Thursday, July 28, 2011

RMNP serves up some humility

The sounds of air wrenches finally wakes me up.  I'm sitting in my inoperable truck next to Bob's Towing & Repair in Estes Park, CO.  I slept like shit.  The garage has several spot lights that kept the inside of the truck illuminated the entire night.  Some Hispanic business across the street had customers coming and going in loud cars all night.  I never figured out what they sold there.  It looked like there were pinatas hanging inside, but every customer walked out with a bag that sounded like bottles.  What am I doing here?
Yesterday, I started in Boulder, CO with a cup of coffee and the idea to drive through Rocky Mountain National Park and camp somewhere on the western side.  I had been in the park once before but only did a short hike at lower elevations.  I didn't really plan to hike much, but I did want to drive along Trail Ridge Road which gets above 12,000' in elevation and offers some awesome views.
Along the way to the highest point on the road, I passed a cycletourist.  He looked to be okay and was keeping a slow albeit steady pace.  I shouldn't say slow.  It's a miracle that people can still turn pedals at all up there.  I tried to put myself in his place as I had thought to ride through RMNP at one point.  When I pulled out at the next view, I noticed some gnarly looking clouds surging towards me.  I heard some thunder too.  So I waited for about 20 minutes for the cyclist to get up to where I was to check and make sure he was okay with the impending weather.  I didn't know if he would want some food or water or maybe even a shuttle over the highest points on the road.  He said that he was alright to keep riding so I continued on.
I drove down the west side of the Continental Divide and reached level ground once again whenever my truck died rather suddenly.  I think the gods (or God) might have been telling me that I would have been better off had I been biking like the other guy.  At the very least, I found the humor in it.  Finished with laughing, I found some rangers who could call a tow truck to take my truck 40 miles back to Estes Park where I had entered the park earlier.  After waiting two hours and then a pleasant two hour drive with Diana in the tow truck, I found myself at Bob's with a $250 towing bill and a probable broken fuel pump.  Probably best for the expenses if I just slept in the truck...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We're not in Kansas anymore

However, while I was there, I had a good time.  Which is surprising for the low opinion that I have had of Kansas for years.  As I was rolling through the state, I decided to take my time and enjoy myself, eventually spending a day and a half there.  It turns out Kansas's highway rest stops are amazing.  They actually allow camping there and have designated areas away from the bathroom complete with grills and picnic tables.  Some of the bathrooms even have wireless.
Lest you be worried, Kansas has more interesting stuff than just rest stops.  I managed to stop by Abilene and see the house and presidential library of Dwight Eisenhower.  I had stopped by both Abilene and Hays City in hopes of seeing some cool historical cowboy days stuff, but couldn't really find anything.  The real treat was driving into the middle of nowhere, where there is a collection of 40 foot tall chalk towers amongst farmland.  There's a dozen or so and the one archway is the most interesting.

Eventually all good things must come to an end so I traded this view of Kansas:
For this view of Colorado:
It seems a bit of a cruel joke on the driver after travelling for so many hours through Kansas, for there to be 150 miles more of the same terrain upon entering Colorado.  Such is life.  I stuck it out though and found my way to Boulder where I met up with my friend Michael Fitzgerald.  Being well into the afternoon and possible thunderstorms threatening, Mike and I decided it would be best to go hiking.  We hiked up to the top of the First and Second Flatirons which gave us a pretty good view of the Third Flatiron.
After that, we met up with another State College friend, Justin Penfield, and crashed at his friend, Ben's, place.  The next day, Justin, Ben and I headed up into Boulder Canyon to do some climbing.  I soon realized that while it's only a ten minute drive into the canyon from town, the approaches may not be so easy.  One area you balance your way along a giant leaky waterpipe for a few hundred yards to access different climbs.
Another crag required us to do a Tyrolean traverse across the creek, which was rather high.
The Canyon was a great place to climb for two days.  There's also Eldorado Canyon and the Flatirons which makes for a lifetime of climbing all within short distance of town.  I'm sure there's plenty of places that I don't even know about.  Overall my stay here has proved that Boulder is a pretty sweet (albeit expensive) place to live.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I owe Ohio an apology.

