Sunday, June 29, 2008

There be mountains here (COMPLETED)


I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life.  3 days ago it was: "I've never seen anything so scary in my life."  I can now say that, in one day, I biked from 8,000 ft. above sea level up to 12,000 and back down.  It was hands down the hardest thing I have ever put myself through physically, and arguably the best day of my life.

I have to start from the beginning, though.  Leaving Boulder was a very nerve racking.  We would climb about 3,000 ft. in about 30 miles.  It would be the hardest day of my life, but only for a few short hours.  I would have to bike about a mile or a mile and a half then stop catch my breath, eat something, and keep going.  The uphill biking was challenging, but even more difficult was dealing with the climate changes in the higher altitude.  I thought our lunch stop was going to be near 24 miles in.  This is where I ran out of water, only to find that, around the corner, the grade of the road increased for about 3 more miles.  I would literally ride 100 feet and stop, over and over again.  I finally made it into the small mountain town of Ward and lunch.  After lunch, I experienced a few miles of rolling hills across the ridge line.  I then reached my first big downhill.  AWESOME.  I flew down the mountain.  Going 35-45 mph, I was slowly gaining on the traffic in front of me.  I went 5 mile in about a minute and a half.  I stopped after the long downhill and Gabe, riding sweep, caught up to me.  We rode the last few miles into Eagle Rock School and our home for the evening.

Eagle Rock School was a cool place.  This alternative high school, sponsored by Honda, is a place for kids who did not succeed in conventional school to go for free.  It was a really neat place with a good mission and a unique approach.  Leaving Eagle Rock School the next morning would kick off the hardest and best day of my young life.  The school has a pretty steep, mile and a half driveway that peaks in the middle.  Every morning, the entire student body, which ranges from 60 to 100+ students, runs/walks down the driveway and back.  On our way out, we were met cheers and well-wishes from the exercizing students, as we headed off to tackle Trail Ridge.

     It took us 10 miles to reach the gates of Rocky Mountain National Park.  We stopped before entering the park at a small coffee shop.  The coffee shop had lots of cool wildlife around.  We were nearly swarmed with tiny Colorado Hummingbirds, which we learned weigh up to the same as a penny.



Entering the park, I stopped at the ranger station to learn a little bit about the park.  I picked up a brochure/map and perused the literature on the parks attractions.  the first few miles in the park were slightly flat, as the last few would be.  Then it began.  The hardest thing I have ever put my body through.  Up and up.... and up... and up.  Then I biked uphill some more.  The park gate had been just above 8000 feet.  It seemed like for every mile I went forward, I also went up a mile.  The stark beauty of the landscape, the majesty of the great bull elk, and the ever thinner air combined to take my breath away.  As I climbed higher it felt as if my lungs were not working, and in turn my entire body fought my mind to stop moving.  Trail Ridge Road peaked about 20 miles from the park gate at 12,053 feet.  It was the highest I've ever been on Earth and on life.  I did it: the hardest thing I've ever done, and I've been cycling every day for the past month and a half.

The trip down, oh, the trip down.  What took 8 hours to climb, took only 45 minutes to descend down from.  If you haven't seen the video, you should watch it (that is Nate in front of me and Beau is close behind.)  We flew down the mountain, stopping only 2wice to shed layers of clothes.  We zipped around 15 mph switchbacks at 30-35 mph.  We met or exceeded the speed limit for 20 miles.  I hit my top speed of the day after we had left the park and continued to descend into Grand Lake, CO.  I think it was about 49.  I even missed my last turn by about 300 yards, as I was trying to go faster.  After realizing I had missed the turn, I slammed on the brakes and turned out into the lane a bit to look back at Nate and Beau.  At this moment I hear Nate scream.  I had not signaled that I was slowing down.  Nate nearly missed hitting me at a dead stop when he was going 45 mph. Close call.  We rolled into Grand Lake Elementary School with cold tacos and hot showers awaiting our arrival.  What a day!

