Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ridge of the Rockies

The "Ridge of the Rockies" is a cycling tour from Canada to Mexico. Susan Notorangelo and Lon Haldeman and their PAC Tour ( offer this event only every four years, and as my mother used to say, "if you want to do something, do it right away".

The official PAC Tour map. The tour is best described on the PAC web site: "The Ridge of the Rockies crosses the major passes of the Continental Divide in six states. This is a very mountainous route with long climbs and great descents. This will be a wonderful time of year to ride through the mountains."

I prepared for this ride with C&C centuries and Alpine rides, Brevets and finally the Cascade 1200K (
Dan, Mitchel, Lothar and John - the EFI Team
(picture courtesy of SIR Mitchel.

Cycling 2,000 miles (3,200km) from Canada to Mexico through the Rocky Mountains was certainly a unique and gratifying experience that might not repeat itself. For the first time I have experienced the intricacies of our nation from North to South across the Rockies. This ride was not only about the physical and mental challenge, but also experiencing our nation and most importantly meeting new people and making new friends.

Everybody headed home to pick up their lifes, Mitchel will continue to make sure suburbians have clean windows, Dan will continue to put people asleep, John will commence his transatlantic duties, Glenn will go back to his job and I will get back to riding my bike to work, where ample mandated on-line training courses are waiting for me. Phil will continue the challenge to fight obesity at Boeing, Anne will go back to her school, Walt will ride the Southern Transcontinental in September and Dianne will continue to heal. And then there are the fast dudes, Will, Jim, Ray, Lil, David, etc., riders I met over breakfast but never saw them during the rides. Well, there is one exception, Cat and Mark, the always started late, passed the slow guys around mile 20 but probably finished first. But there is always hope ... and another PAC tour and for sure more Brevets.

Aug 16: Las Cruces NM to El Paso TX
Rockies PAC Team 2008
A final 65 miles and 1,600' of climbing and our mission is accomplished. Before we headed out the mandatory group picture was taken - and we all showed up in our Sunday finest. When we rolled out the sky was overcast and the temperatures stayed pleasant for the entire day. The first 35 miles were flat like a pancake, followed by the one and only climb up Franklin Mountain.

PAC Riders in Pecan Groves
For the first 10 miles we rode through vast Pecan Groves and I manged to keep up for a limited time with the fast guys, a treat seldom experienced. After the long climb and fast descent we entered El Paso and the real world of Walmarts and Whataburgers.

Carlos the preacherman
On my ride into El Paso this guy passed me and started a conversation, probably an extension of an earlier one he had with Dan. Carlos is a man of faith from Juarez, the city of 2 million on the other side of the Rio Grande. He rides is road bike every Saturday in the US (he has dual citizenship) as we have shoulders, which makes life safer (even for a clergy man). Carlos has a flock of 600 sheep and his church cycling team consists os six riders, who compete in mountainbike races. He told me that Juarez is quite prosperous because of manufacturing - the goods go to the US, Europe and Asia. However, drug trafficing has its price - so far there were ~ 700 execution style killings in Juarez.

Carl and LH
This is Carl! He is a skinny fast dude who flies up those hills. You could reliably find him scrounching for a Belgian waffle and coffee every morning in the motel lobby at 0530 hours. But before he could eat his waffle he had to bring a cup of coffee to Martha, his wife and our fantastic and always cheerful lunch cook.

SIR Mitchel - redefining hard core
I am not sure how Mitchel from Seattle ended up on this PAC Tour, but he was one who refined the term 'hard core". He arrived with a new and untested saddle, which caused his H.... to rebell. And then there were those very long and steep climbs ..... and then on another day Mitchel crashed (no reason to tell how this happened), but he kept his smile and never sagged. And then there was the fast "Friedlaender Tandem Train" and Mitchel jumped on their wheel and I never saw him again.

