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

Artful living in the East Mountains

This year I realized how much I rely on riding, for my socializing even.  Half the people I know are the people I wave at and say hi to on my bicycle.  I miss being out there.”  Brud Grossman, “The Art of Simplicity”, East Mountain Living magazine, Fall/Winter Edition 2017/2018

The mountain communities east of Albuquerque are beautiful for cycling.  The Fall/Winter Edition of East Mountain Living magazine has a nice story on resident Brud Grossman, who makes himself at home there pedaling his bicycle.  Brud is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and we always say hi to each other when we’re out cycling.  He took some time off the bike while recovering from injuries last year, but he’s back out cycling daily.  I just saw him last Saturday when we stopped and joined him for a  break on South 14.

Cycling the roads in the East Mountain communities is fun.  If there’s one thing better than experiencing places by cycling, it is sharing the pleasure with lovely people.  As we leaned on the guardrail alongside the road on South 14, we talked about the small backroads we’ve explored that lead to neighborhoods with unexpected charm, stunning vistas, enchanting swaths of forest.  Brud uses cycling as proof of life.  Every year he makes it a goal to cycle up the Sandia Crest to the top at over 10,000 feet above sea level.  It reminds me of the David Budbill quote from the Sun Magazine.  “What I’ve put in the place of religion is the way I live my life now.”  Cycling has become part of Brud’s identity.  He is also a woodcarver, but at some point years ago his cycling practice became his main thing.

I look up to Brud.  Here’s a man who is following his own heart, and living his dream.   Living is a language for him, and the joy that comes from living he shares kindly.  The pleasure expressed through simple acts of living is a thing of beauty, and inspiring.

If you see Brud cycling, take time to say hello.  He’s as much a part of the East Mountain landscape as all the natural features.  I always learn something.  He’s seen so much through his cycling, and his words are loaded with life.  Thank you Brud. Keep on pedaling!

Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind.  –R.W. Emerson, “The American Scholar”

References:

View the magazine here:  https://www.eastmountaindirectory.com/LIVINGMAGAZINE/

Link to PDF of current issue:  https://indd.adobe.com/view/586fc0ac-3f67-4078-a478-5708f6ec0b7c

Related Facebook site:  https://www.facebook.com/EastMountainDirectory

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

Movement is life, and more reasons to cycle to work

“Imagine if a team of scientists devised a drug which massively reduced people’s chances of developing cancer or heart disease, cutting their overall likelihood of dying early by 40%….That drug is already here, albeit administered in a slightly different way: it’s called cycling to work.”  —The Miracle Pill

“The benefits of physical activity are just so overwhelmingly large.”–Cycling to work means better health and a longer life.  Here’s how to get started.

On September 8 the Washington Post published an article on cycling to work in their Health & Science section.  It relates scientific evidence of cycling’s amazing benefits to the real life experiences of six bike commuters, making the benefits palpable.  One commuter, Carlos, says he’s saved $7000.  Another, Tricia, says cycling helps you see your city “in a way you’ve never seen it before”, and cycling to work clears her head.  “It’s exercise, there’s sunshine and it’s really cheap. It makes me happier.”  All of the commuters interviewed for the article “said they liked how biking built exercise into their day.”  It makes exercise come naturally and easily.

Not exercising is definitely risky.  Humans are designed to move.  But is cycling perceived to be safe?  Even though cycling crashes resulting in a death are relatively rare, Southwestern cities—Albuquerque, Tucson, Las Vegas, and Phoenix—led the nation in cycling crash rates in 2014-2015.  The growth boom of Southwestern cities after WWII produced a “transportation infrastructure focused almost exclusively on the private motor car” (from the FHWA doc. linked below). This is definitely a wake up call that we need to prioritize cyclist safety so the public feels more confident making healthy decisions.  Southwest Bike Initiative focuses on improving traffic safety and service for all travelers here in the Southwest US so citizens can share in the prosperity of cycling’s restorative effects.

