2017, a year in cycling

2017, a year in cycling by cycling ambassador Stephen Wolfe

My wife Kyoko and I started out 2017 with a cycling adventure as part of our planned trip to New Zealand, a place neither of us had been. We spent a month in the country, and managed to take an electric bike tour of Wellington, our first time on E-Bikes. They were very heavy, and hard to maneuver, but I must admit they helped on the climb up Mount Victoria. The following week we journeyed to Christchurch, a city devastated by an earthquake in 2011. The experience was sobering, but the resourceful Kiwis are busy rebuilding. Christchurch was also the start of our cycling tour of the famous Otago Trail. The Otago Trail goes from near Mount Cook on the southern island, to near Dunedin, a major port. The trail is an abandoned rail line that served the gold and silver mines in the Otago region near the mountains. The line continues to utilize the original tunnels and trestle bridges and 145km has been rehabilitated for cycling travel with hard-pack gravel. Because the steam trains used for the ore cars were not very powerful, the average gradient is only 2%, making for an easy climb from East to West. However, taking the even easier choice, we started in Clyde, an old mining town, and rode mostly downhill to Middlemarch, spending the night at several other old station towns along the way, and even trying out the ice sport of curling in Naseby’s indoor rink. From Middlemarch the rail line is still active, so we took the train through some beautiful gorges to Dunedin. Overall, the people were very friendly, the food and coffee (the Kiwi’s only ever drink flat whites, and even McDonald’s and Burger King only had espresso machines for coffee) were great, and the scenery along the trail was unmatched.

http://www.otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz/about-our-trail/

Back in Japan, I took what was my second tour of the Shimanami Kaido, a route in Western Japan that is fast becoming a destination for cyclists from all over the world. Kyoko and I first rode the route in December of 2016, and were so struck with the beauty of the riding across six islands and connecting bridges over the Seto Inland Sea–from the largest island of Honshu to the smaller island of Shikoku–that we vowed to come back soon. My enthusiasm for the ride (and food) was contagious, I guess, as two of my friends expressed an interest, so in April I was down there again. The 75km route, although along local roads, is well-marked, and each of the six bridges  have dedicated cycling/pedestrian travelways, including the Kurushima Bridge, the world’s longest triple suspension bridge at 4.1km. The area is known for its citrus fruits and delicious fish, and the meals we had did not disappoint. We stopped halfway to stay at a Japanese inn and use the local hot springs to ease fatigue, and finished on the second day. My friends, not being dedicated cyclists, took public transport on the return, so I cycled on to another route in the region (more about that later).  Along the way we met cyclists from many different countries, who availed themselves of the many bicycle rental locations along the route.

http://www.go-shimanami.jp/global/english/bicycle/

Later in the spring we traveled to Kagoshima, a city on the southern-most main island of Kyushu. Kagoshima is one of the major cities on the island, is full of history, and features great Berkshire pork products. We took a day tour by rental cycles around Sakurajima, an active volcano across the bay from Kagoshima. The lap around the island was only around 35km, but there was ample evidence of previous eruptions everywhere. The volcano almost continuously spews ash.

May brought the Japanese edition of L’Eroica. The tour was plotted around 4 of the lakes at the foot of Mt. Fuji, and over 100 participants gathered with their vintage bikes to ride the course, which featured some wet, muddy sections. I rode the De Rosa I’ve had since I bought it new in 1980, and had a great time riding and talking with fellow vintage bike owners.

https://eroicajapan.cc/

I decided that for my 68th birthday I would climb Mt. Fuji as far as the paved road goes. The climb is about 24km with an average grade of 5% and 1,200m of ascent, which makes it quite similar to the Full Sandia Crest ride in the Albuquerque region (21.5km, 5%, and 1,150m), although the Fuji climb ends at 2,300m and Sandia peaks at 3,246m, making the altitude more of a factor in the latter. In September I also participated in a “fun ride” put on by the Bandai area in northern Japan to promote the region.  The 65km run was around and up Mt. Bandai, with a total of 1,400m of climbing, and lots of good food at the aid stations.

In October we went to Spain, the first time for my wife and over 40 years since I was last there (Franco was still in power at the time). Needless to say, Spain has changed dramatically since then, and the many areas we visited were vibrant, full of great food (ham, cheese, and wine), and nice people. During our time there we spent a week in Girona, the cycling capital of Spain and a place where the amenable winter weather and great cycling roads have led many pros to spend the off season. Our first day of riding was up to Olot for a ride down the converted rail line. The 60km ride featured lovely scenery of ancient volcanoes and farmland, and mostly downhill riding along the well-maintained trail. Our second day was a circular route to the Vall de Llemena, a quiet and unspoiled rural area near Girona. The following day we took our bikes on a train (the trains are well set-up to accommodate cycles) to a nearby village and toured six medieval villages. On the fourth day, the bike shop that arranged our self-guided tours had a group ride, which I joined for a 90km loop around the city. On the final day we rejoined the converted rail trail to ride from Girona to Sant Feliu de Guixols on the Mediterranean. It was very easy to see why Girona is so popular with cyclists. Cyclists were everywhere!

The last big tour of the year was with a friend who works at the same Japanese steel company where I used to work. We traveled down to Hiroshima, and from there took a ferry to the Kakishima Kaido, one of seven cycling routes established in the Shimanami region mentioned above. This island route featured vast oyster farms along the seacoast, and totaled about 90km. We over-nighted in Kure, a town where the famous Yamato battleship of WWII was built, and the next day we rode over 5 islands connected by bridges along a very rural and beautiful shoreline road, with a stop in a village that features houses from the Edo period of Japan, built over 150 years ago. A short ferry ride at the end took us back to the Shimanami Kaido, over four more islands, and ending in the shipbuilding town of Onomichi, a total of 110km.  We are looking forward to seeing how 2018 unfolds and though we have nothing definite planned, are sure it holds adventure.