Haircut in TX (the lady of the Salon was not too familiar with my camera
Since I had to be back for work on Monday and there was not too much riding going on on our last dat I decided to get a hair cut. After crossing the Rio Grande from NM into TX, I found a unique Barbershop and got a hair cut (the lady of the house allowed me to bring my precious SEVEN into the Salon. I cannot remember having ever experienced such an elaborate haircut (well there is not much hair on my scalp anyway). The barber shaved my head, cleaned me with compressed air and gave me a back massage with some ill-defined vibrating device - and all this for $11.

Our last o/n stop at the Marriott, provided pure luxury, something we did not need during the past 19 days - riding our bikes was the luxury we enjoyed.

Typical PAC Tour Day
0530: Wake up
0600: Coffee and light breakfast in the motel lobby (normally meet Mitchel)
0615: Get in my cycling outfit
0630: PAC Tour b'fast
0650: Get bike ready
0700: Load luggage on truck and start ride
1500-1800: arrive in Motel
1900: Dinner with John, Dan, Mitchel and Glenn etc
2000: Ice cream at DQ or from gas station (Bunny ice cream)
2100: Watch Olympics
2130: Light out and iPOD on

Aug 15: Truth or Consequences NM to Las Cruces NM
Holstein horse in Caballo
80 miles and 2000' of climbing in the agricultural wonderland of New Mexico. Endless fields of Chilli Peppers and Pecan groves accompanied us for the entire day. Without the extensive irrigation network fostered by the Rio Grande southern New Mexico would also be a desert.

Glenn riding his Bike Friday
After only 6 hours on the road we arrived in Las Cruces, the second largest city in NM. Las Cruces is the center of an agricultural region. The construction of the Elephant Butte Dam was essential to provide irrigation water for the Mesilla Valley.

The median income for a household in Las Cruces is ~ $30,375 and ~ 23% of the population is below the poverty line. In contrast, in my home community Chevy Chase / Bethesda the median income for a household is ~ $99 and 3.3% of the population are below the poverty line (information from Wikipedia). For the historains, White Sands Proving Grounds, the infamous rocket range, is just outside Las Cruces. Trinity, the site of the first nuclear testing is in White Sands. Operation "paperclip" brought Wernher von Braun and his team to White Sands in the spring of 1945, where they started to work on the Apollo program.

Aug 14: Socorro NM to Truth or Consequences NM
Truth or Consequences This town was originally called "Hot Springs", and in 1950 it took the name of the popular radio program Truth or Consequences. It's host, Ralph Edwards, challened town in the US and announced that he would do the program from the first town that renamed itself after the show. He returned to T or C during the first weekend of May for the next fifty years to the event called the "Fiesta".

Endless rides in NM
Today we cycled 77 miles with 4,500' feet of climbing. We cycled again in the high desert and rollers interrupted long stretches of flat straight roads - time to take plenty of pictures and spend extra time at the rest stops.

Lon and Susan and beautiful yellow flowers
Although NM appears to have a arid climate, heavy downpours during monsun season (August/September> bring a wonderful flora to life. Those yellow flowers are hard core and work themselves through the asphalt.

PAC Riders

Vast empty river beds tell stories about floods after summer thunderstorms and monsun rain.

We have now cycled >1,840 miles and two days and a 150 miles separate us from Mexico. I am still in the EFI category.

Lon and Mitchel

Phil and Mitchel

Aug 13: Moriarty NM to Socorro NM
Straight, Flat and Hot
With 119 miles and 5000' of climbing this was our last long day. The central part of New Mexico is a high desert and sparsely populated. Most of the day we rode on empty and flat roads at an elevation of >6,000'. After 8.5 hours on the road I arrived in Socorro, the day's destination.

Prohibition Stout, the beer of the day. Apparently this is the first beer that has been brewed in Socorro since the Prohibition. We had dinner in an Italian restaurant that served 8 different Socorro micro brews.
On an economic level, the median income for a household in Socorro is $22,530 and about 32% of the population is below the poverty line. The countryside I saw is not in the best economic shape.

