Pure Mountains

Seriously, the best pic of a bike I have ever taken.

Today was a sampler of some of the best of the high parts of Colorado. Pure mountain biking, pure Colorado “highways” and Aspen, a pure (albeit touristy) mountain ski town. First, the mountain biking. Herein follows a review of the Turquoise (LINK) lake single track just out of Leadville. MTB project touts that the reviews and rating are submitted by local riders. I do not doubt this is the case for the blue rated out-and-back 6 mile (so 12 mile if you do it out-and-back) trail along the north shore of Turquoise lake but it shows a rider who considers themselves to be “blue” (intermediate) based out of Leadville are far more skilled than us flatlanders from the midwest.

The trail starts very easy, some rocks to navigate but plenty of space to prepare and recovery from the feature. I say this is mountain biking (specifically XC MTB) at its purest as, even though the trail is maintained (no erosion etc) zero attempt has been made to make the trail “flow”. Totally un-artificial and I rode it to see the amazing landscape unfold as it can only do on a loop. Some parts were a joy to ride, and some parts were technical, some other parts got gnarly where you did not have a clean run at a feature and you had rock gardens followed by rock gardens so you could never really get back on balance and some part were hike-a-bike for all but living legends. If you take at the MTB project link above you will see the peak in the middle, that is where most of the hike a bike is. The rest is ridable by any solid intermediate rider who is used to the trail and elevation. This intermediate rider is NOT used to the elevation and was riding it blind so more than a few flubs of a run up to a rock garden forcing a walk to get started. Louise will be happy to learn that there were no spills today. So, to answer the question: Was it worth it? Do you like technical rocky sections? This is for you.

Clouds forming over the ranges on either side of the Arkansas headwaters valley near Leadville.
Pure mountain driving.

Do you prefer flow but are willing to suck it up for world class views? It’s worth it but judge your risk tolerance carefully. Good news, the whole trail has cell service for your significant other to send the authorities your way, as always set a “no contact panic time”. Are you familiar with the world class views Leadville has to offer and love the flow and think pushing your bike is for chumps? I would say avoid. Let me put it this way: I chose not to do the out and back again, opting to take part of the Leadville 100 route and then turn off for a mad descent to the dam wall and where I parked. Strava file here: Link .

Best pizza! Worth the steep bill.

Arriving back at the cabin we discussed priorities. The weather was forecast to close in so we opted that this afternoon would be Aspen. We climbed the Independence Pass again (discovering it was named for the, now ghost, town of Independence. This time, instead of stopping and turning around we descended the other side. The road down on the Aspen side is very different. It starts a lot mellower than the Twin Lakes side but quickly narrows, a lot! The story on the Twin Lakes side was avalanche scars. On the Aspen side it is rock falls. This means the road narrows in several spots to a one lane road with some unwritten rule making it work. Crazy there are not more issues (perhaps there are but we witnessed none today). Aspen sits at around 7,900 feet, the air felt so thick! First impressions: Wow, parking is a challenge. Asking a local he directed us to a road on the edge of town which connects to Aspen’s wonderful walking trail system. The forecasted weather was arriving so we hot-footed it to our destination: Aspen brewing and tap. Great beer, amazing pizza, phenomenal WIFI and pretty steep prices. Yes, Aspen is not Leadville.

It caters to the well-to-do. However very nice for a treat. And it was great watching the storm rage outside over the mountains enjoying the best pizza I have had in ages. All that was left to do was wait out the storm, head back to the car and enjoy a spectacular drive over Independence pass watching the clouds roll off the pine-covered slopes back to the cabin. We asked and the mountains derived pure majesty today.

Food For The Soul (And The Body)

First let’s talk about last night… As we played Trivial Pursuit the day turned into night and just before bed, we went outside to see what the sky had to show. We were not disappointed! I grabbed my camera and headed outside. After learning more of the Nikon Z7-II’s settings I finally had it set to bulb and grabbed a very nice long exposure. The blurring is from the earth (or sky, depending on your perspective) rotating. Hoping to get a longer shot with star trails before the end of the trip.

