Monday, December 19, 2011

Colorado CX Championship

All good things must come to an end, and last weekend marked the end of my 2011 cyclocross campaign - the Colorado State Championships. I couldn't ask for much better conditions at the championship course in Castle Rock. The snow we received recently was melting and creating a nice muddy parcours with some good climbing. The course also featured some mildly technical sections and a frightening flyover. It was a 30 degree slope on each side which doesn't sound like much...until you're trying to ride up it and then down the other side without eating shit.

I had some bad luck in the form of a flat tire as I took some warmup laps on the course. Since it was a tubular, there wasn't anything I could do to fix it there. I had to take a wheel off of my spare bike and do the race without a bike in the pit. It's a blow to the psyche having to race on a tire that you've hardly used all season and without being able to take some laps to see how the different tread handles in the mud. It's a tire combination I've been wanting to try this year though (Schwalbe Racing Ralph up front, Tufo Flexus Primus on the back).

The race starts on a long leg burning climb before getting into muddy twists and turns. Unlike a lot of courses we race on, this course was wide enough in most spots that there was room to get around people. I took every opportunity I could to pass people early and not get stuck behind any crashes or bad riding.

I rode as hard as I could - pushing hard on each climb, recovering on descents, and carefully on the technical stuff. With the sun setting as we raced, the course was changing every lap. Extra care was needed as some of the mud firmed up, some off camber corners got more slippery, and sometimes you just couldn't see anything in front of you due to the sun being in your eyes. (Dan Farrell called one of those blind spots "Ray Charles hill". Always good for a laugh.)

The officials really wanted us to get our money's worth I guess because we ended up racing for 60 minutes. That's easily 10 minutes longer than any other race I did this year and I was paying for it late in the race. I had pulled back a few people, but I just didn't have the gas to stay with them at the end. They'd pull away from me in the technical stuff as I was in the red and struggling to keep my bike going in a straight line.

I crossed the line in 9th place, satisfied with a good end to the season. A fun ride, and a good result.

This is the first year where I've skipped the road season and focused solely on cyclocross. It was an up and down season, but I'm happy with the progress I made. From a pair of podiums at the USGP and upgrade in racing category to some frustrating performances as I struggled to keep up with faster guys, it's been a physically and mentally demanding season. I'm ready for a break from the daily training, but at the same time I'm anxious for next season. It's sick, I know. Thanks to everyone who cheered, provided support, and motivated me to ride faster. I'll see you next season.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jingle Cross

Driving back and forth across the country for Thanksgiving wasn't a super exciting way to spend 4 days around the holiday, but one bonus was that I got to bring my bike with me. Dropping 4500 feet in altitude tends to make you feel like Mark Cavendish. It's great, even though the weather and roads are kind of crap.

Having a bike also meant that we could stop in Iowa City on the way back and race one day of Jingle Cross. When most people think of a bike race in Iowa they tend to think it would be boring because a lack of hills, but realistically it doesn't take much of a hill to add some flavor to a cyclocross race and we don't generally race on big hills here in Colorado anyway. The weather on race day was pretty legit cross racing weather: wet, muddy, and cold.

I took one warmup lap on the course, and then retreated to the car to put on some warmer clothing. It wasn't particularly cold (mid 40's), but that rain chilled you to the bone. I should have been out riding around to stay loose, but the car was so nice and cozy. Plus I needed plenty of time to pin on three numbers - one on the back, and one on each arm. Overkill?

Starting order was determined by the registration order, and since I didn't register until the day before, I was at the end of a nearly 100 person field. Ahh the back of the starting grid, home sweet home. Still, I wanted to see if I could race my way into the top 20. Hell, I had oxygen on my side.

The big feature on the course is "Mount Krumpet". What should have been a rideable dirt path up turned into a really long run-up. I could ride almost half of it, but the slick mud and traffic eventually caused me to dismount every time and run the rest. It's way longer than any run-up I've seen in a race and it took every ounce of perseverance to continue to run it instead of walking like I lot of people resorted to. This was a training opportunity for me and I want to squeeze every bit of training out of it. :)

If the tiring run-up wasn't enough, you almost immediately have to navigate the muddy zig-zags back down the mountain. During my warmup I was able to ride down slowly, but it was obvious that dismounting would be necessary as it got more muddy from the previous racers on the course. Even with big spikes in my shoes, it was pretty treacherous off camber greasy mud. Sometimes it seemed like the fastest way down was on your ass, and I saw plenty of people doing it.