I can now say that I have been in a snowball fight in the middle of June.  I have eaten Elk sausage.  I've seen a wild moose in person.  I can be relatively comfortable in tight spandex shorts all day.  I've been to Colorado, and now Utah.  I have ridden an Alpine Slide.  I will soon go on my first white water rafting adventure.  I hope to exceed 60 mph on my bike, which have named Shadowfax for all you Lord of the Rings geeks.  My current top speed is 51 mph.

Monday, June 23, 2008


So I have made it halfway across the country. I lie in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. We are in Denver, after our second 100 mile day.

Yesterday was an exhilarating ride. The beginning of the day was a little tough. We woke after our first night of camping, and with surprisingly springy steps, we got all of our morning chores done. A few locals in the little town of Anton (where we stayed instead of Limon) told us that we might be able to see the Rockies after riding for just 2o miles. So that became our motivation for the morning, catching a glimpse of the great snow capped peaks. The 20 mile marker came and mountains. The wind whipped into our faces and the hills grew bigger and bigger. 25, mountains. I had to force discouraging thoughts from my head as I climbed hill after hill. Finally, right around the 40 mile mark, cresting a hill, I look at the ground beneath me. On the ground,written in the chalk which we use to mark turns on our route, was "LOOK!". I looked up, and in the distance (100+ miles away) were the mountains. It was hard to tell if they were covered in snow or in clouds, but they were breathtaking, literally. It was very emotional.

Being that it was a 90+ mile day, we would set up 2 lunches. I cruised into the first lunch around mile 42. We were posted up on what looked like the edge of a ranch. It was after speaking to the owner of the land, Lloyd, I learned that it was an 170,000 acre ranch! Wow. I spent a good amount of time relaxing at lunch, which ended up paying off, because the first 12 people to leave ended up going an extra 10 miles out of the way. The middle third of my day was fun. I rode with a group of girls through a few small towns, parallel to and not far from I-70. Our second lunch came at the seventy mile mark in a little town called Bennett (elevation 5483 ft.) I noticed a sign showing the elevation, and this was exciting. Denver is the "Mile High" city...5280 feet. We would be traveling down 200 feet in the next 30 miles.

I headed out of this second lunch spot by my lonesome. Riding about 15 miles before I caught Nate, Colin, and a few others who were changing a flat tire. We rode about another five or six miles before we began to get into the city. City riding is very different from riding through the country. There are lots of stop lights and traffic, and you have to be much more alert while keeping up with traffic the best that you can. Riding through the city is like performing a series of sprints. We moved at a blistering rate through the edge of the city, catching another group of riders and pushing our numbers up to about 12 or 13. We rode into the Christ Church UMC on Colorado Blvd. around 4:30, 100 miles of roadway behind us.

We had a fun evening. After relaxing for a while and taking showers at a local gym, we headed to dinner at a local Habitat for Humanity member's home. As I walked through the house and out into the backyard I was surprised to see that our friend from Durham, who did bike and build last summer and is now in school in Boulder, was awaiting our arrival. We had dinner together and then had a chance to catch up throughout the rest of the night.

It is bittersweet to be halfway through this journey. I am excited about the second half of our trip, but I also wish it would never end. I am nervous about tackling the Rockies, but I know I will get through it. Continued thanks to everyone for all of the support.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fun Days Continue As Our 1/2way Point Draws Near

Wow. I have seen and experienced so much in the past weeks it is hard to know where to begin. We have grown accustomed to eating like kings in the past few weeks. It seems like each church we spend time at is dead set on one-upping the previous one in terms of prepared food. We have such an array of leftover food that, today at lunch I found a 3 day old untouched breakfast casserole, an entire ham leg, and a bag full of unopened sandwich meat. Suffice it to say that we are not going hungry.

We are in Kansas, now, and have been for a few days. We had our first day off in Manhattan, Kansas. We went out the night before our day off and perused a few local hangouts. It was fun to tell other young people about what we were doing. We had a "prom," which was fun. We all went to local thrift stores and bought cheap ridiculous outfits to suit the occasion. At our last three cities, we were able to get into local swimming pools. Many of us are lucky to have not hurt ourselves doing dumb stunts off of the diving boards.

