train tracks

The High Line Canal: Segments 4-7

I’m finding a bit of a routine during COVID these days.  I go on weekday hikes to avoid the crowds and weekend bike rides to complete the High Line Canal.  Avoiding the crowds is for solitude in nature, not COVID, but it’s good to kills two birds with one stone.

This weekend, Nancy and I tackled another portion of the High Line Canal.  Our first ride covered segments 2 and 3, while our second stretched over segments 4-7.  Uniquely the segments are labeled differently between the Guide to the High Line Canal that I purchased from the conservancy and the online walking segments on their website.

Moving forward, I have chosen to reference the segments as they are listed in the book of which there are 27.  In my previous post, prior to receiving the guide in the mail, I claimed there were only 14.

mission san jose

Exploring the San Antonio Missions

What a wonderful holiday weekend. I flew down to San Antonio to spend time with my new beaux, David. After a relaxing Thursday evening, we spent Friday riding bikes a long the green belt to tour all the missions, now named a World Heritage Site.

The City of San Antonio owes its existence to the rich mission heritage.  A mission was  an institution used by the Spanish to transplant their culture to frontier regions.  The missions taught native people not only the Catholic faith, but also many occupational skills and the way of the Spanish government.

We started out at Mission Espada which was founded in East Texas in 1690 as San Francisco de Los Tejas. The oldest East Texas mission was moved to the San Antonio River in 1731 and was renamed to San Francisco de la Espada. Here, the Spanish Franciscan mission taught American Indians farming, black smithing, weaving, masonry and more. It was the only San Antonio Mission that made brick and tile. The Spanish language and Catholicism was the adopted way of life of the 52 families that called the mission home.

The compound was expanded in 1770 to include a granary as the earlier granary was converted to a church.  Its acequia, a spanish watercourse, has operated continuously since 1745!  Today the mission is the most complete complex of the San Antonio Missions and is a very active parish.

From Mission Espada we followed the lazy San Antonio River to an old aqueduct built over Piedras Creek. I can’t believe I’ve been to San Antonio so many times and have never made it to all these historic sites, only the Alamo.

We decided to stay on the west side of the river and continued to our next stop, Mission San José. Mission San José was big and as such is known as the Queen of the Missions. It was founded by Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus in 1720. Its imposing walls encompassed a large square lined with Indian quarters. A bastion was built in one corner to protect against attack. The mission also includes a grist mill which was built in 1794 and operated until 1809. It was used to grind wheat into flour for communions wafers and loaves of bread.  The grist mill was restored to working order in 2001.  Of course, the most important structure to all the missions was the church. Mission San Jose’s church features a rose window known as the premier example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation in the USA.

With our meandering pace, lunch was upon us. We stopped for authentic Mexican food at Cascabel’s. I ordered pork gorditas and the server asked, “what kind of pork…we have four choices!!” I let her pick and I wasn’t disappointed though I did have a lead weight in my belly as we started back down the green belt to visit two more missions. David got a big bowl of Birria…goat soup!

After a short detour, we stopped at Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisma Concepción de Acuña. Mission Concepción, founded in 1731, has remained virtually unchanged since its inception over 250 years ago. The mission is one of the country’s oldest stone churches. It served as a religious center and upon entering the mission the Coahuiltecan Indians were expected to give up their own religion, culture, and traditions for the Spanish way of life.

The Moors influence on the Spanish is displayed through the knowledge of geometry and astronomy in the construction of Mission Concepción.   Built high into the west wall above the choir loft is an ocular window through which sunlight pours during solar equinoxes.  Frescos which adorned all missions can still be seen at Mission Concepción. The mission is one of the country’s oldest stone churches. The mission served as a religious center and upon entering the mission the Coahuiltecan Indians were expected to give up their own religion, culture, and traditions for the Spanish way of life.

Our final stop was at Mission San Juan Capistrano.  It was also moved from East  Texas in 1731.  By 1745, the mission had recruited 41 indigenous families.  It was expanded in 1770 to accommodate Spanish families as well.  Mission San Juan was both an agricultural and weaving center which produced crops such as corn, beans, sugar cane, and watermelon.

This is David’s favorite due to its quaint church. It was fun to walk around each mission complex and compare some of the differences. I loved all the old wood gates and doors, crosses, and frankly the natural crumbling walls that used to be painted in bright colors. I’m not sure which mission was my favorite. Perhaps the first one we visited just because I wasn’t sure what to expect.

What a fun day we had before we headed off to the Texas hill country for a romantic weekend! ETB

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Cycling to Sinalunga, Italy…Rewarded with a Pizza Party!