Through all the mud, I just tried to stay on the gas. I had a good time battling back and forth with a few people late in the race. Each of us trading attacks and trying to drop the other. I ended up finishing 26th. A little outside my goal of top 20, but not too bad. It's a fun race and a fun atmosphere. Even with the cold rain, there were plenty of people perched on Mount Crumpet to watch the carnage and provide "encouragement". It's too bad Iowa City is such a long drive away.

Ryan After Jingle Cross

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Trying to find fitness amongst fast people

I haven't blogged much about my illustrious racing career as of late, mostly because it had been pretty frustrating. I had some bad luck in big races, like flat tires and rolled tubulars. Not to mention, there's a lot of stiff competition in Cat 3. I felt fast enough to race in the top 20, but with my new upgrade I was always starting at the rear of the group. But every weekend is a new race, and a new chance to change fortunes. And the past couple weekends, I've had better fortunes. Last weekend's opportunity: Schoolyard Cross. The weather forecase called for a cold and potentially wet morning race. If I hadn't already pre-registered I may have just stayed home, which is what a lot of people apparently did. We only had around 30 people in my race, which meant that even with my back row start I'd have less traffic to race through. There wasn't an inch of pavement anywhere on the course. It was all dirt, prairie grass, or some combination of both. It's a hard course that demands you stay on the gas and the mid-week snowstorm meant that it would also be muddy. The course was pretty wide everywhere, which created plenty of passing opportunities. A lot of success in this race was about picking a smart line and understanding that the person in front of you may not be taking the best line for you. This was especially true on some of the bumpy prairie grass. People were happy to follow the tire tracks in front of them, but it wasn't any faster than going off that line. Keeping that in mind allowed me to get around a bunch of people early. With a couple laps to go, I was sitting on someone's wheel. He was better than me in the technical sections, but was quickly tiring. I following him close, hoping he'd make a mistake, but he was pretty smooth. On the last lap, I put everything into an attack. It worked, and I was able to get a gap on him and pull away. I had the next rider in my sights, but I ran out of race course. I finished 4th. My best result since upgrading. One week later, the next opportunity: Sienna Lake. The name of the game today was wind. Wow, was it windy. Another small crowd of about 30 people, and another back row start. The first "element" after the start is a pretty basic ride up a curb. I was shocked when the person in front of me locked up their wheels (actually laying rubber) going into this. (In his defense, I'm sure the people in front of him unexpectedly slowed way the hell down.) I never felt great today. I didn't feel really bad, but my legs felt tired from some hard workouts. There were some fun technical elements on this course that kept me on my toes. I didn't feel like I rode particularly well; coasting more into corners, bobbling 180's, etc. Part of it was from too much air in my tires, but the majority of it gave me ideas of what to work on. I had a good time, and thankfully kept upright the whole time. I finished 8th today. It's another decent result. Maybe this season is getting back on track?

Monday, October 31, 2011

New Ride

As I was racing in the mud at the New Belgium Cup, I was thinking about how it'd be nice to have a clean bike in the pit. I quickly came to the conclusion that I, as a Cat 4, I'd feel a little silly to having a spare bike. So after I cat'd up, Christine (always a believer of "turnabout is fair play") showed up with a new Ridley X-Fire frame. (It's okay to be jealous.)

His and hers 2012 Ridley X-Fires:
His and her's Ridley X-Fires

Ridley X-Fire

It's a sweet ride.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Ups and Downs of racing

One of my goals for the cyclocross season was to upgrade to Cat 3. I could have upgraded before the season even started based on previous experience, so I guess my real goal was to earn my upgrade with race results. After my two podiums at the New Belgium Cup, I figured it was a good time to pull the trigger.

Last weekend was my first in the new category. As a friend of mine told me when we were warming up, the biggest difference between the Cat 4's and Cat 3's is that nobody in the 3's is just there to have a good time. Everyone there is giving it their all, even from the back row, to get to the front of the race.

