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Sep 26, 2017

Cape Cod Cycling Celebration (CCCC) September 11- 17

Traveling on our 34th anniversary we arrived in Rhode Island to be part of Sheila’s 50th class reunion. Our plan was to ride to Cape Cod after the reunion and lots of visiting with Brenda (Sheila’s Mom). We stayed at the home Sheila & Ric grew up in and where Ric raised his 3 daughters.

We’d found some routes that looked good online. But when we got there Ric told us he didn’t know of any way to get off Aquidneck Island without needing an ambulance. The only roads off were too busy and without shoulders. Hmmm. Using the 4 days before our departure, Sheila found a Cape Cod local tandemist and got advice on getting around the Cape. Spencer talked with the LBS (local bike store) about safe ways off island. So we figured we were set. Once Spencer rebuilt the bike we took it on a shake-down cruise around The Ocean Drive and a stop on Cliff Walk at Easton’s Beach. Note click on any image to see it enlarged.

September 11 – 67 miles – Newport to Sandwich

We had our first flat, a rear, in the driveway just after a neighbor took this photo! Getting off the island wasn’t too bad with the intel we’d gathered. We had a second flat about an hour later outside of Tiverton. We pulled into someone’s driveway to fix it and out of nowhere an angel in a car stopped and said she’d seen us earlier and had a floor pump in her trunk! So much easier than the on-bike pump. The rest of the week thankfully remained flat-free. The day’s route was lots of winding back roads, with only a half mile on the VERY busy and narrow Route 6!

Resting near the top of the Bourne Bridge. We’re 135 feet over the Cape Cod Canal on a narrow sidewalk with 50mph traffic nearby.

After a lunch stop in a small town we headed for New Bedford but abruptly came to a “no bikes” sign right at bridge entry. After calling another LBS we ignored it and safely crossed the bridge. Out on backroads again we even found the dirt road Google forced us on to be lovely. Eventually we had another dicey ride across the Bourne Bridge. We clung to the sidewalk and were rewarded with a 5 mile ride along the Cape Cod canal. It’s apparently “normal” in the northeast to have few or no street signs. Even when they exist they are confusing. But we eventually managed to find our hotel in Sandwich which was luckily directly opposite a mall with a Stop n Shop. We were able to buy appropriate nutrition and heat it in our room’s microwave.

September 12 – 53 miles – Sandwich to Eastham

Today we had great weather and the promise of a guide. After 6 mostly uphill miles, we connected with Maggie on her single. She guided us to and through Hyannis Port. We stopped for a snack, then we had more twisty riding along waterfronts. The vacation houses here are TINY. We’re talking 450 sf. There were a lot of private or residents-only beaches. Maggie cut us loose at 25 miles. We continued on a circuitous route to the Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT) in Dennis. It was wooded and very pleasant. We stopped for lunch overlooking a lake. Eventually we arrived at Harrison (not Ford)’s home. He hosts through Warm Showers a great home-stay system for cyclists. He wasn’t there but left instructions for us to make ourselves at home. A third Warm Showers guest (from Montreal) showed up while we were waiting for him.

When he arrived it was clear he had spent a lot of time traveling and making music. He fixed us a lovely vegan supper. He said we MUST go see the sunset with him and his musical friends. I was to be the star attraction! We walked 2 minutes to the bay and 4 of us shared songs and guitars. It was quite an experience. The view of the bay looks like an ocean. There is no obvious shore opposite, even though we knew Boston was out there somewhere.

September 13 – 51 miles – Eastham to Provincetown round trip

We woke up to smoothies and live music, thanks to Harrison. Today we unloaded the bike and rode to Provincetown and back. PTown is a lovely, touristy beach town at the end of the Cape. It got up to 79 degrees. The Grab & Go had build-your-own salads which satisfied our craving. They were so gigantic we took half home for dinner. Then we had vegan chocolate gelato. The main drag is a crowded mix of pedestrians, cars (1 way) and bikes (2 way). We didn’t want to imagine how crowded it would be in the high tourist season. We took a detour to watch a very informational video at the Cape Cod National Seashore Park explaining how glaciers created the cape. By the time we got home, we were getting pretty tired of riding. It had already been 170 miles this week! We weren’t used to the day-in, day-out routine though it reminded us fondly of our cross-country tour.

September 14 – 50 miles – Eastham to Martha’s Vineyard via Hyannis

Thursday we planned to ride to Hyannis and catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. We thought we had until 2:30 to ride 30 miles. It turned out that the ferry left at 11:30. We scrambled to get ready for an earlier departure. Then we learned that our niece Allison and her wife Dana were on the Cape staying less than 3 miles from us at Dana’s dad’s place!