For so many years, I have never paid the state of Ohio much attention.  It is merely one of those flattish states that you need to persevere through until you get to the states with actual topography.  Really, what would that state offer an outdoor enthusiast?  Most of the people from Ohio that I have met don't make a great case for the state either.  (Note:  I am mostly kidding.  Also, I absolutely exclude my brother's fiancee and her family from that statement.  So don't kick my ass, Jodi.)  After spending several days in Columbus, OH at my brother's house, I feel that I may owe the state an apology for my long held criticisms.

 Bike specific street map of Columbus, OH

Perhaps I am getting a little bit ahead of myself here.  While I certainly exempt the city of Columbus from my earlier criticisms, I might hold off pardoning the rest of the state.  So why was I swayed by Columbus, you ask?  Well the biggest part of it is that the city is so darned fun to ride around.  Leaving my brother's house on the northwestern side of town, you can ride a combination of bike trails and streets to get through, across, and around town.  This is made especially easy by the bike specific street/trail map that the city distributes.  Not only does it show their amazing system of bike trails, but it also rates the "bikeability" of every street by a green-yellow-red rating.  To top it off, so far as I have ridden around town in various states of traffic, I have yet to be honked at or threatened, even when I do something stupid.  I can't say that I've gotten the same reception around PA...

A free, outdoor climbing wall?  WTF?!

Also, if you were to hop on a bike path near my brother's house, you would find yourself in the Scioto Audubon Nature Center within about 15 minutes.  And as you rode around the park you would eventually fine A FREE OUTDOOR CLIMBING WALL?  What?  Columbus has a 35 foot tall outdoor climbing wall and it is supposed to be the largest of it's kind in the US.  It's free.  It's unsupervised.  You set up your own topropes there.  You can lead on bolts there.  It has both face and crack climbs on "natural" type rock.  I have never seen or heard of such a thing before.  My brother and I have gone climbing there and it kicks ass. How this one got past the lawyers is beyond me...

So, Columbus, OH, my hat's off to you.  You are definitely a nice city to live in from what I have gathered.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Princeton Tec bike lights

Several months ago, Princeton Tec sent me a selection of their lights specifically designed for biking.  All three of the lights, EOS BikeSwerve, and Push, have been out on the market for a while and the discerning consumer can find numerous reviews of them online already.  In fact, folks have undoubtedly done a better job than me of wringing them out and geeking out on their technical specifications.  So why should you waste your time looking at this review?  Well, you shouldn't.  But if one wants to hear the perspective of someone who has done 1000 miles of bike touring with these lights, gone climbing, hiking, auto repairing, and bar-hopping using them as well and who is more apt to drop an f-bomb in his review than the word "lumen", then read on.

Princeton Tec EOS Bike, Swerve & Push (as if you can't see that already)

The EOS Bike is quite simply Princeton Tec's EOS headlamp that one can also attach to their bike helmet.  This sounds like an obvious and unnecessary point to make until you realize that the EOS is a time honored and reliable light among backpackers and climbers.  Therefore, when bicycle touring or if you are a multi-sport individual and only want to purchase one type of headlamp, this is the light for you.  I do not use this as my primary light for bike touring as it isn't quite bright enough on it's own for my tastes.  If you're mountain biking and you want both a helmet light and a handlebar light or as a backup light in case your primary fails, the EOS works great.  Often I find myself keeping it rigged on the traditional headlamp strap in a front pannier while riding so it is ready for setting up camp.  I keep the velcro helmet strap permanently rigged on my helmet and can mount the light quickly if need be.  For one light that can work flawlessly for climbing, backpacking, etc. and also be secured to a helmet comfortably (instead of stretching a traditional headlamp's headband over your helmet) this is the ticket.