Aug 12: Espanola NM to Moriarty NM.
Hans and Ruth enjoying a long and asteep descent.

The original plan called for 75 miles of riding but route changes added 25 miles, and a total of 5300' of climbing were packed into a few hills (one was 15%). The first 30 miles took us on shoulders littered with glass and other debris and riders were hit again with plenty of flats. Eventually the "flat witch" also got me (#3 on that tours).

Aug 11: Chama NM to Espanola NM

New Mexico - Land of Enchantment
While the climate further north was rather moderate, heat and intense sun have hit us in New Mexico. Sun block lotion with a SPF of >45 is mandatory. With 82 miles and 3500' of climbing this was a short day - and enough opportunities opened up to take pictures of the stupendous views.

Mitchel taking a picture of Janet and Tom from Butte.
For hours we cruised through the desert and passed astounding rock formations in stunning colors. Millions of years have moulded and shaped amazing structures.

Ruth from Ithaca fixing a flat
PAC Tour Riders experienced frequent flats, mostly because of debris on the shoulders. In New Mexico it appears to be a sport to smash glass bottles on shoulders, with all its consequences. On that day Ruth had four flats. I had three flats and a bulged tire. On the positive side, often we had 5' wide shoulders separated from the road by a rumbling strip.

Aug 10: Durango CO to Chama NM
This Hot Spring was located on a family farm, which served as the center for lots of social activities in the 1920s.

With 122 miles and 8600' of climbing this was supposedly our last demanding day. From Durango to our lunch stop in Pagosa Springs at mile 73 it was smooth uphill sailing under blue and sunny skies. FYI: Downtown Pagosa Springs was the final destination for a duo of truckers in the 1975 country song "Wolf Creek Pass" by C.W. McCall.

After lunch thunderstorms rolled in and I cycled as hard as I could to stay in front of the storm, even skipping the now so mandatory picture when I cross State lines. Finally, over the last 10 miles or so, the storm caught up with me ... After 9 hours on the bike I rolled into the "Branding Iron Motel" and dinner consisted of chicken Fajitas and a pint of Steam Engine Works, a brew from Durango. Chama (EL 7,700') is a tiny village located in the NW corner of NM. It is not clear what the underlying economy is (after all, the PAC Tour stops only every for years), but tourism seems to play a key role. Moreover, ample employment comes from the many gambling enterprises on the reservations. For those who play the Lottery, "A ticket bought in Chama won the Powerball multi-state drawing of May 23, 2007, and the winner opted for the 29 million immediate payout".

After 13 days of cycling I have >1,400 miles and <74,000' of climbing in my legs. I am still on track to qualify for EFI Status. However, fatique is setting in ....

Aug 9: Montrose CO to Durango CO, 112 mi, 9200' climbing
Climbing Red Mountain
What a day, three major passes in the Colorado Rockies followed by spectacular decents. With 11,100' Red Mountain Pass was the main dish on the menu of the day.

At the summit - 11,116' EL

Aug 8: Grand Junction CO to Montrose CO, 119 mi, 7000' climbing
Mitchel climbing the Mesa
Wow, what a day - the ride was built around one 20 mile / 6000' climb to the Mesa and an equally stunning decent. The climb reminded me of those long Alpine climbs and in particular the Timmelsjoch from Oetz. The further south we travel, the higher the temperatures, and now I can even start in my sandals without socks (true summer riding). However, on the Mesa at 10,000' temperatures dropped.

Aug 7: Rangely CO to Grand Junction CO
Hooker, a new rider and apparently the fastest man in the West.
With only 94 miles and 3700' of climbing this was another day prone to spend more time at rest stops and chat.

On top of Douglas Pass
Our one and only long climb was early in the day taking us to a Douglas Pass at 8,200'. While climbing the light drizzle turned into quite a heavy rainstorm and the newly purchased PAC rain jacket could prove itself. The 10+ mile downhill (with some nasty rollers) made it all worthwhile.