More scrambling and lots of texts got us a 40 minute window to visit with them. That was possible only because Harrison kindly offered to put the tandem in his van and drive us to the ferry. Great to have the visit and the rest for our legs.

The ferry to Martha’s Vineyard was very fast and very smooth. When we got in at the ferry dock, we immediately tried to find out where our ferry out would leave the next day. The locals said, “Just go straight up the hill for 2 blocks to catch it.” The ferry to New Bedford was 2 blocks uphill? It didn’t make sense, but it was true. The topology in New England is weird. We stopped to look at the “campground”, a collection of gingerbread style houses in Oak Bluff. Then we headed for the hostel 9 miles away. We were trying to find our way out of town when we tagged in with 2 cyclists who knew the route. We learned that one had worked in Seattle and lived 1 block from our home of 20 years! Amazing. They got us headed the right direction and soon we ditched our gear at the hostel. We hadn’t seen any lighthouses yet so we set out to see the Gay Head Lighthouse. It was gorgeous countryside with lots of tandem-friendly hills. There were some unfriendly hills as well. Again we found ourselves heading uphill to the lighthouse (which I expected to be on the water). When we got there, it was a very light fog or mist. The bluff it was on was spectacular, though. While balancing fluids we met a couple who were visiting from Tacoma! It was turning into a social celebration!

The mist cleared as we rolled easily through mostly flat, fast territory to our dinner stop: the Scottish Bake House. It turns out what we thought was a restaurant was a take-out place. And it wasn’t as vegan friendly as their website sounded. But the cookies were terrific. At this point we were only 5 miles from our base. We zipped there on the bike trail for much appreciated showers as the sun was setting. With a pancake breakfast in the offing, we went to sleep satisfied.

September 15 – 25 miles – Martha’s Vineyard to New Bedford

This was a full and varied day. It began with a pancake breakfast in the common kitchen of the hostel. Then we rode a few miles up a dirt road to the Bohdi Path Buddhist Center. Noone was there but we had a serene venue for meditation. Then we rode to Katama Beach (in the fog). We even touched our toes in the Atlantic there! Then it was back to Oak Bluff for the ferry to New Bedford. An hour on the fast boat and we were at the Whaling Museum. It was amazingly interesting. We spent 2+ hours looking at skeletons, a 50% sized model whaling ship, scrimshaw, and knots. We ate at Green Bean then went to our Warm Showers host in New Bedford. We had a wonderful connection with Arthur “Artie” Sklut who is exploring moving to Boulder and may be interested in cohousing. We commiserated about the difficulties of selling a house and the joys of living with others.

September 16 – 40 miles – New Bedford to Newport

This morning we started the day by meditating together with Artie and then going out to breakfast before riding back home to Newport, RI. We stopped for a visit at Sheila’s cousin Debra Darkow’s place in Tiverton. Had a great visit over a big salad. Forgot to capture a photo. Today’s 40 miles pushed us past 300 for the week. We were tired pups and glad to be back at Ric’s.

September 17 – 4 Bridges Ride – 26 miles

Our final ride was the 4 Bridges, which was a very short 26 mile spin. This commercial ride was attractive because it allowed us to travel over the 4 bridges that connect Aquidneck Island to the mainland. One was the familiar Sakonnet River bridge that we took off-island a week ago and returned on yesterday. The ride involved getting up at 0’dark-30 to be driven across the Pell Bridge to the start in North Kingston. Since we didn’t have a tandem roof rack, Ric procured use of a large truck from work. At 7 we rode out with 900 other bikes. Sadly it was foggy for the entire ride which meant we were unable to enjoy the fabulous views. The finish was on a cul-de-sac under the Mount Hope bridge which was quite jammed with people, bikes and cars. They allowed us to ride back over that bridge among the cars so Ric was able to pick us up at a less congested location. With that our bike adventure ended.

September 18 – Spencer turns 65 – 0 miles

Spencer’s birthday kicked off with free pancakes at IHOP followed by dismantling the tandem to music on Pandora. Later we helped bring in lawn furniture in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Jose. We were so lucky to have had a week of dry and warm riding and the warm hospitality of Ric & Lisa Hoffman.

Sep 26, 2017

Middletown High 50th Reunion

We planned a two week vacation around when my 50th High School Reunion which was scheduled September 8-10, 2017. It was a great chance to spend some time with my Mom and of course we brought the tandem for a week of cycling on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.

Mom is 91 now and has lost a great deal of her vision, hearing, mental acuity and mobility. Nonetheless, she keeps a positive attitude. The apple of her eye is 2-year old Zoey. She really lit up when she finally got to meet Zoey’s new sister, her GREAT grand-daughter Isla, for the first time while we were visiting.

