Racing “The Crippler” in Colorado Springs

This ride report by Team CSP-SBI cycling ambassador Dave Theobald

After participating in a number of organized gravel rides this summer, I decided, on a lark, to race while the weather was still warm (September 30th). The event I chose was “The Crippler” — 67 miles from Canon City to Cripple Creek and back on gravel and 4WD roads. Arriving literally a minute before the start, I found myself uncomfortably at the center-front of the starting line. My immediate race strategy thus became how to sneakily progress (backwards) to the middle of the pack. I found my legs and rhythm and gratefully the top of the climb. After a fast descent with blind corners and big trucks, l finished fast and happy! Somehow, I officially have two results. I prefer my first result: 10th place, but am terrifically satisfied with my second: 20th place.

Dave Theobald is a Senior Scientist at Conservation Science Partners.  Learn more about his work:  https://www.csp-inc.org/about-us/core-science-staff/theobald-dave/

More on “The Crippler”:  https://www.myjourneyracing.com/the-crippler-2018.html

Catching the spirit of the Iron Horse

“the biking circle and community is great”.  –Howard Grotts, 2018 Iron Horse Men’s Champion

Durango, Colorado is a beautiful Western town.  This year’s 47th Annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic celebrated Durango’s cycling heritage, and expanded the fun by weaving in new cycling events including BMX for the second straight year.  The atmosphere around cycling brings out such joy in people and the character of this place in an extraordinary way.  Cycling is a technology of contact, connection.  It’s simply amazing.  The Iron Horse is so fun it’s a pity it only happens once per year.

At the Iron Horse everyone gets involved somehow.  Like many people in attendance, over the weekend I was both participant and spectator.  On Saturday I raced the classic road cycling event from Durnago to Silverton, and on Sunday I watched the BMX action up close on main street and cheered the mountain bike racers as they passed through town and the Steamworks Brewery.  The festivities excel at community engagement so well the Iron Horse is in a league of its own, much like the San Juan mountains are perhaps the most spectacular range in the lower forty-eight.  It’s an event that matches the landscape!

There’s such a diversity of events there is something for everyone.  The road ride on Saturday is the most accessible event, and it’s on one of the most beautiful courses in the county.  There are races for women and men in all different age groups and categories.  The most popular road ride is the Citizen’s Tour to Silverton.  But don’t be fooled, even though the tour is not an official race, many of the participants are trying to set a personal best or even beat the Iron Horse train that departs downtown Durango at 7:15a.m. and steams up the canyons to Silverton.  I bumped into my friend Rose from Albuquerque on Sunday in Durango, and she did the Quarter Horse ride, which is a shorter road ride with less climbing that goes to Purgatory ski area halfway between Durango and Silverton.  Over the weekend, there is the La Strada La Plata Gravel Ride, MTB (mountain bike) race, BMX, Cruiser Criterium, Kids Race, bike parade and things beyond cycling–a running event, a triathlon, a Veterans Memorial Ceremony, and lots of vendors with art, food, and cycling offerings.  It’s incredibly fun.

I had a pretty good race by my standards.  I was sitting eight overall on the road as we headed over the final pass, Molas, for the final descent into the old mining town of Silverton.  Cycling legend Ned Overend was just a few minutes in front of me, and I basically had a front row seat to see him and other stars in racing action.  What a learning experience!  As I flew cautiously down the steep grade, two riders caught and passed me, and out sprinted me in the slightly uphill drag down Silverton’s main street to the finish line.  One of the riders I knew well, Ben Sontag, a mountain bike pro for Cliff Bar.  The other I wasn’t so sure of, but man can he race and is he fast!  As soon as we crossed the line conversations began, and I met the other rider, Todd Wells, three time winner of the Leadville 100 and USA Olympian.  He just retired and said this event kept him motivated to stay in shape.  I ended up in 10th place, but hey, when Todd Wells is just in front of you, is that so bad?  I was a happy finisher, like everyone!

Over the weekend, visitors soak up the local Colorado vibes and learn more about the many things we can do with bicycles.  And residents get to pinch themselves and be reminded how lucky they are to live in such a special community.  When people come together around bicycles more great things happen.  The cool thing about Durango is that having Olympians and cycling champions living next door is not really remarkable, it is just normal.  They represent the possibilities of human expressions through the bike life.  The event itself normalizes cycling.  The bike is the way to get around town.  The mainstream planning community is starting to respond to that.