I lined up Saturday at Xilinx without expectations. I had no idea where I'd fit into the pecking order, I just knew that it was going to be an uphill battle against some strong competition. My start was pretty terrible and I was getting passed left and right. If I wasn't dead last going into the first corner, I was pretty damn close. Not a great way to start the day. Following a long singletrack section, I started picking people off in areas with more passing opportunities. Shortly into the second lap, I'd probably passed 10 people or so. I was going for pass through a grassy corner when I hit a bump in the grass that ripped my tire off the wheel. Game over. I was about as far away from the pit as I could be, so there was no hope of salvaging my race. Nothing gets me quite as frustrated as equipment failure, but I should blame myself for not checking the glue on these tires at the beginning of the season.

So I lived to fight the next day at Monarch High School CX. I was determined to have a better race, and this was a course that suited me better with long power sucking grass stretches. I took up my now familiar place at the starting grid near the back of the group, but I at least held my position when the whistle blew this time. There are a lot of 180's on this course that gave me a chance to catch my breath, and then I'd hammer it on the wide grass sections and pass people.

On the second lap, I took a gravely corner too fast and went down pretty hard. I got up quickly and remounted with a brief look at my arm to see the damage. It looked bloody, but all my body parts still worked and I continued to race with my battered bike.

One thing is for sure, people aren't exploding at the end of the race in the 3's like they typically do in the 4's. I could never let off the gas, or I'd get caught from behind. I gave it all I had (and then some) to hold my position, even as my legs were cramping on the last lap. I finished the day in 21st place. It's going to take me some time to work my way up through the cat 3 ranks, but I'm determined to do it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

USGP New Belgium Cup day 2

Another good day at the New Belgium Cup. I didn't exactly focus on recovery after yesterday's race - lots of walking around the course and drinking beer into the night with our house guests. Consequently, I wasn't feeling too sharp this morning. I took a couple easy warmup laps, and tried pushing it hard on one of the climbs. My legs felt like garbage. Oh well, the course was really fun. The rain had stopped over night, and the mud was firming up. I really like riding in those conditions. Unlike snow where you can blow a line and immediately be on your ass, mud is more slow and forgiving.

I had another front row callup but my start was considerably slower today. I didn't take the hole shot and risked getting caught up in traffic. It took some good old fashioned elbowing and bumping, but I survived the opening lap mayhem and settled in somewhere in the top 10. I really wasn't paying too much attention to the people around me, I was just trying to ride a clean race. I took some chances on some lines. Some worked out, others didn't. I got passed by the eventual winner because I was trying to take an outside line through some dry grass in a corner. In my head I knew it was slower, but I wanted to try it anyway.

I was riding pretty close with another rider on the last lap. I had a pretty sloppy lap which allowed him to gap me. I pulled him back some on the climbs, but he was still on the gas. Nearing the final straight I had to slow down to get around a lapped rider and I never quite made up that time. I tried like hell though. I've probably never put so much into a finish, and I almost caught him at the line. I finished 3rd again, just like yesterday.

I really surprised myself this time. During the race, I was surprised how much better I felt than in warmup. And it felt like that despite a bad start, my fitness carried me back to the front of the race. It's an amazing feeling to know the time and hard work I put into training is now showing up on the race course.

Podium presentation

Saturday, October 8, 2011

USGP New Belgium Cup day 1

The USGP of Cyclocross made a stop in Fort Collins this weekend. It's an infrequent pleasure to be able to ride my bike to a race, but that was the pleasure I had this morning as I took the 10 minute spin to the course.

I started the race strong, taking the hole shot from the nice front row start my early registration netted me. I actually didn't want to be at the front setting the pace so early so I slowed down going into the first barriers and let someone come around. I stayed in 2nd position for the rest of that first lap.

On the second lap, a junior bridged up to us a pretty quickly passed us. He was riding smoother than us through the technical parts, and faster than us everywhere else. My goal from there was to maintain my position and not make any dumb mistakes.

I went from 3rd to 4th place on the third lap and stayed on the back of a group of 3 (2nd, 3rd, and 4th place) I wasn't riding well enough to pass the rider in front of me without being passed right back in a technical section, but I kept the pressure on. The 2nd place guy was pulling away from us and 3rd place crashed in front of me as he tried to take some more chances and catch up on the last lap. I went around him and made the most of it to try and secure a podium spot. I had noticed he wasn't climbing well, so I buried myself on every climb to distance myself from him and hopefully deal a mental blow. It worked and I got a good gap on him.