Editor’s note: You can learn more about Stephen and meet more of our cycling ambassadors on the Team CSP-SBI members page:  https://swbikeinitiative.wordpress.com/team-csp-sbi/team-members/

Team CSP-SBI’s Tom Sisk receives science award

Team CSP-SBI cycling ambassador Tom Sisk was honored by the Defenders of Wildlife with a science award this Fall.  Tom joined a prestigious group including Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, and Dr. Nathan Varley and Linda Thurston from Yellowstone National Park, for making “lasting and extraordinary contributions to wildlife and habitat conservation.” Tom is a pioneer in ecology, environmental management, education, outreach and leadership training.  In his remarks from the award ceremony, Tom noted healthy ecosystems depend on all people having “opportunities to experience, learn about, and value nature.”

Dr. Tom Sisk, on left, receiving the Spirit of Defenders Science Award, from the Defenders of Wildlife

One of the highlights of my year was experiencing the great outdoors with Tom and more Team CSP-SBI ambassadors at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic this past May.  Cycling connects us with wild places and the spirit of life within ourselves. Cycling gives us opportunity to get oriented, and gain first-hand knowledge of the places where we ride.  We learn about them in detail through our senses, while connecting with the communities that conserve them.  Riding a bike with teammates and thousands of friendly people in a place as grand as the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado was incredibly energizing.  Cycling’s light footprint and positive health impact makes it a great match for safeguarding lands and habitat.  Plus sharing a bicycle ride is a great way to bring communities together and forge memories that bond people of all ages and backgrounds for a lifetime.  Cycling opens the way for community engagement, action-oriented learning, and thriving communities.  So fun!  Congratulations to Dr. Tom Sisk for the Spirit of Defenders Science Award, and wishing him lots more productive work and cycling.

Tom Sisk cycling at the Iron Horse with Wendy Palen, May 2017.  The bike heritage in Durango is special.

References / Credits:
Award photo and opening quote from the Defenders of Wildlife Blog

You can learn more on Dr. Sisk’s work at:
Landscape Conservation Initiaitive where he is director
Conservation Science Partners where is a founding board member

Learn more about Team CSP-SBI at the Iron Horse on SBI’s Blog

Cycling traditions in Albuquerque, NM

Pez Cycling published a feature article on Albuquerque cycling stalwart John Frey.  Over the 3+ years I’ve lived here I’ve met John many times while out cycling.  Even before I moved here I was aware of the US 40 kilometer time trial record he set in 1990 on one of the fastest courses in the world in Moriarty, NM.  John averaged nearly 32 mph!  And his record still stands.  Pez Cycling’s article helped me learn much more about the depth and detail of John’s accomplishments and the prominent cycling traditions here in Albuquerque.

John Frey, featured in Pez Cycling’s ‘Chrono Legend’ article linked at the end of this post

I grew up in Tucumcari, New Mexico and discovered cycling by visiting a small pro shop in Albuquerque, NM while attending the university and using the bike for transportation. I was intrigued by the specialized equipment and [the] fact that bicycles were raced like horses, even the cleats were nailed onto the shoe.  –John Frey on getting into cycle sport

Each time I’ve met John it has been an impromptu meeting on the bike, and every time has been memorable.  I first met John on the North Diversion Channel multi-use trail, while I was cruising with my friend Chris.  We stopped and said hello.  Another day I was climbing the Sandia Crest and rode up beside John and he started talking to me.  I matched his pace for a while and he told me how popular this climb was for cycling.  As I recall he got through a couple different subjects including steel bicycle frames before I spooled ahead.  The last time I met him we rode together north to Bernalillo and east through Placitas.

John Frey on the right, yielding to horses (photo by Mark Aasmundstad)

It was a fun ride.  John was on a team ride with Sandia Cycles, a bike shop in Albuquerque, and the group I was with bumped into them at the traffic circle on Tramway Road, a common meet-up spot for group rides.  We all decided to share the road together and headed to Bernalillo and then Placitas.  During the ride we came across a herd of horses.  We carefully chose our path around them.  On the same ride John led us through a series of backroads bypassing busier roads.  It was a new route for me, and a beautiful one.

John takes us past the wild horses, just before the road turns to dirt and climbs the Sandias

John is a lot like New Mexico.  His down-to-earth authenticity makes his monumental stature approachable, if you can keep pace with all the interesting stories.  On the Placitas ride he was looking after his teammates and keeping the herd of cyclists together.  As typical on a medium sized group ride, you ride side by side and change partners as the group rotates through.  I heard a lot of stories from John and his teammates about the cycling heritage and traditions here in Albuquerque and New Mexico.  John’s feats of speed on the bike did not surface.  You have to read the Pez Cycling article for that!  The links are at the end of this post.

After John and his team turned around I headed up the gravel road climbing the Sandias with Chris and Dean

Continue crazy for the bike, but enjoy anything outdoors in New Mexico altitude with my wife, Kelly, who is still on my wheel after plenty of rough road and bad weather! Advocate for cycling and health prevention to anyone, whenever possible.  –John Frey on what he’s up to now

Displaying IMG_20171215_113827759.jpg

Tramway road leading towards the Sandias is one of many assets making Albuquerque a great place to cycle

Links and references:

Pez Cycling talks to chrono legend John Frey, part 1

Pez Cycling talks to chrono legend John Frey, part 2

USA Cycling National Records