Before we arrived in Italy, Heidi and I requested bikes because we had always heard of amazing bike tours in Tuscany. After driving around for a day on the narrow and busy roads, we had second thoughts about riding them and had considered different plans for the day but forgot to tell Gianluca.

Gianluca has gone out of his way to give us suggestions and get us what we have needed at all times, so we felt at least obligated to ride down the street and back. We told the family we’d be back in 5 minutes and told Gianluca we were going to Betolle. “That’s only 700 meters”, he responded.

So we strapped on our helmets. Lunch boxes were attached to the handle bars held spares tubes, air cartridges, and tire irons. We were set for our adventure, with the first stop being the grocery store for Heidi’s much needed Diet Coke. Of course, we couldn’t find it…a common occurrence. We rode up and down the hills around the three streets and finally settled for water which turned out to be a smart purchase on this warm, sunny day.

From Betolle, we intended on riding to Sinalunga, however, we missed the turn and pedaled down the hill on a busy road. Most drivers were friendly, though one passenger yelled “boo” out the window which was quite a startle. Still in one piece, we decided to pull off the road and map out a different route back to the house.

We turned through a neighborhood and then on to a back country road. Within minutes we were riding along what appeared to be a gravel driveway, but it just kept going. We passed by fields, gated houses, a few signs we didn’t understand, vineyards, roses, and poppies as we admired towns perched on the hills in the distance. As we pedaled along, suddenly a DHL truck was coming toward us, ah…there was an exit!

It returned us back to the busy road only a few hundred meters from Betolle. Sometimes mistakes are the best! We had so much fun riding through the country side. From Betolle, and after an hour or so of riding, we thought we’d return to the house, but we missed the turn just as we were heading down another hill, this time in the direction of Sinalunga, so we just kept going. The hills proved challenging as we pedaled as hard as possible. We stopped for more water from the public fountain in Guazzino before riding a few more miles and crossing bridge where we could see Sinalunga perched on a giant hill in the distance! Just the sight of the town on the hill ended our desire and attempt to visit it. The grades for some of the town roads were like mountain passes.

We turned right through the round-about and looked for another way home that might not require us to climb the hill we just road down as Heidi astutely noticed, “There is not a shoulder where I can walk the bike up the hill.” We were headed toward the A1, the main highway with a 130 km speed limit.

“Perhaps it has a side road,” Heidi said to me.

“Would you want to ride on the side road to LBJ?” I responded.

Miraculously, there was another two lane road to follow (Heidi is an excellent navigator), but we certainly didn’t avoid any hills. We rode past old houses, grazing horses, and eventually topped out with a lovely view of Sinalunga.

Two and a half hours later though probably only 10 miles, it was well past lunch-time, so we stopped at the meat market picked up Salami, cheese, bread, soda, water, and a bottle of wine for only 13 Euro! We were proud of our ordering skills…knowing no Italian, we survived.

Lunch by the beautiful pool back at the house, Il Casale del Marchese, was in order. The rectangular pool was flanked by trees and flower gardens with a spectacular bath area. On one end stood the pizza oven and the other end a huge cabana with pool chairs, a ping pong table and a foosball table. We snacked on our tasty purchases as we shaded our arms, legs, and face which were null of sunscreen during the whole ride while worked on tanning our midsection.

Happy hour time soon rolled around and the rest of the family joined us after a day in Cortona. We moved from the pool chairs to the shaded table and chairs by the enormous pizza oven. Gianluca and his mom made us at least ten pizzas with sausage, ham, tomato, olive, mushroom, artichoke, arugula and more. The final one was Nutella! The wine poured all night while Clarke played the guitar which Gianluca secured from a friend. What a great way to spend our last night in Tuscany!

We’ll do some more exploring tomorrow before finding our way to Cinque Terre…ETB


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Riding the Colorado Newmont MS150 presented by Point B

June 30, 2013

Another one bites the dust…another MS150 that is. Too bad MS hasn’t bit the dust yet, but everyone’s donations have helped with new and improved drugs. Now some with MS no longer have to take shots; they can take an oral medication assuming their insurance will help cover the $50,000 per year cost!

The weather this year for the ride was much cooler which made it much easier to ride. Thank goodness given my training seems to get worse every year…Eight rides of 10 miles or less, one 20 miler and one 40 miler, before I was faced with challenge of riding 75 miles two days in a row.