I think it’s time we start referring to active transportation modes for what they are, our most basic and primary modes.  –Michael P. Sanderson, Professional Engineer (P.E.), “Leading the way to make active transportation safe, while improving health”, ITE Journal May 2018

I’ve grown up in a world where bicycling is seen as alternative or unconventional.  Planners and engineers today are working to make walking and cycling flow more naturally, like a mountain stream.  Every street in front of every house is a bike route.  Our street system connects us to where we want to go, our schools, work places, our friends’ houses, recreational assets, our business districts, health facilities.  Making the street system accessible and welcoming bicycles is key for healthier and sustainable lifeways.  The Colorado Department of Transportation has made big strides, putting bike lanes in on the main route through town, Highway 550.  This is where the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic begins, right in front of Durango High School.  They are trying to making it convenient for people to ride a bicycle everywhere we need to go.  It’s not perfect, though.  Vallecitos Road has a typical sign as you leave town that says “bike route ends” and the wide shoulder tapers down, but that doesn’t mean people stop bicycling there.  People that live in the country want to ride their bikes to town, too, and certainly town residents love to ride their bikes to the countryside.  When we change our paradigm and view cycling as conventional, we expect bicycles everywhere.  And at the Iron Horse it is like leaping into the future.  Softly, gently, joyfully…cycling dreams will come.

The entire community supports the Iron Horse, including the outstanding independent bookstore on Main Avenue, Mariah’s Bookshop

Credits and Further Reading:
Thanks to our team, sponsors and partners for getting us to the Iron Horse for the second straight year.  Go Team CSP-SBI!  https://bikeinitiative.org/sponsors-partners/
A special thanks to Sansai Studio for most of the great photos (the better ones!) in this post.
https://sansai.photoshelter.com/index
Visit the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic to sign up for 2019 and learn more about the history!
http://www.ironhorsebicycleclassic.com

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 makes a better life

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”  –Leo Tolstoy

Although changing ourselves may be the hardest thing, a lot of people are putting their imaginations to work through cycling.  The positive effects of cycling are astounding.  62-year-old Geoff Whitington gained a new lease on life after taking on the challenge of doing the Ride London event in 2014.  Geoff had diabetes before he committed to training.  Now, three years later, he’s transformed his life by losing 98 pounds.  He’s diabetes-free.

Geoff was part of the “Fixing Challenge” in the UK, where families are encouraged to change their lives and share their stories to inspire others.  Geoff’s story “could be the story of millions” who are suffering from imbalanced eating and sedentary lifestyles.  The truth is when we try to change ourselves we get a lot of support from others.

We need to hear more of these good news stories.  And they go well beyond diabetes.  Cycling helps us improve our mental health, freedom and independence, and gives youth a chance to explore their world while discovering their inherent mobility powers.  Cycling can also give us a sense of fullness that comes with a purposeful life filled with meaning and joy.  Cycling helps us experience beauty and satisfaction in our everyday lives that we can share.  This is on top of all the social benefits such as savings on healthcare, freed up space, and creating more livable cities.

Here are links to Geoff’s story, and a few more.  Cycle on!
The Prudential RideLondon Fixing Challenge, Geoff’s story:
 https://www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk/events/100/entries/ballot/fixing-challenge/
An article in the NY Times today about veterans re-centering their lives with outdoor activities:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/us/finding-some-peace-after-war
Lael Wilcox on why she tackles long distance rides by herself:
http://www.bicycling.com/rides/why-i-choose-to-tackle-really-long-rides-by-myself

 

A view of Durango from Ft. Lewis College earlier this year at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic

Everybody up! Iron Horse Bicycle Classic 2017

The community here gets behind any cycling event 100%. –Howard Grotts, 2017 IHBC King of the Mountain

Cycling up Coal Bank pass, the sound of water flowing in the high mountain streams along the road, I felt completely in the moment.  The road was open solely for the Iron Horse participants.  I concentrated on my breathing and my mind was quiet.  As I rode the bike I was aware of my surroundings.  Wet evergreen needles glistening in alpine sun.  The endless white of the San Juan mountains touching the blue sky.  With every breath I inhaled the fragrance of sweet forest.   Rivulets of water streamed down the stone-faced mountainsides, reminding me of the soothing ambiance of the Florida River rolling over the polished rocks by the cabin where we had slept.  It was a seamless experience.  The rhythm of heart and legs pumping.  Breathing deeply in the silence.  Here I am.  This is the reason we cycle.  To dream big and immerse ourselves in the cycling experience, becoming a part of something greater and timeless.

Finishing second. Thanks Mai @ http://sansai.photoshelter.com for the amazing photos in this blog entry (all but the Molas pass photo)

I enjoyed the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic more than ever this year.  There are a number of events over the weekend inlcuding kids races, mountain biking, a cruiser parade, BMX, and more.  I focused on Saturday’s road race from Durango to Silverton.  It’s an incredible course traveling up the Animas River Valley and over two high mountain passes before making a fast, sweeping descent into Silverton.  It’s one of the most beautiful courses in the country.

