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/

A pint of the black stuff

A pint of the black stuff, by cycling ambassador Michael Ort

80.5 km distance
3:59:43 trip time
20.14 kph average speed
65 kph maximum speed
1400 m climbing
520 masl maximum elevation

My bike computer had these data on it, plus the usual blank entries for all the measurements that rely on a cadence counter or a heart rate monitor.  TMI, in my opinion.  But what do these data really show about my ride?  We moved to Dublin almost two weeks ago, and are in an apartment about 150 meters from Dublin Bay.  It feels a bit like the long-term care facility my folks lived in before they died – carpeted halls and doors off to each side, and we NEVER see who is in the other apartments.  I keep expecting to turn around and see a yellow submarine crossing from one apartment to the next.  The village of Sandymount has a real center to it, with a triangular grassy park full of kids on scooters and a few cafes and all the necessary stores (bike shop with skilled and cordial mechanics, a fish store, a grocery store, a few pubs, churches, etc.).  It is about 8 km as the crow flies to get to the edge of the city, several more by bike.  I tried a route I found on Google maps the other day, and it was very trafficky and not very pleasant.  Today, I tried a new route and it worked much better.  Still a few stops along the way out of town to figure out where I was, but much more pleasant.  Then the hills!  The Wicklow Mountains would be called hills anywhere in the west of the US, but they reach 2500-3000 feet above sea level.  I lived in County Wicklow a couple of years ago, and I hit the first familiar road, as far north as I rode in that year, about an hour into the ride.  That familiarity gives me some confidence that I can make this cycling work – I can get from my house to places I know are good to ride.  I wish it did not require a minimum of two hours to get a ride in that is not all in the city, though.

So what about those computer numbers?  The distance – I rode up over the pass to Glencree, then up to Sally Gap (at 500 masl, the highest pass with a  paved road in Ireland), down to the east and north to Enniskerry, then back up to Glencree and down into Dublin and home.  So what?  Well, once I got past the city and up into the hills, the traffic nearly disappeared.  The roads are old – much of what I was riding was the old Military Road, a road the English built into the hills after the 1798 Fenian Revolt, because Michael Dwyer and his band of United Irish guerillas would hang out up there and then swoop down to ambush the English military patrols.  The English finally grew tired of this and decided to build roads and garrisons up near where the “terrorists” were.  Funny how, since they won, the Irish are not thought of as terrorists.

I passed a memorial for an Irishman who was killed up in the bogs.  Captain Noel Lemass fought in the Easter Uprising in 1916, then in the Revolutionary War, and then joined the anti-Treaty side in the occupation of the Four Courts (he and his side were against the peace treaty that left Ulster with the UK – they had fought for one Ireland and did not want to give that idea up.  The Free Staters felt that the treaty was as good as they could get).

The road continues past blanket bogs where the Irish have harvested peat (called turf) for centuries.  They have narrow spades that cut into the turf and make a turf “log” about the size of two bricks end to end.  These are leaned against each other in tripods to dry, and then carried down from the mountain (or up from the back bog at my mother’s family’s farm) to be burned in the hearths of houses.  This went on for centuries, especially after Cromwell burned down what was left of the forests to tame the wild Irish and deny them hideouts in the forest.  The Irish would weave the branches together to make an impenetrable thicket, with the only ways in or out known to them.  Cromwell didn’t like that.  As I sit in my apartment writing this on a rainy evening, I can smell turf burning somewhere nearby.  My apartment has a plug-in “fireplace”.  I doubt it would put out any noticeable heat, if turned on.  Today, most turf cutting is banned by the EU to protect the bogs, which were severely depleted in the last few decades.

Continuing down the hill from the pass, I skirt above the Glencree barracks, once an English army base and now a well-touristed coffee shop and a Centre for Reconciliation of Conflicts.  Then up another pass toward Sally Gap, where four different roads cross in a high, broad, open, bog-filled valley.  At the crossroads, I choose left and head down – that is where I hit my maximum speed, in a pouring rain.