The event is so well run. We arrived at the Front Range Community College in Westminster bright and early in the morning. Utilizing our VIP parking, a perk from raising over $2,000 the previous year, we parked right next to the bag drop location, aired up our tires, and grabbed a bagel and peanut butter before crossing the start line at 6:15 am. I rode the first leg with the Steamboat portion of our team, Ain’t Too Proud Too SAG….Bart, Katie, Shannon, Wendy, Doug, and Mickel. At the first rest stop, we broke up….spreading out a bit. I rode a few miles with the fastest rider on our team, Mark, who caught up with us, but spent most of the next 35 miles until lunch on my own.

At lunch, I reconnected with Doug and Mickel and we rode from rest stop to rest stop preparing for the climbs, in particular Horsetooth Reservoir. After enjoying our snow cone, we took to the slow climb. I went into granny gear early on which concerned me, but kept it up. Doug and Mickel took a break before heading up the big climb so we separated here, not to mention, they planned on riding the century. They kept encouraging me to go on the century with them…yeah right…they trained…I didn’t! I knew how my knees would feel on day 2.

I was unfortunate to come down off the climb onto a very bad bicycle accident that had just happened. As I kept going multiple emergency vehicles passed me by…fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars. It plays with your mind a bit. The course ended up being closed and the rider was care-flighted out. Hopefully, she will be OK.

I’m not sure if I was distracted by all the commotion or just exhausted from the climb on the 70th mile when I followed the left-hand turn toward the century ride instead of going straight! Thankfully, the rider next me asked if this was the century or the regular route? Then I looked up at the giant hill and promptly turned around! Whew…he was my savior!!! I didn’t remember that left-hand turn in previous years, but with the head wind, I had a difficult time hearing the volunteer directing us to the left…he was calling out, “Century left”.

Speaking of volunteers, they are awesome on this ride. They man every rest stop making PB&J’s, filling water bottles, and thanking us for riding. They sit on the side of the road with cow bells and cheer. They stand at every intersection and point us in the right direction. They couldn’t be more inspiring or make the ride any easier, especially for those of us that train improperly!

So thankfully, I did not add an extra 25 miles to my ride, crossed the finish line just after noon, dropped my bike off at the corral, picked up my overnight bag, and found our team tent. Food, drinks, a few team family members, one teammate, and massage therapists awaited. I got my massage first! After an afternoon at the tent, we took the shuttles to the hotels, went to a 5:30 dinner, and turned in for another early morning!

I started the morning with a 4:45 wake up call and Advil…yep, the knees were unhappy with me! Shuttle, aired up tires, water fill up, breakfast…day two start…6:45. Wow it’s tough to sit on that bicycle seat the first few miles!

This year at the MS150, two routes were offered. The regular 75 mile route over Horsetooth and a shorter base route that was designed last year during the Fort Collins fires when we could not ride the regular route. As such, we had to be more familiar with the turns. I planned on riding the Horsetooth route again, but missed the turn. I followed all the riders that went straight in front of me thinking everyone in Colorado is so hard core, they do the hard route, but this time they were not. Yesterday, I followed everyone in front of me, and they went on the century! I guess I shouldn’t follow and do a better job of reading the signs! I was looking for the poster sized cardboard signs that are posted at every turn. I didn’t bother reading the giant electronic boards that I thought were construction signs…ha! How could I have missed that?!? Well I did, and by the time I realized it, I wasn’t turning around! Though I did make up for it and ride the additional miles on Monday.

Given the tendons in my knees were snapping toward the end of the day, I’m certain my knees were thankful I missed Horsetooth. It sped up my ride a bit though, and I made it across the finish line before Mike got there, so he missed me crossing it…Oh well. My niece and nephew missed their mom and dad cross the finish line too. We all got across earlier because it was so much cooler. The good news was our team raised the most money in a one week time span, that we won a tent at the finish line, so we all got to hang out together for a while before the rain came in.

I’d like to say the ride is a lot of fun, but for those of us that don’t train it is more like grueling. But I don’t ride for fun. I ride for a cure. I ride for my sister-in-law. I ride for those who can’t. Thank you to all who donated. Every dollar makes a difference! I’ve already reached my goal. I’ve probably already made it into the top 100 fund raisers with your support. If I were to raise $5,000, I could ride any MS150 ride in the United States. Donations are accepted until September 1. If anyone has the chance to go to the event in their area, just stand at the finish line. It is so inspiring to see the riders, the families and their signs of support, MS sufferers in wheel chairs, MS riders, volunteers, and more. RIDE FOR A CURE!  ETB

Bike MS150 – Colorado, sponsored by Newmont

A weekend of cycling and raising money for Multiple Sclerosis….