It was too late for me to catch 2nd place, but I held on 3rd! My first podium of the year. It's great to do it in a big race like this too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Frisco Cyclocross

The Frisco cyclocross race has dealt me some bad luck in the past. Last time I raced there, I burped the air out of my tubeless tires. Before that, I dropped my chain (behind a chain keeper) and got passed by the entire race as struggled to get it back on. Friday I felt like the Frisco bad luck was starting early as I went on an easy ride to blow the cobwebs off some wheels I hadn't used yet this year. My "easy" workout got derailed when I shifted my chain into the spokes and got it jammed behind the cassette. I ended up walking to the bike shop, carrying my bike. Not exactly the prerace workout I was looking for. The fun continued at the hotel in Frisco. Someone checked into the room next to us at 3AM. Every one of their many trips back from the car, our puppy got up and barked. It was his first night in a hotel, and every little noise was something new and startling. You couldn't ask for better weather on race day. During warmups I had on some warmer clothes, but by race time I was comfortable in shorts. This was the first race in the Cross Cup series. All that really means for me is that the points I earned last week meant nothing and I'd still get no callup. I started in about the 5th row this time. The race starts with a long climb and right away my legs felt soft. I don't know if it was fatigue from training or lack of sleep, but I didn't fly up that thing like I had hoped to. I tried to be aggressive on the first lap and make some passing attempts, but it seemed like most of them got shut down and I ended up having to grab a lot of brake at the last minute. Slowly but surely I picked my way through the crowd, trying to make smart passes and flow through course. Altitude was tiring, and I nearly blew up every time we hit the long climb on the course. Bike handling gets even more difficult when you're that far into the red, but I kept it upright the whole race. For the last half lap I had someone in my sights that I wanted to chase down. He had passed me earlier and I could see he was running out of gas (but so was I). Going into the last corner, he slipped a bit and had to pull his foot out of the pedal. That allowed me to get a bit close and we sprinted for the line. I'm not used to sprinting at the end of a cyclocross race, and it was pretty fun. I managed to take him by maybe a bike length for 10th place. Another step in the right direction. Next up - The New Belgium Cup.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cyclocross at Xilinx

I haven't pinned on a race number since sometime last spring, but my racing hiatus came to an end in Longmont today. It was my first race of the cyclocross season and my first race in a new category. Having just come off a long vacation, I wasn't expecting much from the legs. I just wanted to get out there and remind my body what it's like to race. I didn't have any points this season, so I was stuck starting in the 5th or 6th row. It could have been worse, though. We probably had close to 100 racers, so I was starting somewhere the middle of the pack. The normal 1st lap chaos ensued, but I was a little surprised at what gave people trouble. The group got really bunched up as we had to come off the pavement over a curb. I ended up getting off my bike and running because it was just faster. After that, things settled down quite a bit. I mostly just rode within my limits and tried not to go into the red too much. The course was loose in spots, but overall not too technical. It was good practice for me, and I felt like I rode a lot of stuff faster than I would have in the past. I started to fade at the end of the race, which is about what I expected after having a bunch of time off the bike. I found myself on the back of a group of 5 going into the last set of barriers. It was a short distance from there to the uphill finish, and I felt confident that I could out sprint some of those guys. Unfortunately the guy in front of me decided he was done racing, sat up, took a bizarre line into the barriers, and gapped me from that group. Damn. Bummer of a way to end that race, but overall it went pretty well. I finished 19th.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Italy 2011

Italy has been on our list of places to visit for a long time, and a 5 year anniversary seemed like an excellent excuse. There's a ton of stuff we wanted to see there, but we had to force ourselves to trim down the list so we didn't spend our time running around from city to city. Hopefully we'll get back sometime and fill in the gaps. Over the 17 days we were gone we stayed in 5 cities, so that seems like a good way to break up this blog post. I can spend a lot of time writing about the places we went, but I'm going to try my hardest to be brief and just give some highlights with some pictures.