The community not only gets behind the events, they actually get in the events!  There are thousands of riders cycling from Durango to Silverton.  You can race or ride at your own pace.  Either way, everyone challenges themselves and shares the cycling experience.  The citizens cheering along the course are equally extraordinary, and it takes so many volunteers and staff to make the events happen.  No matter if you are riding, racing, cheering, working, or waiting for your family member to finish in Silverton, all participants infuse the festivities with special value.  And the event promoters are careful to make the community integral in every aspect of the weekend’s adventures.

Mai was waiting in Silverton and that was extra uplifting

My race went off at 7:30am Saturday.  The field was stacked with impressive talent.  My basic plan was to ride with the main pack for the first 20 or so flat miles through the river valley, and wait for when the climbing began in earnest to spend my energy.  But I saw Sepp Kuss, a professioal cyclist from Durango, was there, as well as Howard Grotts, a superb climber.  My teammate Drew saw them as well and advised me that if I could get in a break early and save some legs for the climbs, that it wouldn’t be a bad strategy.  As the race rolled out of town, I found myself moving up in the pack.  And then I saw an opening at the front and just kept going.  I was riding solo off the front.

Drew in Silverton. A teammate in the race, especially one as great as Drew, is a huge help & morale boost

I rested my forearms on the tops of my bars and time trialed to the base of the first climb.  On Coal Bank Pass the race official’s vehicle pulled up next to me and told me I had a six mintue gap.  It was beautiful riding higher and higher into the mountains but it was getting more difficult and I knew they would be charging hard across that gap.  I told myself that if I make over Coal Bank Pass still solo that I had a chance to hang on for the win.  I did go over Coal Bank solo and started the Molas Pass alone as well, but when I glanced across the valley I saw the orange kit of the Rally Cycling rider Sepp Kuss about a minute behind.  I was suprised how quickly he caught me and how effortlessly he spooled by, like climbing on air.  I kept my own pace and started looking over my shoulder, but didn’t see anyone else.  I crested Molas Pass ok, stayed safe on the descent, and pedalled hard up through the tunnel of cheering fans.  You can’t help but get shivers, and feel so happy to have made it, knowing you did your best effort on the ride.  It was awesome.  The first person I saw was Matt Caruso of Caruso Cycleworks, my mechanic, and then I found Mai.  It was a fun celebration.  As the racers came in we all congratulated one another, happy for each other and the challenge, laughing as we recapped our experiences.  The spirit of cycling in Durango is positive, energitic, rewarding, super fun.

 

Wendy Palen from Team CSP-SBI finished strong with teammate Tom Sisk

 

Tom Sisk, the leader of the Landscape Conservation Initiative, put in a great ride

The celebration continued for hours as riders rolled across the finish line.  One of the best parts of the weekend was the arrival of my teammates in Silverton.  Team CSP-SBI had three riders in the citizens ride.  Wonderful how cycling brings us all together.  Shared joy filled the atmosphere.  The grace and beauty of all the people on bikes in epic landscapes.

The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic reunites us with old friends and family and helps us make new ones.  It is such a family friendly event.  So many interesting people, it just absolutely flattens all boundaries to coming together as one community.  The whole world seems bicycle-oriented, and the incredible mountains, snow, and sky make the setting especially delightful.

I don’t know these people, but they look like they are having a good time

 

Mindy Caruso from Albuquerque won the Womens Pro race with a stupendous ride. Way to go!

It is inspiring.  I think the most incredible thing is experiencing the joy of others, and seeing their accomplishments.  Mindy Caruso from Albuquerque won the womens race in remarkable fashion.  I was so happy for Sepp Kuss, winning his hometown-race.  Howard Grotts, another hometown hero, would win the mountain bike race the next day and win the inaugural King of the Mountain competition.  Ned Overend was there representing the best in the cycling tradition.  At 61, his experience and strength is awesome.  Iron Horse turned me on to so many inspirational stories.  You learn more about the triumph of the human spirit.  On our podium Sepp called out “everybody up” for us to gather around him.  He wanted us all on the top step with him.  I feel lucky to be a part.

Sepp is a generous champion

 

the womens podium, go Mindy from Albuquerque!

 

the mens

 

Teammates celebrating together in Silverton

 

Team CSP-SBI on Molas pass showing the spirit of the Iron Horse

The story of the mens and womens pro races, w/ video, in the Durango Herald:
https://durangoherald.com/articles/161665
The kids race attracted over three hundred youth!
https://durangoherald.com/articles/161825-iron-horse-kids-race-participation-x2018-sky-rocketing-x2019
The BMX event was an exhilirating success:
https://durangoherald.com/articles/161850-bmx-proves-it-belongs-at-iron-horse-bicycle-classic
There are more stories at the Durango Herald, and also other media such as Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/IHBCDurango/

Thank you to my teammates, friends and family, Southwest Bike Initiative’s fiscal sponsor SINC, and our team sponsors.