I Want to Ride My Bicycle – I Want to Ride My Bike

by Nancy Bestor

DSC04401Now that both our children are away at college, I’ve been on a search for “my thing”. I need a hobby (that isn’t reading on the couch) that I can become passionate about. I’ve started playing the guitar, am trying to hike and walk more often with girlfriends, and have also increased my road bike riding. Thus when Bob suggested we rent bikes in Queenstown, New Zealand, and go for a 30+ mile ride, I was an enthusiastic yes. And when we picked up a map from the bike rental agency, and I saw that the ride we would be doing was considered “moderate,” I gave two enthusiastic thumbs up. Little did I know that New Zealand’s idea of moderate and my idea of moderate are two very different things.

Our plan of attack was to bike to Arrowtown for lunch, then roll on to the town of Gibbston, where we would finish at a winery with a glass or two of Central Otago’s finest varietals before the bike rental shuttle picked us up and drove us back into Queenstown. Actually, we had originally planned to ride out to Arrowtown and Gibbston, and then back to Queenstown, but Lisa, the incredibly kind, knowledgeable and reasonable woman at the rental agency, talked us out of that, and convinced us that our ride would be long enough if we took a shuttle back. Thanks to Lisa, Bob and I will celebrate another wedding anniversary.

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In the beginning, on our mountain bikes, our ride was flat and lovely. We started out going around the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu, on an extremely well signed and well-maintained gravel bike path. Then we rode along a river, also lovely and fairly easy. We had the bike trail almost to ourselves and to begin with, it was nothing but lovely vistas of rolling hills and snow capped peaks and pedestrian/biker-only bridges that span some of the bluest rivers in the world. I began to feel like bike riding might really be “my thing”. I started picturing myself riding Cycle Oregon, and/or choosing a century ride in a beautiful location. But that’s where the easy ended and (in my humble opinion) we skipped right over the moderate category and into difficult. There were many uphill climbs and switchbacks—damn those switchbacks. I got off my bike twice because I just didn’t think I could keep pedaling fast enough to stay upright. This is when I started thinking that maybe sewing or quilting might be a better “thing” for me.

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The views were still lovely, but I was concentrating pretty darn hard on keeping my legs going in a circular motion. I did indeed make it to the top of Thompson’s Hill, which was the end of the hard part. From there we had about six more miles to make it to Arrowtown, a very cute gold-rush town with many original buildings. We ate lunch there, and quaffed a beer to replenish the thousands and thousands of calories we had burned off in the three hours so far. The lunch and beers were delicious.

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After lunch, we hopped back on our bikes, energy renewed for the final eight-mile ride to Gibbston. Along the way we rode over the Kawarau Bridge, “world home” of bungee jumping. Many, many brave souls were waiting their turn to bungee 43 meters to the river below. We stopped to catch our breath watch a few bungee jumps. The music was pumping, people were cheering, and one poor young woman was sobbing as she gathered the courage to jump off the bungee ledge. (The mother in me really wanted to go over to her and tell her that perhaps if she was crying so hard about this upcoming jump, she really shouldn’t do it, but I kept my mouth shut.) I can say, without a doubt, that bungee jumping will never be “my thing.”

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Our bike ride ended at the Gibbston Valley Winery. We bought a flight of wines with a cheese pairing and sat our weary butts down on a hard bench and relished in our accomplishment. Soon our van driver arrived, and it just so happened to be Lisa, the same woman who convinced us to arrange a shuttle. I bowed down to her in gratitude.

So I guess my take away from this adventure was that century rides might not be my thing. And bungee jumping is definitely not my thing either. But spirited bike rides that end in wine and cheese pairings???…….now we may be getting somewhere.

Notes:

  • Our day-long bike rental, including the shuttle pickup, cost $127 in US dollars for both of us. I don’t know how much of that was the shuttle pickup, but in my opinion, it was priceless.
  • If you’re crazy brave enough to bungee jump at the Kawarau Bridge, the cost for one jump is about $140 (US).
  • Arrowtown looks like a cute town to browse in. My legs just didn’t have the energy to do so. We ate at the Fork & Tap, in a charming historic building. We also got delicious sticky buns (which came highly recommended) at Provisions.
  • Our waitress at the Fork & Tap had never before heard of Root Beer.

Along For the Ride

by Bob Bestor

The rain is coming down sideways. I am soaking wet. The temperature is in the low 40’s and dropping. My knee, which in 51 years of everything I could throw at it has never given me the slightest bit of discomfort, is now giving me great bouts of it. Yet I still have many miles and a couple of thousand vertical feet of bike riding to get to the summit of Utah’s 9,485-foot Wolf Creek Pass. And it’s all Mark Satkiewicz’s fault.