Below are just a few shots of our reunion which had events all weekend. Friday night Stephan Huttler and his wife hosted a cocktail party in their lovely new home. Saturday evening there was a dinner at the Atlantic Resort with dancing and trivia. Sunday we met at the school for a memorial honoring classmates no longer with us. Classmate Bob Cowsill played guitar and sang several songs. Instead of releasing balloons each person’s name was inscribed on a shell that later was returned to the beach. Then out to John & Lisa’s for a BBQ, visiting and croquet.

Jun 16, 2017

New tandem headset system

Recently my very ancient review on the Tandem Club of America website brought me in touch with a blind tandemist from the Amsterdam area. Richard was hell-bent on finding a great solution as he has many “pilots” who don’t hear well. After exploring the Wiwi from Korea which looked promising but they were impossible to communicate with and had no refunds and another system that was $1000+ designed for surgeons, we settled on giving the Arbiter a try. They’re designed for, and widely used by, referees and sold in the USA with a brief return policy. They’re not inexpensive, about $500 for a pair with headsets (use the $25 coupon code you get when you subscribe). We decided given that our old Simultalk from Eartec was needing repair and they’re not making it anymore and we were tired of the wires of our very old Tandem-Com (note they do offer a wireless system but it’s using Eartec’s Simultalk) that it was worth trying the Arbiter since we’d have a narrow 3-day return window.

We rode about 55 miles yesterday with our new Arbiter system. Here’s a summary of the pros and cons. Bottom line, we’re keeping it.

Pros:

  • small & light weight
  • well-made and sturdy construction
  • excellent headset, can easily switch ears as needed
  • no interference experienced between us or with others around us
  • charged quickly in wall
  • wind did not seem to be an issue
  • Full Duplex Communication System (No Push-To-Talk required)
  • Waterproof (IP65)
  • lasted way longer than any other device we’ve tried which is a HUGE plus for us (advertised as 10+ Hours of battery Life)
  • Charged in about 2 hours (advertised as a charging Time: 3 Hours)
  • We could talk when pretty far apart (2 floors in our building still worked without line-of-site, and when it finally didn’t work and I returned to range it reconnected automatically) advertised up to 800-meter line-of-sight range
  • 1 Year Warranty

Cons:

  • the antennae and headsets plug protrude from opposite ends of the device. Not a huge problem but slightly awkward for putting in a jersey pocket
  • the headset cord is short….just long enough to go under the arm to the back pocket. Would be too short to use these headsets in a wired device as stoker couldn’t stand if connected to captain by wires. They are reportedly working on making it longer and it’s not an issue now.
  • sound quality was not as high fidelity as I’d like. Several times Spencer sounded garbled enough that I had to have him repeat. This was close to a deal-breaker for me but since Spencer’s hearing is not that great he didn’t notice. And I like so much about it we both think it’ll be OK. Their rep suggested we re-pair when away from any other blue-tooth to see if that helped. They were surprised as they’re known for good sound quality.
  • Bluetooth pairing has to occur and took a while to figure out. Then turning it on each time is a multi-step process which we’re still learning but not a big deal. The documentation for this is not great. But once you have it you never need it again.
  • You have to reestablish the necessary volume setting each time since it’s a +/- system and not a dial that can be left at the setting.

I’ll report back after we ride STP with it next month. That’s back-to-back centuries. We’ll need to charge overnight but theoretically they should hold up each day without issue.

Post-STP Update

We were VERY happy with our headsets on STP. We had the headset on and working from 6 AM to 6 PM both days with a 2-hour charge before going to bed Saturday night. It never failed us. Please note that if you mention that I referred you we get a tiny commission. Thanks!

May 8, 2017

Tandem Headset Review

This article originally appeared in the printed Doubletalk Magazine in 2012 and then migrated to the Tandem Club’s website.

We’ve been riding tandem since 1999. My Captain has a hereditary hearing loss so having some assisted listening device has been essential to our happiness riding together. In case you’ve never run into a tandem headset, it’s simply a way to make it easier for the Captain and Stoker to hear each other in wind and traffic without yelling at each other all the time. Typically there’s a pack that resides in the Captain’s back pocket that you both plug into. There used to only be two such devices available, Tandem Talk and Tandem-Com. And while one of those is gone now, there are finally new options to choose from.

We first learned about Tandem Talk shortly after beginning to ride tandem. They were a small family owned company who custom built a simple and affordable device ($80) that worked quite well. It was a wired device with an on-off switch and no volume control. The headset was in-the-ear and could be used in either ear though we preferred the right so our traffic-facing ears were unencumbered. The first time our Tandem Talk died was less than a week before we were heading to Europe to ride. They were SO accommodating, rushing us a new one overnight in time for the trip. Sadly, the company no longer exists. Therefore, as our old device is on its last legs after crossing the country with us this summer, we’ve been on a quest for a suitable replacement.