The most interesting part of the ride was experiencing CO road construction. I finally learned first hand how a Chip Seal surface is generated (in CO it is called Slurry Seal). The leading truck sprays tar fluid onto the existing surface while the second truck dumps gravel onto the wet surface and spreads it out- so easy and so cheap! On the negative side, this surface is just rough and not pleasant to ride on. Since one lane was being resurfaced, traffic flow was alternating. However, CO safety laws apparently require that cyclists are led by a guide car. We had to wait patiently for ~ 30 min for a guide truck to show up. After this it was smooth sailing and we could watch a Chip Seal Road in the making. Dan, Mitchel, John and I had Pizza and Sam Adams at a local Pizza joint.

Dan has been my riding partner for many miles during the last 11 days. He is a PAC Tour veteran with <25,000 PAC miles under his belt. He also has a turtle bell on his bike.

Aug 6: Vernal UT to Rangely CO, 52 mi, 2000' climbing
Black eyed Susan and UT geology
This was a true resting day prepating us for the climbing to come over the next days. Nobody ever said this part of Colorado was flat. Chicken dinner at the local Italian Restaurant was topped off with an Avalanche the Choice of the Day.

Here is proof that there is a town named Dinosaur in the great State of Colorado and that I was there. Dinosaur, with a population of just around 300, is the westernmost town in CO just 3 miles from the Utah border. For the historians among the readers, Dinosaur was originally named Artesia and Brontosaurus the the main road in town.

Aug 5: Evanston WY to Vernal UT
Ruth from Ithaca enjoying her ride.
The Chef served serious dishes, 152 miles and 9000' climbing, both spicy and HOT. After 12.5 hours on the road I arrived in Vernal, and it had been a spectacular day. The scenery changed from a "High Desert" in Wyoming to dense lush forests at the Utah border to mining country inside this Southeastern corner of Utah.

Aug 4: Montpelier ID to Evanston WY
Mark Gunther performing during our lunch break. Pieces from Neal Young and others kept us for longer than usual at lunch.
With 93mils and 3200' of climbing this was our day of rest and also our warm-up ride for tomorrows Mile'n Bergfest. The ride took us along Bear Lake, a key water sport and recreational entity in ID and UT. We swooped from ID into Utah where we also experienced the only climb of the day. After lunch we crossed into WY where we took refuge in Evanston. Dinner was in a Mexican Restaurant and Choice of the Day for beer was bottled Pacifica.

Aug 3: Jackson WY to Montpelier ID
Morning view in Wyoming
After six days and 760 miles we are back in Idaho. While Randonneurs ride 1200k Brevets (750 miles) in 90 hours, the pace and scheduling of the PAC Tour is more civilized - regular sleep, dinner out and of course the obligatory microbrew.

The menu for today offered 117 miles, 3650' of climbing and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. We left Jackson Hole at 0715 hours in frigid temperatures (time to get those long gloves out) and the sun rising to our left (which means we were riding South). The route followed the Snake River and the flat course and absence of wind called for a short and easy day.

The world famous Afton Elkhorn Arch This arch is made of >3000 Elk antlers, and antlers can be found in many artistic creations in Wyoming.

After lunch the wind picked up considerably and the final 40 miles with two climbs and noxious headwinds took their toll. SIR Mitchel and I rolled into the Best Western in Montpellier, ID just before 1630 hours.

Most of MT, WY and ID seems to be made up of a high elevation plateau. We are riding at an elevation of ~6,000 feet and I wonder whether our kidneys are cranking out EPO to increase our hematocrits. For the science readers of this blog, just consider the vast STAT5 activity found in our cycling bodies. Erythropoiesis is enhanced, and growth hormone bursts enhance our muscle and liver physiology. Those who ride too hard will have inflammatory issues to deal with. And all this is regulated by our old friend STAT5.