Space. We have a lot of it and see a lot of it!

Wednesday dawned bright and clear and it was time to test the red blood cell count and go mountain biking. Bob told me where to park. He also warned the single track on the southern side of the lake got challenging with rocks.. It did! But it was fun. All but a hike a bike section I could have and really should have taken the short cut around. Really testing the skills, heels down weight back letting the Yeti SB100 soak up the impacts.. Loving it. Oh and the views! Doing a loop meant you had views that were constantly training. Now those red blood cells, still need more of them until I am fully acclimatized.  Started out of breath, got into a good rhythm then got tired and sloppy so took a few breaks to collect myself. Ride finished with some short sections on highway 82 (uphill slogs) and some nice flowy sandy single track to the car. Click HERE for Strava.

Soul fed it was time for the tummy. Gathered up Louise and River and headed to Leadville. First priority: Coffee. Destination: City on a hill. Good coffee, awesome vibe (lightning fast internet!). Second priority: Calories, protein and taste. Destination: Casa Sanchez. Arm sized burrito comes out (the Chipotle one for those who know) I think “no way I am going to finish that”. 20 minutes late my plate is mysteriously empty of said burrito. After a provisioning for tomorrow’s slow cooked butter chicken it was time to head home via Twin Lakes. We stopped in at the general store, a classic example of never judge a book by its cover. It looks a little rough from the outside but is a paradise for nature seekers inside. Home now, winding down and getting a bit more organized (ie finally organizing all the stuff we just dumped when we arrived). What will we do tomorrow? We will decide then!  

The Air Is Rare Up Here

The views just kept getting better!

Today was the day. Time to stop being a mile high and become two miles high, the drive from Boulder to Twin Lakes just outside of Leadville. But first I decided I wanted to ride the Yeti up Boulder Canyon. It was meant to be an easy ride to acclimatize to a reduction in oxygen.

For the Aussies Boulder sits at around 1,600m, so bottom of Thredbo. Rode easy up the canyon enjoying the river and unfolding vistas until I got to the end to the path and was checking the map when a local Boulderite came past (fit and as beautiful as they all are) and told me about some of the local trails. He failed to notice my considerable girth and directed me to a local dirt road (mainly closed, not the realm of hikers and bikers).

Looking back on from where we came.

Well, present me is sending some huge gratitude to past me for starting my training months ago. The road was lovely, starting in dense pine forests and tight switchbacks which allowed me to look up the hill and see the climbing to come. Initially I said “lets ride until 7:15am and make a judgement call then” then it was 7:30, then 7:45.. Views just keep getting better and better so the ride ended up much more epic than intended. Ended up climbing 460 meters to spectacular views at the peak of flagstaff mountain. And then there was the descent.

Locked, loaded and ready to roll..

The features on the road to divert water flow, when hit at 20+mph ended up being super fun little kickers allowing some great jumps. Rolling back into the hotel it was time to pack and say “see ya later Boulder” and we hit the road for Leadville. Raced along the front range and hit E470, ripping through tunnels and seeing vistas at every turn. Our Subaru Outback, Ollie, took it all like a champ even when packed to the gills with stuff.

The air is rare up here.

I could write pages and pages describing the drive. From the awesomeness of the avalanche scars to the monumental if somewhat of a crime against nature sight of the Climax molybdenum mine. We rolled into Leadville at just after 1:30pm, grabbing phenomenal sandwiches at Buchi Cafe Cubano. After that all that was left to do was provision at safeway and drive across the alluvial plain of the Arkansas river headwaters, through Twin Lakes to Bob’s (Bob the living legend Graham) cabin. Bob met us and gave us the tour.

I could myself as blessed beyond belief to have made to many friends since moving to the United States 11 years ago. Quality friends. Genuine friends. And I am grateful to Bob for sharing his slice of heaven with us. I will talk more about the cabin in coming days but, suffice to say, this is rarefied land. And, yes, the altitude is hitting us all very hard. More to come soon, including our mimo antenna set up to get internet, the slowest internet on the planet but enough to keep things ticking over. Greetings from two miles high.