The only other long-standing device is the Tandem-Com. We tried that early on and found we preferred the Tandem Talk. Tandem-Com offers both a wired and wireless option and runs $369. We were comparing the wired version and didn’t like the fact that the volume needed to be adjusted every time it was turned on, and that the headset covered the left rather than the right ear.

Thankfully technology is catching up. For a long time now there’ve been Bluetooth devices for motorcyclists and if you search the web there are riders who’ve jerry-rigged the motorcycle headsets to work on bicycle helmets. That is no longer necessary. As of this season, the company who makes motorcycle headsets has developed a system for cyclists. We tried one out recently called Cardo BK-1 Duo. It had a transmitter that straps on the top of your helmet. Because it’s Bluetooth it has the advantage of being able to hookup with a smart phone, MP3 player and/or GPS so you can take calls and get directions in your ear. Sadly a brief test ride with this system left us unimpressed. There was a tinny echo and slight delay as we spoke to each other which was annoying. We found it completely unusable. UPDATE: As of mid-2017 this system is no longer available. There are other BlueTooth options out there but since we found them unacceptable we haven’t evaluated any of the new ones. See note below about one such option.

On to the next option: from Eartec in Rhode Island (my home state). They’ve been around a long time and build headsets for a wide assortment of specialized purposes. The Simultalk Cycle-Com Wireless System runs $300. It’s no longer on their website but they still have them available. Contact Eartec directly.  So far this system is a keeper.

Pros

  • Great natural sound
  • Comfortable lightweight headsets
  • Wireless and works up to 150 ft
  • Optional headset upgrade
  • Can carry a pre-charged backup battery for longer rides
  • It has a series of dip switches so the two packs can be set to communicate with each other on a unique channel that won’t compete with your Garmin or other technology. It took us a couple of rides to realize that’s why my heart rate monitor and cadence were no longer working. But with a little trial and error we ironed it out in no time.

Cons

  • The volume is controlled with the on switch so has to be reset with every use.
  • The battery pack can only be charged in the unit (takes 6 hours and should not be left charging more than 12 hours).
  • The battery pack will only last for about 4-5 hours of talk time, longer in standby mode.
  • The headset that comes with it is a left ear headset.
  • We tried the upgraded headset which costs more and is a right ear headset but it hurt the top of our ear where it sat.

On the horizon is a system out of Sweden called the Hiod. They don’t have it licensed for US sales yet so we haven’t tried it yet. Judging only from the website it looks to be an innovative and unique approach. Only time will tell how it performs and what it costs. Meanwhile, we are thrilled to have found the Eartec solution and hope you’ll find this information useful.

UPDATE (Summer 2015)

We are still using the Eartec device and find they need the batteries swapped every 4 hours. On longer rides this is somewhat tedious. It’s also a bit annoying to only be able to charge the batteries inside the device and the 6-12 hour window means one must plan your charging times. We now carry the wired TandemCom pack as a backup which has been helpful. Now that we’re comparing the sound to the wireless Eartec the wired TandemCom actually offers superior sound quality. Though it’s also not ideal to switch between wireless and wired. I still prefer having a wireless device. I hope someday someone will design the PERFECT solution, which none of these offer. If you find something please let me know!

UPDATE (Spring 2017)

I was contacted recently to see if I had any updates. I didn’t. But decided to see what was happening out there. Sadly, not much. The Hiod mentioned at the end of the original post is nowhere to be found now. Our Eartec batteries no longer charge. I contacted them and they said they’re discontinuing this model because the technology has “advanced” and they can include it all in the headset. I looked at the headset and laughed. It’s huge and would not work with a helmet. They assured me they’re working on a belt-pack that is due out this summer and we’d be able to continue to use our existing headsets that work with a helmet. There’s a new Bluetooth option Terrano-X that some might find acceptable. Our experience when testing BT in the past was unacceptable. With the close proximity of the captain and stoker the BT delay is disturbing as you hear both. But “your mileage may vary” so  check ’em out. If anyone finds another great solution, we’re all ears.

UPDATE (June 2017)

We bought a new headset. I’ve posted a whole new review about it.

Aug 7, 2016

Community is more than the building

CHUC-entrance-800x600It’s been a long six years and a particularly long last six months but we’ve finally arrived. Persistence pays off! We moved into CHUC (Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing) on June 14, 2016.

Backstory

Spencer and I have long been interested in community and in cohousing. We explored it with our friends Larry & Karin in the early ’90s but didn’t want to leave the dense, diverse and walkable neighbor we’ve lived in on Capitol Hill. After 20 years in a house in this neighborhood we moved into a condo ten years ago describing it as “cohousing-lite”. And while I was the president we indeed had some sense of community. But with 150 units, high turn-over, no actual intent to BE a community and a 5-person board making all the decisions, that sense dissolved rapidly when I left leadership. When we heard there would be a new cohousing development right in our neighborhood (literally half way between our old house and the condo) we attended the next gathering and were quickly “all-in”. That was in April, 2010.