I had a rib dinner in the only "family style" restaurant in town and Choice of the Day for beer was Fat Tire.

Aug 2: West Yellowstone MT to Jackson WY
Today was a perfect cycling day with 137 miles, 6000 feet of climbing and 10.5 hours on the road. Unlike the previous 4 days the wind had calmed down and riding was pure pleasure. After about one hour into the ride and a moderate climb we crossed the Continental Divide and entered the great State of IDAHO for a 100 mile loop. The last 20 miles of the day included a 3 mile climb to the 8,600' Teton Pass. As a scientist who has dedicated his career to mammary gland biology, climbing the Teton Pass was a must (picture taken by my buddy Glenn). Choice of the Day for beer was Teton Workhorse Ale.

Crossing the Continental Divide from MT to ID

We cycled 100 miles through a rural part of Idaho, with gas stations and stores only every 30-40 miles. Will rural life survive in our society so concentrated on the big metropolitan areas?

Aug 1: Bozeman MT to West Yellowstone MT
Cross Winds - after 8 hours on the road I pulled into the parking lot of our Motel, named appropriatly to reflect the story of the day. After 4 days and almost 500 miles we are still in Montana, a testimony of its size. With 90 miles and 4000' of climbing this day should have been another rest day, but the cycling gods recruited the wind gods Fuji and Anemoi and we were blasted for most of the 90 miles. We cycled from Bozeman up the Gallatin river/valley to West Yellowstone. The shoulder was frequently quite nearrow and RV traffic not light which did not favor the formation of larger groups. I cycled off and on with my new cycling buddies Dan (from Long Island),
Phil (he is in the business of health promotion and on track to make Boeing the number 1 in employee health), SIR Mitchel and of course our very own Glenn. The Bratwurst lunch was exquisite as always as was the Key Lime Pie prepared by Martha. Dan, Glenn, Mitcheel and I had dinner at ... and the Choice of the Day for beer was Moose Drool Honey Brown.

July 31: Butte MT to Bozeman MT
With 101 miles, 4200' of climbing and the usual obstacles (chip seal and headwind) confined to a rather short stretch, this was a day of R&R - I only spent 7.5 hours on the road. We had two major climbs and the first one up to the Continental divide was crowned by a long descent.

Today I rode a lot with my room mate and fellow DC randonneur Glenn Martin. Glenn brought his Bike Friday to the tour. That's how we appeared at the reststop at mile 52, two clueless cyclist ......

Our laundry drying at the highway. Every day the same routing. Getting up at 0530 hours, b'fast at 0600, loading the luggage at 0630 and heading out of the parking lot before 0700 hours, Return from the ride in the afternoon, washing the bike, laundry, dinner and in bed by 2100 (thank god for my iPOD shuffle). I had dinner at the worlds best BBQ place and the Choice of the Day for beer was Big Sky Honey Brown

July 30: Missoula MT to Butte MT, 134 mi, 5400' climbing - 10 hours on the road Montana not only has the biggest sky but also the biggest testicle Fest - I wonder what this is all about. Just as yesterday, the nagging nssty headwinds bothered us most of the day but they could not spoil the party. We had our first long climb to a pass with no name.

DC Randonneur Glenn Martin riding in Big Sky Montana. The 15+ mile descent into Anaconda was just delightful. Anaconda just like many other towns, is a mining town past its prime searching for a new identity. Most houses are cookie cutter versions for the 50s, an indication of a vast industrial expansion 50 years ago. Today the copper and other metals are coming from Peru and Africa. Tom from Butte told me that Montana has some of the biggest Superfund sites - a legacy of a neclected past.

My new cycling buddy Rick and I. Rick is in the business of "Health Promotion" and works for Boeing. His job is to keep 1000s of employees fit so that the company stays healthy. According to him, the battle agains obesity in the coperate sector is a losing one.