In the right place

Great coffee and cringe worthy T-Shirt

Greetings from North Platte Nebraska! Today was the big day for us (keep in mind we don’t do big road trips). 7.5 hours across Iowa and Nebraska. We broke it down into four blocks with three rests. Iowa city to Des Moines. Des Moines to a rest stop. Rest stop to Kearney. And Kearney to North Platte. Kind of felt like we took a good luck potion as, well, we kept having good luck. First, the breakfast place we found in Des Moines; St Kilda café was awesome. Yes, it was Aussie themed, but it was not kitschy, it was good. Fantastic coffee and great food. I had salmon, poached eggs (amazing) and lentils. Rest stop was clean and has some lovely grounds for a quick walk to refresh the mind and legs. The arch at Kearney was 100% random, and very nice. Designed as a museum to Nebraska, Buffalo etc it had great amenities and River loved the gemstones they picked up there (highlight for them which was amazing given how random it was. For me, I had two highlights.

Run around the car to wake up

Our dinner spot, Pals brewing in North Platte and the 7+ crop dusters that entertained us along the plains. Oh and the changing landscape from hilly in Iowa to sandy and flat across Nebraska. Gives me a newfound awe for our chose home we will soon be citizens of. A very timely road trip! Ok, the crop dusters first. These planes were just amazing. I am an aviation geek. I used to forecast for Australia’s aviation center which sparked this interest. These planes were slow, low and agile. I swear they flew lower than the trucks driving along I80 and weaved between them. Like a Star Wars trench run! Pals brewing, good food, beer (REALLY GOOD BEER. And I know good beer) and super friendly service. Geographically speaking, if this was Australia there would be literally nothing. And in the middle of Nebraska there is not much. So it was amazing to find such quality in the corn fields outside of North Platte.

Great day traveling across the plains, really hits home the impact of national infrastructure and national security. It’s no longer about rifles and cannons, it is food security and highways. Seeing the wind farms in Iowa really tickled me! Energy from the wind, amazing engineering and farmers getting $$$$ for a small footprint on their land.

The Arch!

On a final note, I had an epiphany on the road. I did not realize how poor my mental health was.  About 2 hours out of Iowa City I had a deep exhale as my eyes fixed on the distance, I realized I felt trapped in Chicago without knowing it. The vacation that seemed like a good idea was, in fact, a necessity. Our family likes distant horizons, it is what inspired us to uproot to a whole new country. Is the USA better than Australia? Not necessarily…

If rocks could talk!

Is Australia better than the USA? Also, not necessarily… Are they different and better and worse in different ways. Absolutely. Right now, seeing the industrious plains of the Midwest it is driven home to me like better before that, for us, the USA is a land of massive opportunity and is the right place to be. Bring on the Mountains tomorrow!!!

Go West

Loaded!

Greetings readers. I have been slack. and not like salesforce slack.. Slack at updating this blog. News is we are undertaking our longest roadtrip ever in the USA. Actually, I thought it was the second longest as I drove with a friend from Gladstone QLD to Canberra way back in in the early 2000’s … But some googling tells me I was wrong and this will be my LONGEST roadtrip ever (yes I will tell you what it is soon). Difference is, as a stupid 20 year old I (with my friend… Can’t remember his name to save my life, straight shot it, 18 hours, 3 hour shifts, sleeping, running around the car… Good/bad times 🙂 )…

So, we are heading out on a long earned two week vacation to Colorado. Unlike the 20 year old me I now have responsibility for two other humans, Louise and River. So we are taking three days to trek across the great U.S.A. Staying in Iowa City, Iowa the first night, North Platte, Nebraska the second and, a place I have frequented often, Boulder Colorado (sorry friends there, no time to catch up on the way there, hopefully on the way home) on the third.