About CHUC

You have likely seen/heard about our process over the last six years. You can visit our website for more specifics and see photos of construction on Flickr, but here is a brief overview of what it has taken to build our community. We began with regularly scheduled introductory meetings promoted through the neighborhood blog. During this process we “kissed a lot of frogs”. Many folks were excited about cohousing and/or our project, but for an assortment of reasons it didn’t work out for them. Such things as timing, size, cost, layout all played a role. And of course in some cases it just wasn’t a good match. It was a “self-selecting” process with no application form, background checks or approval. But it worked. We eventually had all nine of our households committed and participating for more than a year before we moved in. Everyone involved was drawn to living in community AND specifically to this Capitol Hill location. We are currently 17 adults and 11 children including one born since we moved in (and not pictured below).

all-of-us

What does “participating” mean exactly?

Early on we had several all-day, professionally facilitated workshops including creating our vision and values, learning about decision making by consensus and how to resolve conflicts, our communication styles, etc. We had monthly business meetings with potlucks from the beginning and a few years ago added bi-weekly Supper Club meals where one household hosted. These activities plus assorted social events such as baseball games, bowling, game nights, pumpkin carving and post-Thanksgiving potlucks all served to create connections and a sense of community long before we were in the same physical space. And of course there were also numerous team meetings to devise plans for our common meals, how to integrate the kids into the community, and most importantly the design and development of the physical plant and how it would all get financed and maintained. Our unique hybrid approach to our financial structure is a little more detailed than the purview of this post. Suffice it to say that our finance-legal team (dubbed Finegal) met weekly for a couple of years to sort it all out and aren’t quite done yet! It’s a lot of work creating a community.

So what’s it like?

At this time, it’s been nearly two months since we moved it. We’re still in the start-up phase where we’re settling in and figuring out how to live together with our different styles and preferences and how to get all the work done while holding down jobs and nurturing families. What’s wonderful is that the building is designed to encourage interactions, with tall windows, facing kitchens, wide open walkways and ample common spaces.

There are many wonderful things about living in community. Here’s a short list of joys that come immediately to mind:

  • We often hear children playing in the courtyard.
  • Spencer has already had many coveted opportunities to play with the kids.
  • We get fresh greens from the rooftop farm.
  • We have impromptu visits from neighbors.
  • We share resources and workloads.
  • We eat together 5 times every two weeks. In a 6 week rotation we each only cook once and assist twice.

We’re confident that the start-up workload will settle down and that we’ll continue to find both joys and challenges in living in community for a long time to come.

Spencer & Sheila’s apartment

For those who are not able to stop by for a visit here’s some photos of our new home. It’s 850 sq ft, so only slightly smaller than our condo. But here we have a much smaller storage area and no parking included. Of course we can walk to everything, are across the park from Light Rail and have ample transportation alternatives.  There are 3 unique floor plans and each unit had one non-weight-bearing wall that could optionally be left out. We chose to leave out the one that made a second bedroom. That allows us more light coming in from the west and better cross ventilation. It also makes a very long narrow unit which was affectionately dubbed “the bowling alley” prior to move-in. Hopefully you’ll agree that with furnishings it’s quite nicely arranged. We have 1.5 baths, a cork floors, Caesar Stone counter tops and a large storage closet.

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Aug 6, 2016

Community mosaic completed

framed-mosaicLast March, 2015 we posted about Sheila winning an AARP Essay Contest and that we were splitting the proceeds between our Banff-Jasper bike tour and creating a mosaic for our community’s entry. The completed mosaic went up a few weeks ago and is all we hoped it to be. It makes a stunning impression as you walk into the corridor from the entry gate. The mirrored tiles reflect the sun differently throughout the day. Many have commented that the photos do not do it justice so we hope you’ll come to see. None-the-less we wanted to document the process here for our friends who may not be able to visit or follow along on our Facebook album.

mosaic-claireAfter meeting a few times with Claire at Seattle Mosaic Arts (shown right) and drafting and refining a design to be executed at the finished size of 8’x8′ we set about learning all the steps necessary. We were lucky to have the Braeburn’s art room to work in and store materials. Beginning September 12, 2015 we started the first of twelve 24″ x 32″ panels. As you’ll see in the slide show below everyone from the community put in some tiles. We finished that round by mid-December then the next phase began. Each pair of panels had to be stitched together then cut apart along grout lines so they could be mounted on the wall and the seams would not be visible. The 12 panels slowly became 17 panels. Spencer and Bill installed the backer board early on when we thought we’d be moving in January. Then we waited. And waited. We finally got our Temporary Certificate of Occupancy mid-June which allowed us official access to do the wall installation. Claire came out with two staff members and three volunteers and in just a couple of hectic hours the crew mounted the panels with cement (see video at bottom). After a few days of drying community members worked together inspired by homemade cinnamon buns and great music to rub on the grout and then clean it off the tiles. It’s only awaiting the dark brown frame and small plaque we’ll be adding in the next couple of weeks.