One super cool thing about cycling to work is it shifts our perspective.  By changing behavior, changes in attitudes follow.  When I’m cycling I feel more connected and compassionate.  Our city’s purpose is to nurture our citizen’s collective well-being. We don’t want to be fit into a system that doesn’t make us fit or enhance our fitness.  Choosing independent movement through a self-powered vehicle like a bicycle makes us fitter, and is therefore very fitting.  It takes a new vision and education to positively change our social norms and habits, and leadership from the community.  It’s a matter of conscious choice and free will.    Carol says in the Washington Post article: “I think a lot of people have this idea that ‘real cyclists’ will look down on them if they only bike some of the time, or only for short distances, but there are no ‘real cyclists’; there are just people who put on their clothes and get on a bike.”  Cycling really is for everyone.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2017/sep/17/the-miracle-pill-how-cycling-could-save-the-nhs

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cycling-to-work-means-better-health-and-a-longer-life-heres-how-to-get-started/2017/09/08/b48d13f2-72ed-11e7-9eac-d56bd5568db8_story.html?utm_term=.509d666c2b0e

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2017/apr/20/its-good-to-hear-cycling-to-work-reduces-your-risk-of-dying-but-thats-not-why-i-do-it

Kenneth Burke—“people may be unfitted by being fit in an unfit fitness.” quoted in The Well-Tempered City by Jonathan F.P. Rose

https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/other_topics/fhwasa09027/resources/Design%20Guidance%20Accommodating%20Bicycle%20and%20Pedestrian%20Travel.pdf

What is sustainable transportation?

Once when I did a visioning session with some German engineering students, they had no trouble seeing sustainable farms, sustainable forestry, even sustainable chemistry… But none of these engineers could envision a sustainable transportation system, though some of them actually worked in designing solar vehicles. Finally they concluded that transportation is a cost, not a benefit, that it’s noisy, disrupting, energy- and time-consuming, and inherently unsatisfying, and that it would be best if everyone were already where they wanted to be, with whom they wanted to be. In a sustainable society, they concluded, travel would be almost unnecessary.  –Donella Meadows, Envisioning a Sustainable World

Changing our world begins with imaginative ideas.  A vision of where we are heading.  What does it mean to want sustainable transportation, and what would that world look like?  A scientist advised me that nothing in nature is sustainable.  We use things and matter changes form.  Since then I’ve thought of sustainability as more of a guidance system, a continuum.  Not a point of perfection that we’ll reach, but a standard we’ll measure by, an ideal to strive for, a prism to look through.  We want to work wisely with nature, not use it up.  We want to align our lives with nature, not work against it. Sustainability is a principle we infuse throughout our living processes.  When applied to transportation, sustainability steers our approach so it is more renewable, uses less finite materials, and is fitting with the whole context of nature, especially as indicated in the human form and measured by wellness and self-sufficiency.

The good news is nature equipped us with renewable transportation.  Sustainable transportation is human-powered mobility.  When we exercise it makes us stronger.  Since we were babies we longed to move our feet.  Walking and talking develop together.  They are simple yet profound.  Combine them and you have some of the most compelling expressions of human force, such as public marches, and lifestyles that show a commitment to “walking the talk”, metaphorically speaking.  It’s strange that we’ve designed transportation systems that alienate us from our native powers and make us reliant on more costly methods.   Just like no-till agriculture prevents unnecessary waste, human-powered transport meets most of our needs neatly and sufficiently.  And in fact, it seems almost like it is a requirement to live close to our nature, as our health and well-being suffers if we don’t.  It seems that tending to nature is a moral imperative.  We should plan and design for walking and cycling at every instance, so citizens can act on our positive inclinations whenever we can, especially for transportation needs at the local and community scale.  Transportation needs include commuting, recreation and exercise.  We need recreation and exercise!