Lunch on the Mississippi.

This post is being written from the lobby bar (YES Lobby bar! It’s been a long time thanks to COVID-19) from the Courtyard Marriott in Iowa City. Drive from Chicago could not have been smoother. Great stop Leclair, IA on the Mississippi river at a very nice German pub (AC was out and they were suffering bad from the “Big Quit”).

I’ll get to more details of our trip and plans later. In a nutshell: Mountains, stars, mountain biking and the kindness of strangers (Thank you thank you Bob Graham).. 90% vacation, 10% work on the road.

Fun note, call from WTTW Chicago to appear on Chicago Tonight as we went through Dekalb.. First time in over 10 appearances I turned them down.. Sorry folks.

We rolled into Iowa City, a college town, at around 4pm. Checked in and headed out on foot for grub and beer. Wow, so much development in the middle of the corn and soy of Iowa! Lovely town. Headed to a local, Sanctuary, on a very sweaty, Friday for a Pint.. Quaint… They headed by Vue, a rooftop bar at the new Hilton in the middle of town.. Vue had a view! Chatted with the staff and some very nice locals. Iowa city, thanks to the University is in the middle of a development boom, that’s why we are saving like mad for River’s college… We loved this place. Tomorrow is the big day. 7 hours, 24 minutes, to North Platte Nebraska. Lots more corn to come!

Riding My Age

I need to update this blog more often… I have not even talked about training for the 2020 Barry Roubaix. I nailed last years edition and plan to do even better this year despite some health issues.

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A clean bike is a fast bike!

Training is going very well, Zwift has been a godsend and has really allowed be to ramp up my Chronic Training Load (more on that later). But the trainer can only do so much. With Louise starting a new job she has a near zero vacation balance. I, on the other hand, have been working hard and have plenty of time saved up.. So when the forecast for my Birthday looked… ok… I took the day off and decided to ride the number of miles I just turned (inspired by my friend Jeff Bolam). Route was a simple on out here in the Western Chicago Suburbs, wind my way down to centennial, enjoy the westerly push from Romeoville to Willow Springs and the struggle back against the wind home.

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Mile 25! I was 25 years old when I married Louise. A good year and a good mile!

The challenge with winter (well early spring) riding is picking the time to head out. To early you freeze, to late, well let’s say school pick up time is a death zone. I took my first rest day yesterday in a long time. Legs were still pretty fatigued but managed to hold up well. Recent training meant 180 to around 200W was a very comfortable power output and at times the legs got happy and I was able to lift to 220+W for sustained intervals (mainly when I had a nice tail wind and felt the

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New bridge at the eastern end of Centennial allowing linking up to Willow Springs.

speed!  Centennial trail was so much fun, the ice has only just recently thawed on the trail so it was my first time there in a while. It is 19.6km of uninterrupted cycling goodness. No lights, very limited to no stopping. A great work out and a gem in the ‘burbs. Following the Des Plaines river and the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal you get a mix of lovely forest and interesting look at the mechanisms that keep Chicago running. After finishing on Centennial I had a lot of miles to make up after the nice tail wind assist. Rode back along German Church to Clarendon Hills road both climbing and pushing the wind.. It was slooooooow.  After heading north up Clarendon Hills road I still needed ~8 miles so a quick loop along Burlington had me round out at 68.32km or 42.46 miles.. Strava entry is here.

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Route courtesy of Strava.

More updates… Coming soon.

