte Vista. The 15 takes you through an Amish community.


Moments later.

And a safety triangle in back.

We then entered the small town of Capulin, where we stopped for lunch.  We met Richard and Sarah, the owners of Martinez Market, and the only store in a town pushing a population of 300.  Richard rides his bike 6 times a week, and we enjoyed talking bike for a little bit.  His in-depth knowledge of the areas' terrain and distances through a bikers' eyes was enlightening and helpful.

Richard marveling at the load I'm carrying.  

Sarah and Neva warmed to each other instantly as grandmother/grandchild instinct sank in.  Once Neva had a full belly and was grinning from ear to ear with a 'Wizard of Oz' Glenda doll semi-permanently attached to her right hand, we decided to hit the dusty trail.  Richard wouldn't let me leave before handing me a jar of Sarah's home made choke cherry jam for my journey, the fruit which the town is named after.

Neva and I were heading right into a wall of smoke as we got closer to Monte Vista.  I was told Del Norte not only had smoke, but very low visibility being just 14 miles east of South Fork, so we decided to hunker down in Monte Vista and see if we should re-route again.  Biking through the town felt a little bit eerie with the red glow of the sun being blocked out by the smoke.

Neva and I stopped into Safeway to get some supplies and were greeted by smiling faces.  Richard Jr. and Ann had seen us speaking with Richard Sr. earlier in Capulin.  They offered us a place to stay, and we mused about outdoor adventures that evening over grilled shrimp and salad. Richard and Ann take full advantage of the beautiful land around them.  Being regular hikers, they have quite the collection of arrowheads and pottery sherds from the area.

Richard and Ann admiring the view.

They drove me past the smoke, and we were able to get back on the divide through beautiful country, rolling hills, and families of antelope.


The gravel road portion is not very traveled, in good shape, with a rolling hill terrain that is any biker's paradise.  Then you hit the pavement at Doyleville and turn onto the 50. The mosquitoes swarmed my flesh while large R.V.s and campers swarmed the road.  Any means to avoid the highway 50 is advisable.  It is only a twelve mile ride to Sargents, but we were very glad to see the town sign, even though it was difficult through yet another cloud of smoke.  Visibility was at around a mile when we rolled up to the local gas station.  We saw a bike out front and a hungry biker that looked relieved to be at the Sargents gas station as well.  His name is Mike.  He is from the UK, and was crushing the record for riding the GDT race, and was in first place.

Mike fueled up and ready to ride.

UPDATE:  Mike made it and maintained first place, averaging 197.08 miles per day for 2,859.11 miles.  Congratulations Mike!  Check out the GDT site to see more of his stats.

We stayed the evening at the gas station which has many lodging options.  You have a choice between the cabins for $40 or camping for $25.

I almost forgot, you can also rent a freaking teepee next to a creek for the evening for $25!

The owner of the gas station has the daily highs and lows posted in the restaurant, and the nights had been around 27 degrees F for the past week.  June in Sargents, Colorado and it's still that cold; I'm not sure when would be a comfortable evening to camp!  The tepee does offer propane, but we were told it gets drafty.  Maybe next time we'll find out.


Marshall pass is the first turn east of the gas station The gravel road marked XXYY takes you up and over Marshall Pass, which summits at 10,842 feet.  Some of the first things I noticed on the ride were the beaver altered creeks.  No signs of the aquatic mammal, but lots of evidence of their existence.

I noticed that there were whole areas of aspen trees that looked like fallen Lincoln logs.  I suspected it might have been the work of busy beavers too.

I also saw a deer crossing the road.  He ran away quickly, but was still curious, so he hid from a safe distance and looked at me quizzically from behind some trees, probably trying to figure out if I was friend or foe.

We stopped for lunch and decided to open up the special alder smoked wild tuna, caught by Roger Kamb.  I have been buying his tuna almost exclusively for years from the Flagstaff farmer's market.  Our last visit we were sadly informed that Roger had passed away.  This meal was dedicated to him.  Every bite of deliciously  smoked, succulent tuna that causes your salivary glads to explode from the flavors was a reminder of Roger's hard work.  I will miss you Roger, rest in peace.

We made tuna sandwiches with cucumbers and a dab of ranch and a side of plantain chips.  Neva and I have to fight over who gets to drink the last of the tuna juice.  It's our favorite part, being a concentrated marinade of the tuna steak.

It was a pretty gradual climb, but in the last 5 miles or so the sand got a little deeper, so we had to work a little harder to get to the top.

But we made it... bike and all.

The downhill was pretty rocky, and had huge rock walls towering on both sides of us as we whizzed by.

We weren't ready to give up camping, so just 13 miles outside of Salida, we camped at O'Haver Lake.  We had a wonderful view from the tent, lake side.

We enjoyed a dinner of cous cous and lentils...

As well as the remainder of the super moon view.


A seductive little town to anyone who enjoys the outdoors, and small mountain towns, it's a tough place to leave.  Especially with the good conversation and wealth of local knowledge that John, the owner of the Simple Lodge Hostel has to offer.

The extra day we spent in Salida left us completely refreshed, but we were a week ahead of schedule.  With some serious map scanning and options offered from John, we came up with a nice bike loop that would take us through more of the Rockies.  Stay tuned for the route we took, and the views from the top.