We hope you’ll enjoy this slideshow of the project and the video one of the staff took when we mounted it.

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Aug 24, 2015

Day 8 – Jasper

Monday, August 24: 35 miles / 934 ft. elevation gain / TOTALS: gain: 20,428′ / miles: 355.5

DSC02886

DSC02888  DSC02889

We left first today to have time to tear down the bike in Jasper in time for our 1:45 bus ride out. And since it was mostly down, we really rocked. Again, it was very cold. But we were bundled up for it. The day was suddenly smokey. We couldn’t figure out where the fire was. We stopped at mile 14 to look at Athabaskan Falls. This was similar to Sunwapta Falls, a narrow break in the rocks where the entire river tries to get through at once. Even as early as we arrived it was crowded with half a dozen tourist buses. And again we had Aussies interested in our bike and travels. Also met a band of guys who are biking from Lake Louise to Whistler in 7 days. 621 miles and 36,000′ of climbing. Now that’s a big trip! They were fun to chat with and expressed their admiration for our climbs on a tandem.

We left the falls and as we did, a large group of our riders swooped down. We were still in front, but not by much. We climbed out then returned to the fast downhill run. I got it in my head that I wanted to see how far down we could get before that peleton caught us. I didn’t tell Sheila that. She just kept adding power. Found out later that she too had set that same internal goal. Great minds!

There really wasn’t much to look at, either. With the smoke. you could barely see the river, much less do anything bu make out the outlines of the mountains around us. So we just pedaled. Every time we had a hill, I thought I’d see the peleton coming up behind us, but they didn’t. We even stopped at an outhouse and they didn’t pass us by.

We were getting close to Jasper. Now I wanted to beat them in. We rode hard and swung into the train station just minutes ahead of them. Yahoo! Our breakaway stuck! The peleton was defeated!

DSC02883I spent 2+ hours taking apart and repacking the bike. We grabbed some food, said goodbye to our guides, and caught the bus for Calgary. It was billed as a 7 hour ride.

That bus ride was really weird. It went right back along our route all the way to Banff. It was like watching a movie backwards and from the other side of the screen. And in this case, it was like watching a black and white version instead of technicolor. All the vistas we’d seen before were suddenly washed out into shades of gray. Bow Lake was dull as used dish water. We realized how lucky we’d been to see those sights freshly rain-washed when we rode through.

It turned out that the smoke was from the Okanagan Complex of fires in Eastern Washington. We were hundreds of miles from there. It reminded us of the fragility of our existence on this planet and how we shouldn’t take any moment for granted. It may not all be technicolor. We’d best enjoy what we see and do at the time.

red sun due to smoke

In Banff we had a great dinner at Masala, an Indian restaurant on Wolf Street. Highly recommended. You can see from this shot of the sun in Banff how red it and smoke-obscured it was. Then we continued toward Calgary. But a fatal accident west of Calgary had shut down the Tran Can Highway, so we had to use back roads. That worked for a while, then we got caught by the wave of refugees from Highway 1. It took us a couple extra hours to get to Calgary airport. Then we had to get to our “airport” hotel which turned out to be a $40 cab ride away. (What Airport hotel doesn’t have a shuttle? Airport Traveller’s Inn – avoid it.)

That was pretty much our trip. The scenery was exquisite. The cycling was gigantic fun, even when it was really hard. Our fellow cyclists were fun to ride with, even though that only happened occasionally. The tour company was practiced. They moved our gear, set out snacks and lunches along the ride, helped out with tired and wet cyclists. It all worked out pretty well. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted to do this on our own. It was another epic experience.

Aug 23, 2015

Day 7 – Columbia Icefield

Sunday, August 23: 61 miles/ 3,362 ft. elevation gain / Cumulative gain 19,404′

We left this morning at the scheduled start time of 8:30. Somehow it had gotten pushed back to 9 without our knowledge. What the heck, we’ll just get in some early morning miles. It was freezing cold again especially since the first 6 miles were mostly in the shadows of the mountains to either side of us. It was dry and clear, though. We had the advantages of riding before anyone else was on the road and of seeing the rising sun lighting the cliffs on the sides of the road. It was kind of dramatic.