Whenever I have the best things to share I am at my busiest.. And I don’t post.. Life has been good and busy. Some very exciting things are happening like NSF giving us 9M for Sage. And a chance I can get into active storm tracking (it’s so cool when you hear folks are as excited about a subject as you..). More updates coming soon.. Open source, radar, science, cycling and.. A SKI TRIP TO WHISTLER! Bring it. IMG_4503

I Would Bike 100 Miles…

August starts a health kick. I managed to loose over 40 pounds in April/May in a lead up to the Barry Roubaix 2019. Unfortunately I put 15 of those pounds back on as I transitioned to a new management role and also got very busy with proposal development. Louise and I made a blank chart for tracking weight and I started using the two techniques I know work for me for weight loss: T

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Leaning in front of the future home of Aurora 21 the Exascale computer. 

racking calories (religiously) and cycling. Luckily the start of August saw a change in the weather in Chicago, gone were the rains here were low humidity sunny days.. When I

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Rolling into the weekend.

first moved to the are I bike commuted every day of every week. I have fallen out of this habit which is good for me and good for the planet. So the week of the 5th I committed myself to doing the commute (8 miles each way) every day even if I started to get tired and sore.

I think the main difference between then and now (besides being older) is I ride a lot harder.. I started riding on a Kona Dew commuter set up with panniers and a simple garmin now I ride a Trek Madone, carry the bare essentials for work and have a top of the line power meter (well it was.. the Vectors are showing their age)… A sunny week of great weather made riding the 143km

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Pristine conditions at Palos. Demoing the bike I ended up buying

very pleasant.. And to top it off I finally decided on my new mountain bike purchase (more on that

later) leading to 25km of fun times at Palos on the weekend.. So 168km or 104 miles.. Nice consistent miles. How do I feel, well I have already lost (back) 5lb despite enjoying a few craft beers on the weekend. Fatigue is really kicking in but I am finding by moderating my commuting efforts (telling myself it is ok to ride at 150W) I can start to actually recover on my commutes.

Most noticable is the drop in my resting heart rate.. Ever since I had my blood pressure medication reduced my resting heart rate has been around 60.. Now I am back down to around 56 overnight. And waking up feeling great… Now to keep it up as I get busy again. The most notable number is, according to Strava, I burnt 5126 Calories the bike.. Now you can go nuts reading websites on how calorie deficit you need to lose a pound but commonly the answer is around 3000-3500 calories.. So, an extra 5126 calories burnt getting me to work has me feeling fine!

 

 

Scooting through Scipy2019

Quick blog post! I am just finishing off Scipy2019. I will post in more detail later on this but IT WAS AWESOME.50jgvhEbRsmUxsmJNJsm%A I was a bit slack with my hotel booking so I ended up at the Sheraton ~1 mile from the conference center.. I had planned to do a mix of Uber and walking. But something happened since I was last in Austin… There are these scooters EVERYWHERE. So after dropping my bag off at the hotel on the first day and heading to the reception dinner I decided I needed to give it a go. It was all integrated into my Uber app and super easy.. Took me a while to realize the motor does not kick in until you get it up to ~3-4 MPH by scooting.. Here are a few take aways, first the negative:

  • They most definitely are a form of visual pollution.
  • Finding safe routes were tricky.. If I was on the bike and doing 12-20mph I would be happy to integrate with traffic anywhere. On the Scooter I was doing 6-15mph and there were certain streets my velocity difference was too great to the traffic.
  • Took a while to get the hang of braking.

Now the positives:

  • They are fun.. honest to goodness fun. Great for mental health.
  • Being able to walk out, grab a scooter, ride it, park it anywhere was crazy liberating. This is the way of the future. I could see something interesting and finish my scooter ride.. Check it out, walk a while and pop on another scooter. This, in my opinion, will mean folks will range further and be good for business.
  • I replaced all commuting with scooting.. My carbon footprint from this trip will be reduced (albeit small compared to flying from Chicago).
  • A big advantage of scooting over share bikes: No sitting on a seat.. No dirty greasy marks on pants etc..
  • I got just the right amount of exercise. Scooting off, powering along, occasionally scooting up hills to help the power assist meant heart rate hovered between 90 and 120.. I did sweat, it was 95+ degrees, but it was not a full on work out..

In a nutshell: I am a fan.