In an essay called Living Lightly and Inconsistently on the Land from The Global Citizen newspaper column, Donella Meadows cautioned against “setting up us/them and right/wrong categories”.  We live in a culture and era where living lightly on the land is nearly impossible.  The key is keeping our life simple when we can, and growing in areas where there are no limits, such as developing our capacities to understand and appreciate the world, extending our network of relationships and growing our concept of family so it’s more inclusive, and increasing our compassion and care.  Walking and cycling are amazingly practical tools that help us to grow as people, accomplish our daily living objectives, while simultaneously activating curiosity, wonder, empathy and vision.  They actually shift our perspective, transform us.  Through better integration of the activities of walking and cycling in the way we design our cities and set up our living arrangements, by refining our transportation practices, we may even experience a taste of the world we envision, as if our picture of the ideal life we wish for could be granted today.  Try and we shall see.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:  “The central Unity is still more conspicuous in actions…An action is the perfection and publication of thought.  A right action seems to fill the eye, and to be related to all nature.  The wise man, in doing one thing, does all; or, in the one thing he does rightly, he sees the likeness of all which is done rightly.”  Sustainable transportation doesn’t mean we have to walk and cycle all the time, only that these choices should be primary, open, dignified, seen as useful, and be well-planned for, so that we may join freely with nature, while exercising our own good nature to make a better, longer lasting and more fulfilling world.  We can see it out there and move towards it.

Cycling from Home

For the Lakota, mountains, lakes, rivers, springs, valleys, and woods were all finished beauty.  –Luther Standing Bear, “Land of the Spotted Eagle”

I’m amazed at the beautiful places I can reach cycling from home.  Albuquerque is big enough that it has everything we need, but it is compact enough that you can stretch your legs and reach open space.  From almost any place in the city you can see the mountains, mesas, forests, fields and wetlands that surround us.  We are enveloped in beauty.  All underneath an oceanic sky.  When I hop onto my bicycle I can pedal to everywhere I can see and many hidden places too.  Cycling lends itself to seeking a harmony with landscapes.  Cycling can make you feel like the wind itself.  Your breath and blood and legs flowing round, propelling you forward in a gliding motion.  This blog post includes photos from bicycling journeys I’ve started and ended from our home in Albuquerque.

bending-road-air-suspended-needles

following-where-the-road-leads

Cyclists seek out roads and trails that are not too much of an imposition on the places we travel.  Roads that fit into nature and are a way into the great mystery, where we receive a softening influence.  I like cycling up roads that climb.  It slows my speed down and my perceptions open to the world around me.  I see birds soaring, leaves drifting down, sunlight splashing through the trees’ bare branches making crosshatched shadows on the ground.  With my mind open and the air quiet and still, life reverberates unbounded.  The particulars of the day come forward and kindle a sense of mystery and contemplation of the great whole.

la-luz-today

landscape-1

Ecologists, biologists and others predict the effect of our actions on the living world, including ourselves.  Cycling for me provides a poetry of motion and personal experience that compliments rational understanding.  Cycling outside deepens the connections I feel for the natural world.  I sally forth with humility, and finding affinity, I recover more of myself.  There is no way I can dominate the landscape, but I can flow with it and feel its hospitality.  Fear and uneasiness falls away.  We are nature’s head and heart combined.

standing-beauty

high

Cycling has worked well for me as a way to accommodate myself to the environment, and integrate information into my consciousness with direct experience.  It is one thing to read the weather forecast, and completely another to feel it on your skin.  One thing to read a description of a mountain range, or even look at it on Google Earth or a map, and all together different to explore the mountain and discover what’s there for yourself.  It’s never too late to start cycling from home and experiencing the living library surrounding us, the human community and natural landscapes intertwined in a beautiful dance, discovering childlike wonder again, sensing joy anew.  If we listen to our curiosity and courage bubbling up like laughter, we can experience synchronicity in discovery.  When I return home I find myself appreciating things more.  There is a beauty we can feel and be a part of.