DSC02857We rolled steadily along until we got to the 14 mile mark, Weeping Wall. This huge cliff has small streams of water working down its face and was the first rest stop of the day. We got a snack and some water, then headed out.

Almost immediately we hit the main climb of the day. It was 7-10% grade which is pretty steep. There was nothing to do but gear down and ride up. We peeled off our extra layers quickly and as we did so we were passed by the fast singles of our group. We’d be passed by many more before we reached the top.

Straight ahead we could see where the road switched back above us. We decided to make that our first goal. Steadily we closed in, then we turned to the left to get to the switchback. Unhappily, it also involved losing some altitude before we started climbing again. STEEP! SLOW! And now the road was narrow with lots of vehicles going both directions.

DSC02870We pulled into our overlook after 45 minutes of riding and looked back down the valley. What a climb! Too bad it just kept going up from there. We still felt strong and confident. The scenery was a lot more rocky on this stretch.

We didn’t realize we were over the top until we were. A drop that could have just been a short respite from climbing turned into a deep descent. Woo hoo! Sheila slipped on her wind jacket as we rolled, but I opted to skip mine in favor of getting to the next SAG stop at Columbia Icefield as quickly as possible. I got pretty chilly as we suddenly saw great snowy peaks rise up on the left.

S2-summit-switchbackThe icefield is a large expanse of snow and ice which fills a plateau. Generally glaciers form at the edge of the field and, indeed, we could see the Athabaskan Glacier coming down from Columbia. Even though the sun shone brightly, it was very cold. We snacked, then rode over to the visitor’s center to use the facilities. That’s when Sheila had a moment.

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There must have been at least 25 tour buses in the parking lot. The center was gigantic and absolutely packed with people from all over the world. Different languages flying everywhere. People, people, people. Sheila went in to find the bathroom and almost immediately came out saying she couldn’t stand the crush. She was really shaken. It was like suddenly being in Disneyland. I bravely scouted out the locations of the washrooms and reported back to her. The second exposure went much more smoothly. We chatted with some Aussies about the bike and our trip, then hightailed it out.

Riding past the glacier the winds were so stiff we had to lean into them sideways to stay upright. Then they’d shift and we’d have to recover and brace for the next change. All this while rolling around 35-40 mph. A stiff climb slowed us again which was good because the RCMP were pulling over speeders due to the large numbers of tourists wandering around. It also allowed us to stop easily at a gorgeous waterfall near the top of the pass.

Eventually, though, we were out of the crowds and just rolling down along the river. Another day ending in a long descent. It was a boon. With the river on one side and waterfalls and cascades on the other, it was also pretty.

The only problem was the shoulder turned into a very rough piece of road. Every 8-10′ there was a crack perpendicular to our line of descent. We call roads like that “returning to Wisconsin” after the roads we hit on our cross country tour. Whenever there was no traffic, we got on the left side of the white line where it was smooth. When cars appeared, we went back to Wisconsin.

We ended the day at Sunwapta Falls at the Rocky Mountain Lodge. Sheila stumbled on a computer there and tried to fix some client problems that had popped up while we waited for our room. After we were cleaned up we hiked to the falls.

There are actually two sets of falls. The upper ones force the river to go through a 10′ wide chute in the granite. The noise was amazing, as was the force of the churning water. Sheila opted to return before we got to the second set of falls which were much like the first, narrow chasms filled with hard-charging water. It’s hard to believe the rocks are able to stand up to it.

We’d made dinner reservations as soon as we got there and still had to eat at 7:30. But we made them for four so our friends Mike and Chris could eat before 9. They had bike trouble and came in pretty late. It was a nice meal with a tasty dessert. Our waiter told us about the northern lights he’d seen last night, so I decided I’d wake at 1:15 to look for them. I did. They didn’t show. I went back to sleep. Nothing to see here, ma’am.

Aug 22, 2015

Day 6 – Glaciers and Lakes

Saturday, August 22: 51 miles/ 2,692 ft. elevation gain / Cumulative gain 16,072′

2015-08-22 08.34.54It was still bitterly cold in the morning when we woke at Lake Louise (top) so Rich decided they’d shuttle us all up to Lake Moraine (bottom) for a look-about. That also would allow us to start riding when it was warmer. Splendid!

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Lake Moraine is a small lake at 6,183′ nestled in a group of mountains above Lake Louise. It was gorgeous and would have been a great place for a hike, had we more time. Frost was still heavy on the info signs describing the different layers of rock in the formations above us. We snapped some pictures and wound our way back down to our bikes.