Now, most folks don't get too excited about taillights.  So long as it is red and perhaps even flashes nobody pays much attention.  I on the other hand have a fear of being crushed to death.  Why more people don't share my fear is beyond me.  Very often I find myself in dense traffic in areas of Pennsylvania where cycling is not recognized as a legitimate past time.  You're none too sure if folks are paying attention or even care to see you.  Another hazard I find myself in is open stretches of road with high speed limits and no road lighting.  Do you think that someone whipping along at 60 mph is going to see that single pukey LED?  I don't want to bet on it.  That's why I have used a Princeton Tec Swerve for a couple of years now.  It is bright and annoying as shit.  I mean that in a good way.  Whenever I ride directly behind my friend who uses a Swerve too, I fear the onset of seizures.  That's exactly what I want out of my taillight.  Also, the light uses a heavy duty rubber band to mount the light on any bar.  I have never had a problem with the light falling off.  It makes for quick transfers from bike to bike.  And if the need arises, the light also has a clip so you can mount it on your courier bag, jacket collar (hey, it has worked in a pinch), or bazooka sling.

      Clockwise from left: PT EOS Bike, PT Push, PT Swerve and Cygolite ExpiliOn 250

The Push is a handlebar mounted light from Princeton Tec that they advertise for anything from urban riding to mountain biking.  In speaking to sales reps, they have suggested that the light is more for urban riding and after testing it for a while I would agree with them.  The Push throws off a good beam for riding around town and some night road riding.  For extended night riding, I felt that the light wasn't quite far reaching for me.  Keep in mind that I am legally blind, so plenty of others may disagree with me.  When riding my touring bike down gravel fire roads, the light didn't shine far enough ahead to convince me that I wasn't going to hit a deer or some deadfall.  But around town, it works great.  It isn't as expensive as many other lights are so if it gets swiped you won't need a government bailout.  It is light enough and compact that you can throw it in your pocket while you stop for a brew and you won't get the inevitable question "It that a banana in your pocket or are you happy to see me?"  (My apologies to all bananaphiles that I just offended)  The only thing that troubled me about the light is that there is little way to tell when the batteries are getting low.  Sometimes there was a barely discernible flickering minutes before the light died, but usually it was rather abrupt.  That can be a little alarming when you're ripping downhill at night...

I believe that the Princeton Tec lights are all splendid within their respective categories.  However, for bike touring and "wilder" nighttime exercises, I wasn't totally satisfied with the Push.  I have started using a Cygolite ExpiliOn 250 which is like trading in a shotgun for a tank.  It's twice as bright and three times the cost.  I will let you know how it works out for me.  One thing that I like about it already is that it has a rechargeable battery.  Both the EOS Bike and the Swerve worked perfectly with rechargeable AAAs.  For some reason, I had poor luck getting my Push to work with a couple of different types of rechargeable AAAs.  This was another strike against it for bike touring for me, but I don't think that this should discourage others.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Finding the road again

No, I haven't become a mortician.  I am not smuggling drugs, dead prostitutes, Bibles, or any other such thing in the back of my truck.  I have heard all of those already.  I just wanted to share some pictures of my upcoming palatial 40 sq. ft. bachelor pad.  What you see is basically a big plywood box that I can lock up all of my climbing hardware in that also serves as a sleeping platform.  The sides of the platform are detachable so that you can stow a bike along either side.  The resulting 5'x8' platform is more than enough for two people to crash back there.

After I decided that I didn't really want to ride a overloaded bike across the mid-West by myself, I was at a loss for what to do next.  Travelling around to see my parents and brothers gave me time to ponder my next step.  My goal was still to climb, bike, hike and see friends and family throughout the West.  However, the prospect of covering all of that distance alone on my bike was just a little too daunting right away.  I would go so far as to say that it scared me.  So instead of allowing that to completely stop me, I have compromised a bit on my original plans.  My good ol' truck will be making the journey with me.  I figure that after a couple of months spent exploring the stretches of the West and meeting more folks out there, a bike/climb tour in 2012 will be much easier to stomach.

There's really no fixed itinerary yet.  I'm leaving in several days I believe.  States that I definitely plan to explore in are Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho.  The Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City is definitely in my plans.  What else?  I may even make it up into the Canadian Rockies, unless the border patrol finds those prostitutes in the big wooden box in my truck...