As far as biking goes, we are all still getting a little bit stronger. Our tan lines are very well established, and our butts are pretty much accustomed to being sore. The countryside here in Kansas is quite breathtaking. The landscape is a bit more hilly than the flat cornfields that I had expected to find. Everyone keeps saying that it will level out, and I keep waiting. The Rockies are quickly approaching, and it is easy to feel the group's anxiety of conquering them. We will be in Denver in a week, where we have another day off. So until then, I hope you are enjoying your day jobs as much as I am. -CORY

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Gettin' faster and takin' naps

Hello all. I come to you today from St. Louis, and the campus of UMSL. The past couple of days have been great. Yesterday I was sluggish in the morning, having to battle 30 mph wind gusts through the farmlands of Illinois. I have become accustomed to taking little naps throughout the day, when I feel that I am having trouble pedaling. After lunch, I turned it on and caught up to the front of the pack. We were riding along a levy, with floodplains all around us. I knew the mighty Mississippi River was near. We crossed a couple of tributaries on our way into a beautiful but stinky swampland and island park which would lead us over the great muddy waters of the Mississippi. We came upon a bridge and peered over into a dank swampland covered with moss and low country foliage. It was breathtaking. The bridge we were on continued immediately out over the Great River. It was Muddy and HUGE, just like I remember from my childhood in the Big Easy. We stopped, snapped some pics, then continued on our way. We made perfect time to get to a bus station just as a thunderstorm broke and tornado sirens began to ring in our ears. We waited here until the lightning cleared, then cruised through the pouring rain into the city of St Louis. Warm showers and a great dinner provided by Anne's parents awaited us and then we went out on the town. After getting "home" and very minimal sleep time, we arose to tackle our build day. We spent the first half of the day painting and cleaning up the house of a local Cincinnati woman. Anne's parents then provided another great dinner at their house, and we relaxed in and around their pool for hours. In short, these past couple days have possibly been the best of my summer so far. From minimal soreness after biking in St. Louis to swimming in the pool and painting houses, I am having a blast.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Another Toughie

Columbus, Indiana 6/1/08

So, I rode more miles today than I ever have. 86+! I had somewhat of a tough day. As my legs get stronger and stronger, I try to push myself harder and harder. Today this backfired. We arose from our cotton cocoons at 5am, as it would be a long hot day. We were a little slow this morning. We dragged our hour and a half worth of chores out into 2.5 hrs. I hit the road from Cincinnati @ 7:37am and cranked out the first 25 miles at or around the front of the pack. This was a foolish idea, trying to hang with the fast folks. Right around that 25 mile mark, I ran out of fuel. I thought that I might be able to take a little break and be rejuvenated for the next 10 miles to 1st lunch. This was not the case. I ended up walking some and riding at a snails pace until I reached this landmark. I thought about the possibility of pooping out on the rest of the day, but when Janine insisted that I at least make it to 2nd lunch (30 more miles), I put that idea out of my head for the remainder of the day. I refilled my engines at 1st L with a couple candy bars, a banana, an orange, a pack of crackers, and lots of water. I was the last person to get back onto the road besides our two "Sweepers": Will and Dylan. Not 100 yards down the road I got my first flat tire of the trip. It didn't take 5 minutes to change, and I was back in the saddle. I struggled to knock out the next 12-15 miles, stopping for a couple of breaks in the shade of some local obliging foliage. It wasn't until Will and Dylan caught up to me that I was really able to start moving again. Will is our resident triathlete. He scooted in front of me and set a pace that I could handle for the remainder of the day. I can not describe the feeling that I experienced when I cruised into Columbus and The First Presbyterian Church where I now sit. The church provided us with a place to shower, free reign of their facilities, and a superb burrito dinner. I have already taken a 4 hour nap, and I am anxious to sleep as much more as I can. I hope you have enjoyed this snippet of a day in the life of a Bike and Builder. Until next time...Cory.