two-track

crest-curve

curving-trees

Cycling is not the only way to open our perceptions and be in touch with the greater world, but it is one path.  In this era of transitioning to a more sustainable society, it’s challenging to participate in mainstream activities and not be contributing to the problems of our times.  We fly to conferences and meetings, and even my cycling requires car driving from time to time to go to events and races.  My philosophy is to make it worthwhile and be aware of what I’m doing, while trying to pay attention to the little things we can do to make a difference.  Cycling from home makes me feel a wonderful congruity with the world.  I go with a beginner’s mind out into the unknown, which brings me closer, one step closer, to being happy living right here at home.

riding-dirt-roads

 

Taking the High Road with Team CSP-SBI

2016 has been a big year for us.  The highlight for me was when our new cycling team, Team CSP-SBI, won the inaugural USA Cycling National Hill Climb Championships in the master’s men 40-49 category at Pikes Peak in Colorado this July.  I love climbing mountains on the bike, but there’s never been a national event for that until this year.  The best things in life are not necessarily reaching your dreams, but having an experience that fulfills something beyond what you dreamed was possible.

the-start

and-were-off

2016 Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb / USA Cycling Hill Climb National Championships

crossing the line above 14,000′ at the 2016 Broadmoor Pikes Peak USA Cycling Hill Climb National Championships

As any competitive person knows, you appreciate achievements fully, especially because we received a lot of help.  But we’re always thinking about what’s next, what’s out there in those vistas on the distant horizon.  Part of sensing the moment is seeing it in the stream of our larger life journey.  Every step we take in life satisfies us enough to propel us forward.  It’s nice when your goals have to do with getting the most out of yourself and performing better to honor relationships and opportunities.  Doing good is our humble way of saying thank you.

 

a-tight-fit

in-the-air

I have a lot people to say thank you to.  I’m thanking you for your support, and sticking with me when I failed.  Here it goes.
David Sandusky for leading me into the American West, and sharing some crazy bike trips on horse trails in the mountains.
Michael Hernandez, the Squadra training group (each one of you!), and the Reno Wheelmen for teaching me more on the joy of cycling.
Drew Miller for climbing mountains.  I was inspired by seeing him race in 2004.  We became teammates later and shared good rides.
Jim Silverman, who represents everything that is best about the cycling scene in Flagstaff.   Jim mentored me by example.
Doug Loveday for being the entrepreneur behind Grand Canyon Racing, creating opportunities to race as a team, and being a great ambassador.
Joe Shannon for his passion for cycling and the environment, starting a movement in Flagstaff, getting me racing again, and sharing the love.
The faculty and students of SESES at Northern Arizona University.  How they love exploring outdoors.  Inspiring.
Brian Lemke and the White Mountain Road Club, for cycling tradition, commitment and community at an entirely new level.
Chris Abbott and Heather Farrell in Albuquerque, and the best of cycling, health and wellness they exemplify here.  Community excellence.
All my teammates at Team CSP-SBI.  Without you this would not be possible.
Mai Wakisaka for recognizing how cycling expresses us, and sharing the bike life together.  What good fun!

It’s impossible to single out all the energy you pick up from cycling with people.  Going through pressing circumstances together–a hard workout, a hail storm, a race–reveals character.  Witnessing so much character from common people riding bikes has uplifted my sense of humanity.  We have gobs of character.

post-race

You get the idea.  Cycling is a social thing!  And it reveals the web of life.  The sport largely runs on volunteer enthusiasm, sacrifice, love and selfless commitment.  But that’s not enough.  Success requires structure and support.  This year Team CSP-SBI was fortunate to have sponsors that literally made my cycling possible.  Thank You Sponsors.

Conservation Science Partners  http://www.csp-inc.org/
Specialized Bicycles  https://www.specialized.com/us/en/
Landscape Conservation Initiative  http://nau.edu/lci/
Live Oak Associates, Inc. http://www.loainc.com/
Congratulations on the win Team CSP-SBI.  Onward.