Barry Roubaix 2019

The Barry Roubaix is the worlds largest gravel bike race. It sells out at 3,500 riders. 2019 was my third time racing the Barry. I first rode it back in 2016 when my fitness was good and my weight was “ok-ish”. 2016 was when I was training for Ride Across Wisconsin, a 175 mile road ride. My time for the 36 mile Barry route was 2:35 on a dry, warm and dusty course. I had a blast! I signed up again in 2017 but bailed as it was 35 degrees Fahrenheit and raining. In 2018 my health went downhill in a big way.

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Weight loss chart. First period was tracking calories and resulted in a weight loss of 0.17 lb/day. During Mapril we did not consume alcohol and, with a rigorous workout regime I ended up loosing at an astonishing rate of 0.55 lb/day.

Stress, over eating, drinking too much (self medicating) all leading to frankly disgusting weight gain. In 2018 I had a blast riding Barry but clocked in at 3:01 26 minutes slower than 2016. When entries opened for the 2019 edition I decided to target the ride. Having two times meant I had a great metric and a goal to aim for. Starting in November last year I started tracking my weight and I used the only weight loss technique that works for me: Religiously tracking calories. In addition Louise and I decided to do a month without consuming alcohol in the lead up to the April 13th event, something we dubbed “Mapril”. In addition I rode, a lot. Starting indoors on the trainer (Wahoo Kikr) on Zwift and, as the weather allowed, increasingly outside.

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Performance Management Chart. Black dots are “stress” of a day of training (some times multiple rides) as measured using a power meter. Red dashed line is acute stress showing how fatigue I am from recent training. Green bars are long term training impact showing form. The final ride is Barry itself. The aim is to get good form on race day with minimized fatigue. You do this with a taper to race day.

As the event drew closer I did multiple three lap rides of Waterfall Glen (9.3 mile crushed limestone loop) a similar distance to BRX. This allowed me to mentally prepare for a solid 2-3 hours in the saddle riding at race pace. And using a power meter allowed me to both manage my effort and ensure I kept the power up. As training progressed it got easier and easier to hold a power around 210W for extended periods. Periodically my Garmin head unit would prompt me to update my FTP (power sustainable for an hour, basically power at over which you start consuming energy reserves, your lactate threshold). I estimate I started training at 225W FTP and finished at 256W. I also lost an astonishing 39lb. This meant my power to weight ratio went from 1.8 to 2.3 W/kg.

The day of the event was cool, a little windy (15mph out of the west) providing a bit of a wardrobe challenge. The event is, as always, run spectacularly well. Its no easy feat organizing 3,500 gravel grinders keen to ride! The course conditions were great, a few areas of mud but the ground was generally very firm and fast. And I felt great! I went out to hard as usual smashing the three sisters. Eventually I dialed it back keeping it around 200W on the flat, rising to ~300W climbing with the occasional coast and recover on the downhills.

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Riding up the First Sister.. Looks like I am breaking away! Truth was the folks behind me were hauling and hauled me in pretty quick 🙂 Thanks to Rob Meendering Photography

Pacing was great.. I passed 1/2 way at just over 65 minutes. Two great thing about Barry is the landscape and the people. The landscape is rolling and wooded, the people on the bikes are all characters and good natured and those off the bikes were cheering and creative! I rode the most technical part of the course, Sager Road, probably the best I have, only putting a foot down twice (and one of those was because some one fell in front of me). Sager is full of sand traps, rutted stony climbs… Awesome! The MAD WALL is the last (and hardest) climb but also signals that the 36 mile route is coming to the end.. I felt good so I upped my power to ~220W.. About 5 miles out the legs were really signing, at risk of cramp but I got tied up in a killer paceline (22+mph).

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Sprint for the finish.. This mountain biker was a great wheel on the ride into the finish!

In the end I finished at 2:20:16, a remarkable improvement on my 2:35 in 2016 and another world compared to my 2018 result. Even more remarkable is I ended up 42/74 for my age group (40-42) compared to being 68/73 in 2018. Next year, sub 200lb, and 270W FTP and I will see amazing results.. What a blast.

YouTube highlight reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSUntacj0PA

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/2287126842