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Mark Satkiewicz is a bad man. He’s the CEO of Smartwool. You know, the makers of all those lusciously comfortable socks and toasty warm sweaters that we’ve carried for more than ten years at Travel Essentials? Yes, those guys. And oh, how I longed for both warmth and toastiness on the Wolf Creek climb.

Anyway, about nine years ago, when Mark was just a lowly Vice-President at the company, he decided that it would be a good idea to ride his bike from Smartwool’s headquarters in Steamboat Springs, Colorado to the annual summer Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Why is he bad? First off, the most inviting spot on the entire route is named Starvation Reservoir. Second, during summer, between Steamboat and Salt Lake, there are two types of terrain, scorching hot high desert and towering mountain passes. And he wanted to make the 400-mile commute (they were on their way to a trade show remember) in a scant four days. Nevertheless, he convinced another nineteen colleagues to join him and a tradition was born.

This year I got invited to go along on the ride, and I immediately said yes. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But, as you may guess, I was far from alone in being tired and soaked to the bone. What is now known as “The Smartwool Ride” has grown considerably and I was grinding up to that mountain pass with 82 other cyclists of all abilities, myself being on the lower end of the ability scale.

And while everything I’ve written so far is true, the real truth is that The Smartwool Ride is a total blast. Sure it’s hard, but it’s never too hard. And it’s the other 82 riders (not to mention the staff of Iconic Adventures who supported the event) who actually make it worthwhile and even somewhat easy.

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As you might imagine, the outdoor/travel industry attracts a certain type of person. And from that group, those who enthusiastically set out on and tackle 100-mile days on a bike make for terrifically fun and interesting company. It was kind of like a rolling cocktail party.

One tends to forget the heat when cruising down a gorgeous, gently winding desert canyon chatting with three time Olympian Emily Cook who is just about as humble and as nice as she can be and who is generously willing to share stories about her amazing career even though she met you no more than 90 seconds ago. The hills are also a little easier when new buddy D.C. is praising “the pig” in reference to his love for the barbecue of his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, or grilling me on what I know about Tupelo Hardware and whether I am worthy to wear a hat from their store. Or when Bill Dillard is offering up the story of how his Grandfather started up a little five and dime store in Arkansas, learned the ropes, and launched what has now grown to become the 330-store chain Dillard’s. I even rode in the slipstream (way, way, way back to be sure) of a former Tour de France champion. Just sayin’.

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So it was four days in the saddle. Long days. Days filled with deserted back roads, bucolic rolling farmland, stunning desert vistas and stifling desert heat – until the weather changed on day four. We woke up to rain and, knowing that we had Wolf Creek Pass on the day’s agenda, pushed back our roll out time by an hour in the hopes it would pass. It didn’t.

The rain came and went throughout the morning. Each time giving us false hope that it might stay away. But soon after we got on to the Wolf Creek climb proper, it had decided that it wasn’t going anywhere. By the summit aid station, even those outfitted with the finest rain gear were soaked through.

While there was much shivering, there were only two choices. Hang out at the summit or get on the bike for the 15-mile descent down the other side. For those of you who don’t cycle, going up in the cold and rain is one thing. Going down is quite another. Going up, at least you are working and creating some of your own heat. Going down, you’re pretty much just sitting on your bike. Imagine sitting outside, soaking wet in a 35 mph windstorm. It can get cold. Not only that but the performance of road bike brakes are severely compromised in rainy conditions. This was not a good recipe for a bunch of amateur cyclists who already had 360 miles in their tired legs.

Soon though, a third choice came available – get in the support van for a safe ride to the bottom. I’m not too proud to say that I took the easy and warm way out.

Did I say that Mark Satkiewicz is a bad man? Well he is also a very strong cyclist. And as such he and his group of riders were way ahead of most of us and had already tackled the steep and freezing descent and instead of shivering at the summit were shivering at the bottom. It was at this point that he decided two things. First, that this year’s Smartwool Ride was the most epic of all. And second, that in the interest of safety, it was over. Mark is wise as well.

So we crammed into the vans and it wasn’t long before we were all cleaned up and warm and cozy after hot showers at the state of the art U.S. Ski and Snowboard Training Center in Park City. There we congratulated each other, shared the tales of our epic cycling adventure, and watched several Olympic hopefuls go through their training regimens as we ate pizza and drank beer.