I go down for a while but the road has an abrupt 100-m-high rise to get around a granite knob above Lough Tay, the Guinness Lake.  The Guinness family owns a large estate around the lake and imported the white sand at the northern end so that the dark waters have a white cap, like a pint of the dark (or a pint of the black stuff), as Guinness is often called.  Then a steep plunge down to the farmlands and forests below.  I turn north toward Enniskerry along the back road, admiring the countryside at a pace that I just don’t feel like pushing today.  At Enniskerry, I remember a little connector road I rode once and use that to drop straight down to the road to Powerscourt waterfall.  A car coming up the road stops on the steepest part, flashing his lights to tell me to pass.  I find a place to pull over and wave him up – he has the right of way, and I don’t want to skid into him on the wet road.  Powerscourt was the estate of a wealthy family during the Protestant Ascendancy of the 1700s.  They had a remarkably beautiful tract of land, including the waterfall, and did well by it.  They collected plants from around the world and have a gorgeous garden that is now a park that one can visit, as well as a pretty sumptuous “town” house that is now a shopping mall off of Grafton St downtown.  Charles Stuart Parnell and the Land League pushed agrarian reform in the late 1800s and the Powerscourt family (the Wingfields) lost much of their local power and land (tenant farmers were able to buy the land they had been farming for generations).  The Powerscourt estate was attacked occasionally by Irish rebels, of course.  The little farms in the uplands were the Irish domain.

My route takes me up through these smaller farms for 8 km, back up toward Glencree, Near the top of the road, I pass an engraved granite slab that says “Liam Horner Olympic Cyclist The Last Prime”.  Horner was an Irish cyclist who went to the Olympics in 1968 and 1972.  Perhaps as important, he won the Tour of Ireland in 1972. That is a tough race, one for rouleurs who can climb an endless series of short steep hills on rough roads (ones that were a lot rougher and narrower in his day). Horner was known for attacking to win primes – he needed the money to eat.  In Ireland, they remember their cycling greats.  There is a plaque for Shay Elliott (first English-speaker to wear the yellow jersey, and wore the pink and red jerseys too) at the top of the Glenmalure hill along the Military Road. A couple kilometers past the Glencree turnoff, I stop to pay respect to Mr. Lemass and admire the view in a heavy mist.  The sheep don’t seem to mind the weather, although a few flee my two-wheeled presence.  Then a rainy descent back into the city, where I merge with the traffic and head home to my modern and efficient apartment in a multi-ethnic city where I hear many languages daily.  How many here know the stories of the hills?

A Ride

story and photos by Team CSP-SBI’s Michael Ort
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I wake up with an ear worm: “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel”.  No idea where it came from, but it’s there.  By 6:45, I’ve had my tea and some too-sweet granola (the store must have changed its supplier), and am out the door on my cross bike.  No one out on the streets – Sundays are delightful that way.  Up the hill behind Thorpe Park.  Funny that the ride starts with the steepest hill.  Up onto the mesa and beginning to stretch out.  Ten cow elk cross the dirt road in front of me.  I wonder where the pronghorns I used to see around here have gone.  Bouncing along over ruts and rocks – the big trucks doing the forest thinning sure mess up the road.  The heavy equipment used to put in the Snowbowl water line a few years ago must not have been cleaned of noxious seeds before coming in.  The cheatgrass came in at that time and is spreading quickly.  All the forest clearing might be for naught if the cheatgrass carries the fires instead.  Pass through a covey of sleeping campers with vehicles on both sides of the road.  No dogs come out, good!  Bouncing bouncing bouncing, Rejoice rejoice Emmanuel!

We had dinner out with our daughter last night.  She moved out last weekend.  I was surprised how good it was to see her.  I miss her.  The nest is empty.  Legs feeling good – rejoice!  We are going to do the Ride the Rockies next week, and I have not really done any training.  This ride might tell me whether I can do the miles, but it is too late to train.  I was working on Reunion Island for a couple of weeks, where I managed a couple of runs on the track outside my dorm room, but the work was pretty demanding.  Then a day in Dublin to drop off suitcases – why bring them home if we are moving back there in a couple of months? – and then to Oxford to work on a proposal for a couple of days.  It was good to meet my two colleagues – we had only corresponded via email and chatted on skype previously.  But one just could not seem to get her mind around the project and focus on obtaining the results we need from her.  After the meeting, the other colleague told me she wants the first one off the proposal – she doesn’t have the skills to do the work we need.  Colleague number two is right, but these are people, not robots.  I am the lead on this – it falls to me.  I wrote a letter, but is it kind?  Is it clear?  It is sitting on my computer now, waiting for me to decide.  I need advice from someone.  Who?  Guido would be good – I’ll write him.  Bam – oof!  Hit that rock a bit hard.  Rejoice!  Come back to now.