Glenn, Dan (from Long Island) and I went to Perrkins for dinner, Salmon, grren beans with bacon and mashed potatoes with plenty of dark gravy. Since this family style restaurant did not have beer we picked up a 6 pack at a gas station. Choice of the Day was Salmon Slayer

July 29th: Kalispell MT to Missoula MT, 148 mi, 6600' climbing - 10.5 hours on the road
Not only cyclists have to cope with flats. A tire on Lon Haldeman's trailer leaked and nothing is better than a bicycle pump.
With 248 miles our first day was rather long but the 3600 feet of climbing were managable. However, the nasty and nagging headwind we experienced for the final 40 miles was a bummer. The cue sheet today was easy. After leaving Kalispell it said:

Mile 19: Quick left, Rt 83 toards the east
Mile 110: Right, Rt 200 West
Mile 148: On Right, Campus Inn

It cannot get easier.

I chatted with this fellow rider and he was heading East across the mountains. He thought that we had it backwards -riding from the cool Montana to hot Texas.

Glenn and I headed for the Press Club for dinner. This Sports bar had a wide selection of beers and my Choice of the Day was Cold Smoke

July 28th: Arrival in Kalispell MT
Flight from IAD to FCA through ORD. First impression of Montana: could be a place to retire. Temp in the 80s low humidity. After rider check in we had pizza and plenty of beer in a saloon followed by DQ ice cream. The wireless allows me to update the blog. I decided to support the local brewing businesses and have a different micro brew every night, Choice of the Day was Montana Black



In 2008 our tour begins in Kalispell, Montana located fifty miles south of the Canadian border. Our route follows along the valley of Flathead Lake. This will be one of our longest mileage days but also one of the flattest. The dense forests are good places to spot deer or bear crossing the road.

The next several days across Montana are some of the most scenic with many postcard quality picturesque rivers and mountain views. Each day will have some notable climbing as our route crosses the mountains of the Continental Divide region. The cycling roads are good with ridable shoulders and moderate tourist traffic.

By the the fourth day we are approaching the town of West Yellowstone, Montana. You will have the option to ride extra miles into Yellowstone National Park by passing through the west gate. The next day we continue south to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and finish the day with a tough climb over Teton Pass and a fast 9% descent into town for the final five miles.

Our route will cross many famous pioneer trails from the mid 1800’s. We traverse the Oregon Trail, Bozeman Trail and Lander cutoff during the first seven days of our tour. There will be plenty of roadside historic markers for history buffs. Each of our nightly stops will have points of interest and museums to learn more about the region.

One of our toughest, but also most scenic days, is the 147 miles from Evanston, Wyoming to Vernal, Utah. We ride through the Flaming Gorge region which has dozens of steep climbs that reward riders with cliff side overlooks of the valley far below. You will be reminded of why this tour is called the Ridge of the Rockies and recommended only for riders who like to climb mountains.

As we enter Colorado the mountains are taller and the passes are higher. We will average at least one major climb over 10,000 feet elevation for the each of the next six days. Some riders consider these days the best cycling of the tour. The climb over Grand Mesa heading toward Montrose is a classic ride with a good mix of mountains and farms. Equally spectacular are the passes near Orray, Silverton and Durango. These are the heart of the Rocky Mountains with constant steep climbs and fast descents.

The next state we enter is New Mexico. Juan de Onate de Salazar traveled this region and founded Santa Fe in 1598. He came north along the Rio Grande (river) and opened the Camino Real trade route from Mexico. This was the first “Super Highway” in America traveling north from Mexico into the Indian regions of New Mexico. He would also discover the Turquoise Trail that would connect Santa Fe with Albuquerque.

Our final five days will travel these same original routes through the Rio Grande Valley. The terrain will change from the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the tan and brown hills of the desert southwest. This route has its share of hills and each day still contains about 4,000 feet of climbing every 100 miles.

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