A Grand Fondo was going to do a turn around at Lake Louise later that day, so the roads were packed with expectant spectators. We took off at the front of the pack for our trip to Saskatchewan Crossing. We rode through Lake Louise village, then let ourselves through the wildlife-proof gate and entered the Icefields Parkway. We quickly had to strip off some layers as we rolled along the Parkway. It was a nice place to ride, usually with wide shoulders and rumblestrips to protect us some. And the scenery was jaw-dropping gorgeous. We stopped often to take pictures, like this of Herbert Lake reflecting some mountains behind it. The mountains had a dusting a white from the snow yesterday and the sky was blue as can be.

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Even with the climbing we were cruising along at 12 mph which is good for us. But the climb was getting tougher. We were passed by lots of the rest of the crew when we came to signs warning of road construction ahead. That combined with the streams of asphalt trucks trundling up and down the pass warned us of changes ahead.

We saw the remnants of many glaciers as we rode up. Some people in cars leaned out and cheered us on. Then we came around a corner and saw Bow Lake. It demanded a full stop. Its waters were aquamarine in a tone I’d never seen before. Stunningly green. We chatted with a family from Italy in the midst of a 15 day vacation. The father (il padre) told us he thought pictures he’d seen of it were water-colored. It couldn’t really be that shade. He was agog. As were we all.

After that we got to the construction zone. A long line of cars waited for a flagger to let them by. A few cyclists were at the head, so we joined them and waited. Then to our joy, the flagger waved us through first to get a headstart. This part of the road was already paved nicely, so we scooted up as quick as we could. The traffic soon followed, but we all made it through the active paving zone with ease.

We were at the top of Bow Pass. 6,787′ high. The day was bright and lovely and we had a lot of down to cover. When the traffic was stopped for the paving again, we took off. Our average to that point was around 12 mph. We headed down at 47 mph. on the very smooth, empty new road. We zipped!

After about 6 miles it leveled some and for the last 20 miles it was all flat or downhill, with another steep drop in the last 4. We were relaxed and moving well when we crossed the Saskatchewan River with an average speed of 15. Unfortunately we lost that average with a steep uphill to The Crossing, our hotel for the night. Still, it showed how much time we can make back given enough down!

I have to say there is just something about riding through the country. You experience it so much more fully. We are actually part of the landscape, not just encapsulated visitors flashing by. On the bike you feel the change in inclination when the road tips up. You feel the wind, the sun, the shade. You notice the little critters, the flowers, the creeks cascading by. The mountains have a presence you can feel. You get glimpses of even more peaks and creeks through the trees.

And it is generally quiet. It is an awesome experience, made more so by realizing that you can ride over 7200′ passes. What an amazing machine we live in.

We had lunch, cleaned up ourselves and the bike, then spent the afternoon sitting in the sun reading. We were surrounded by majestic peaks, half of them snow covered. It was breathtaking just to look around. The whites, the greens, the blues! Even the grays of the Rockies were pretty.

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We won’t discuss dinner that night except to say it was not great. But the day had been splendid.

Aug 21, 2015

Day 5 – Banff to Lake Louise

Friday, August 21: 1.6 miles / 10 ft. elevation gain / Cumulative gain 13,380

The rain that started yesterday came and went all night long. At our 8 AM tour meeting, we were told that the ride was a “go” and we should be ready to leave at 9. It wasn’t raining at the moment although the temperature was 49 F and the forecast foretold a day of rain and dropping temperatures.

Dutifully we packed up including all our rain gear in the pannier. We weren’t going to be caught by that again. We got to the bike and started loading it up. It started raining. We emptied the pannier and piled on the clothes. We hit the road while a half dozen or more riders were deciding not to venture out.

IMG_20150821_141257We got 3/4 of a mile down the road and were starting to soak through when we decided to opt out. We turned around, found our dry shoes and got the tandem in the trailer. More people did the same. We were told we’d hit the road at 10:30 to pick up any other riders on our way to Lake Louise.

We did some shopping, got a treat and a chai, then returned. There must have been half our group taking the vans. The rain was pouring. On the way up we gathered another 6-8 riders. We plucked one 71 year old rider who had gutted out the day before, who was so cold she couldn’t shift anymore. She was stuck in one gear going up the hills. It was absolutely miserable out there.IMG_20150821_115430

Obviously our rooms weren’t ready when we got in around noon, but the hotel was set up as a comfort lodge. We changed clothes and sat in the fireplace room in overstuffed chairs and read. Free wifi meant we could catch up on some goings on. And we read. And I napped. And it rained. It snowed on top of Mount Fairview just outside our window.IMG_20150821_182032

It was great to have a total day off. We needed it. Sheila talked to the chef of the hotel who agreed to make us huge dinner salads like we make at home. They were beautiful and exquisitely prepared. We were in seventh heaven as we crunched our way through that fabulous meal.

Tomorrow we get on the Icefields Parkway. We’ll try to go without expecting anything. Maybe that will make the day’s riding seem more pleasant.