These wheels are pretty strong.  Had them built last summer, set up tubeless, and now can ride fatter tires.  35 rear, 40 up front.  My first long ride on them was this same route, I think.  It was before I did that ride put on by that organization in Phoenix, riding up to the Canyon.  I did not know anybody on the ride, but my daughter ran the scheduling for friends who were giving massages at the finish.  We all camped there that night.  And then I ran into Dara – Troy was off doing something – and so there was someone to chat with.  She had her little gas molecule with her, running around playing.  I was beat from riding a cross bike on a mountain-bike course, but bang!  Didn’t see that rock in the shade.  I really should get some lighter sunglasses so I can see in mottled light.  Legs still feeling good. Dropping down behind Wing Mountain.  Cool, a coyote!  And cows.  Rejoice, rejoice!  I wonder where that song comes from.  Can’t think of any more words to it – could it be from Dad’s temple?  No, I can’t remember singing there.  Mom’s church?  Maybe – they did a lot of singing back then.  It was an ecumenical time.  That seems to have passed – do churches still invite people from other faiths to discuss their belief systems?  I learned a lot from those but I can’t seem to believe in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim god any more.  After seeing my daughter in the hospital with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, skin blistering from a reaction to her epilepsy meds, I couldn’t see any god that allowed that as merciful or loving, or else he/she/it wasn’t very powerful.  The forest feels powerful today.  Maybe god is something else.  Cool, arriving at road 222.  Fast and no traffic – haven’t seen a car moving yet.  Where is my shortcut – that one?  No, I’ll recognize it.  Don’t second-guess yourself.  There it is – turn off!  A couple mule deer.  Now road 171 – heading toward Kendrick.  The lava tube is over there.  It is nice the tourists don’t know about the better caves.  Ahh, the first car passes me, respectfully and slowly, keeping the dust down.  Give them a wave.  Oh, two hours in now, time to eat something.  Quiet out here, good time to sit.  Rejoice, Emmanuel, whoever you are!  Along the foot of Kendrick and then south on road 100 through Government Prairie.  Pass the Government Prairie vent – coolest scoria cone around, with benmoreite, rhyolite, and dacite all erupted together.  The students I take here are always amazed and confused by it.  What a wide-open area!

The road goes straight along the range boundary.  Glad we don’t use township and range much anymore.  GPS and UTM sure simplify things!  Through the little housing community – they just graded this road.  Up to 35 mph on the downhill, with a bit of sliding on some turns.  Rejoice!  Left on old route 66, dirt here.  And uphill.  Hmm, my legs are getting tired, and it is hot.  Stop at the top for another bit of food, and refill my bottles from the one-liter platypus in the big seat bag I put on the bike for this ride.  Great invention, but I am still going to be pretty dry by the end.  Twenty miles to go now, forty miles in.  More sunscreen? Nah – too much sweat on me, so the cream won’t stick.  Downhill to that little housing area – I wonder if it has a name?  See my second (and third, fourth, fifth, and sixth) vehicles on the road – old pickups each with one person inside, in single file moving slowly.  Wonder what that is about.  Damn Assos bib shorts.  I bought them because everyone said they are so comfortable.  They always feel noticeable when I wear them, chamois too thick, bib straps push on my shoulders.  I want shorts I don’t notice.  After these shorts failed, I started buying Castelli.  Those fit me, and disappear when I am on the bike.  My nipples hurt – the stupid bib straps are chafing them.  Do I need to put bandaids on them like in a marathon?  Bouncing along probably accentuates the problem.  Pavement!  I wonder how long this stretch is.  Long fast cruise downhill, to turn back onto road 171.  Three miles of pavement to the turn.  Wave and call out greetings to the pack of runners returning from their run and getting into their cars.  Damn, I should have asked them if they had any extra water.  Up the hill – three more cars pass by – and turn onto 222A.  This will be a grunt – my legs are tired.  Forgot how loose and rocky it is too.  A big guy in a huge pickup stops and gets out, heading off into the woods.  He waves, and remotely locks the pickup, which chirps as I pass by.  Finally at the top – Rejoice, Emmanuel.  Who was Emmanuel?  Isn’t that another name for Jesus?  For people who had no surnames, the various forms of god sure had a lot of given names.  Cruising down the road toward A1 Mountain now.  Brake quickly at the rough patches.  Better lighting than earlier this morning, but I am tired and need to be careful.  Stop for my last food and drain one bottle.  Still have half the other to drink.  I’ll make it.  An SUV comes by and stops and asks if I am okay.  I probably look pretty beat.  I should – I am.  I thank them.  Damn!  Should have asked for water.  Or maybe a beer.  Out into A1 meadow.  No animals out now.  Down the hill to Thorpe Park, slowing and ringing my bell for the walkers.  Pavement, up the hill, and home.  Pine pollen covers everything in yellow.  Except me.  I am covered in dust.  And my bike too.  Hose us both off. Rejoice, rejoice!  I’ll lube the chain later.