I awoke at 4:45a.m., left the house shortly after 5 a.m. and arrived at Front Range Community college around 5:45 a.m. to participate in the 2-day, 150 mile bike ride from Westminster, CO to Fort Collins, CO and back.

After airing up my tires and dropping off my over-night bag at FedEx truck for transport to Fort Collins, I seeked out my brother and sister-in-law, her two sisters, as well as 52 other team members.  Our team, Ain’t Too Proud To Sag, is led by energetic, captain Steve.  Our riders range from advanced to inexperienced.  Some have MS.  Some have relatives with MS.  And some simply ride for the cause.  Our team, which is made up of a variety of individuals and is not sponsored by a large corporation, has been able to raise several hundred thousand dollars over the last 10 years, and this year we have topped $62,000 and rank 7th in team fundraising.

Of the last 6 years, I have ridden the Dallas to Fort Worth ride once, the Denver to Fort Collins ride four times, and participated virtually when I took my year long trip around the USA.  I have had many supporters who have helped me be a high roller since the second ride.  To ride with high roller status in the current year, a rider must raise $2,000 the previous year.  My supporters have been so generous, I’ve even made the top 100 club a time or two which generally takes $4,000 to $5,000.  One year I ranked #69 and rode with the corresponding number.  One can imagine the comments I got as I pedaled along the course that year.

Outside of raising money for a cure for MS, the biggest incentive for being a high roller for me is the short port-o-let lines.  Every rest stop has two port-o-lets designated strictly for the 300 hundred or so high rollers and the other 2,700 riders have to wait in line for the eight other potties!  That alone is worth five bucks!!  It is also nice to hear a few congrats on high roller status from fellow riders, especially during the 4th hour in the saddle when every body part is aching.

Single guy is in the High Roller bathroom line…the line to the right is the other bathroom line…

photo-104 ms

the line continued…

photo-106 ms

….and continued….isn’t that worth a $5 donation?

photo-107 ms

The ride meanders along country highways, past barns and farmlands, and continues on main streets of the cities as hot air balloons float above.  It is so well organized.  Volunteers or police officers stand at every intersection holding directional signs, pushing the walk button, and directing traffic.  SAG wagons cruise around the course in case a rider needs a lift to the next rest stop or the finish.

The rest stops, every ten to fifteen miles along the route are loaded with volunteers filling gatorade and water jugs, setting out a variety of snacks, and manning first aid tents with sunscreen and ibuprofen.  The ever coveted snow cone is at the last rest stop on the first day.  In addition to volunteers, bike techs are on hand to fix any issues with our mode of transportation.  If only they could fix my knees and back!

Due to the High Park fire in Fort Collins, the route was changed this year.  The prettiest, yet hardest part of the route, a 1,000 foot climb over a short distance around Horsetooth Reservoir was removed.  This area was affected by the fire and out of respect for those who lost their home and for the protection of the riders from inhaling smoke, the course was rerouted and shortened to 68 miles the first day.  The second day the route again excluded the reservoir and was shortened to 65 miles.  While I feel for all those who have lost so much, selfishly I was happy for an easier and shortened course.  Even being from Texas, I must admit it was extremely HOT!  The sun is very intense a mile high.

Upon finishing up around noon the first day, we checked our bikes into the bike corral, picked up our overnite bags, and hung out at our team tent at Colorado State University.  We enjoyed a second lunch (our first lunch was at 9:30 am), before finally riding a shuttle our hotel for a shower, a pasta dinner, and an early bedtime.

On Sunday, we were up again before 5 a.m., hopped the bus around 5:15, grabbed some powdered eggs, cereal, fruit and yogurt provided by the event, enjoyed the sunrise and crossed the start line around 6:30 a.m.  One rest stop at a time, we pedaled our way back toward Westminster.

Just before lunch I came about half a second from wiping out.  It was at a busy intersection with cars, volunteers, and riders.  As I made a right hand turn, my front tire slipped into a crack in the pavement the exact width of my rim.  My momentum slowed and direction changed as my tire scraped through the crack.  Please don’t wreck, please don’t wreck, I thought to myself just before somehow I ended upright and in control.  I found out 30 minutes later, four riders in a row crashed at that corner…one slid into a light pole!  Whew, I’m glad I finished the day without a roadrash.

We finished around noon again, hung with the team at the finish line for a while, and then dispersed to our respective home towns:  Denver, Fort Collins, Steamboat, and Colorado Springs just to name a few.  Thanks everyone for your support…hopefully one day there will be a cure for MS.