Naples and the Amalfi Coast
We landed in Rome in the morning and made our way to Naples for the afternoon to sample some of the best pizza in the world. I love Neopolitan style pizza, and we stepped out of the train station armed with a few places to try. Our first stop (Da Michelle) was super busy with a line out the door and we were hungry. We went to another nearby pizzeria, Trianon. Bliss. Delicious pies, our first food overindulgence of the trip. The crust was great, the toppings were great, the wood-fired oven chars it up just right.
Margherita DOC pizza at Trianon
Pizza at Trianon
With our bellies full and our jet lag dragging us down, we skipped out planned trip to the museum and other pizzerias and caught the train to our hotel in Sorrento. The following morning we went to Pompei and Herculaneum. Both are really amazing. It's crazy to see what the ancient Romans were able to build and see how well preserved it was. For me Herculaneum was the better of the two because it sees far less traffic, and you can really get up close an personal to more of the stuff. I wish we could have spent more time there, but it had already been a long day of walking around in the heat and humidity.
Pompei forum
Pompei Forum
Statue at Herculaneum
With our historical sight seeing taken care of, next we wanted to hit the Amalfi Coast. The bus ride from Sorrento to Amalfi had been described to us as "white-knuckle". It's a twisty cliffy road, but the bus driver seems like he was in pretty good control of the situation. Had I driven similar roads in Corsica, I may have been more impressed with the whole thing. The Amalfi Coast is, of course, beautiful. We spent a couple days there and did a little hiking combined with beach lounging. When I say "hiking" I really mean "stair climbing". Holy crap there are a lot of steps. The beaches aren't the soft sandy beaches that you'll get elsewhere, but the water is great and the surroundings greater.
Lots of stairs
Did someone stay stairs?
Amalfi from above
Walking to Atrani
My beautiful traveling companion
Our next big stop was Venice, but on the way we stopped in Naples again. This time we hit 2 more pizzerias. The first was Gino Sorbillo. Even better than Trianon. Again, the crust was sublime, and the toppings were top notch. We killed some time walking around Naples (and walking off our pizza) while we waited for a couple friends to get into town. We spent some time sitting on the steps of Duomo di Napoli which turned out to be fun people watching. We enjoyed watching a football game break out with several of the neighborhood kids and seeing unsuspecting bystanders and cars get buzzed by the ball. We met our friends later at Da Michelle for more pizza. We ate a bit of it there and took the rest to go with us on the night train to Venice. This place is world famous, but Christine and I both agree that they weren't our favorite pies in Naples. They've got stiff competition though. Our nod goes to Gino Sorbillo.
Our pizzas at Gino Sorbillo
More delicious pizza
Self portrait on the steps of Duomo
The night train got use there shortly before 6AM. Yeah, that's an early start to the day, but so worth it. The city is dead quiet at that hour and we got to see the place slowly wake up as we made our way to the hotel to drop off our bags. The usually packed Piazza San Marco was sparsely populated and the tourist souvenir booth operators hadn't even arrived yet. What a great way to see this city. I didn't expect much from Venice. It never sounded very appealing to me, but it was one of those places you feel like you should see someday. I ended up liking it, and I don't think I would have liked it as much if we had been shuffled in with the tourist masses. But for as nice as it was, I was glad we only spent a day there and I don't really feel like I need to get back any time soon.
Venice in the morning from Ponte Degli Scalzi
Venice in the morning
From the waters of Venice to the base of the Dolomites. It was nice to gain a little altitude and enjoy some cooler temperatures. Bolzano is home to Ötzi the Iceman, a 5000 (as in FIVE THOUSAND) year old man that was found frozen in a nearby glacier. It's mind-blowing that stuff that they found with his well preserved body. He was carrying a bow, pocket knife, food, and medicine. It's like he's an ancient hiker. He even had some shoes that were stuffed with straw insulation to keep his feet warm. That's a must-see sight if you're in the area. We were running out of clean clothes, and Bolzano seemed like a good place to do some laundry. Yay laundry! Right?
Laundry night in Bolzano
Yay laundry
As luck would have it, there was a wine bar next door to the laundromat. We went in there with the intention of enjoying a glass of wine while our clothes tumbled clean. It turned out to be a great place. We had and awesome platter of cheese, cured meats, a bruschetta. We could get enough of the bruschetta. Damn, I'm salivating just thinking about it. We struck up a conversation with the owners and they gave us some great tips on their favorite wines from the area.
Excellent platter
Excellent platter at Trasi waine bar
The next day we rented bikes and rode up to the wine making area near by. The bike trails around Bolzano are amazing. We could get all the way out of the valley and up to some vineyards without ever getting on an actual road. We went to a couple wine makers, stopped at the local "working man's" lunch stop along the train, and rode down into another valley for a swim in a mountain lake. I pretty good (if tiring) day.
Farm along the bike path
A farm along the bike path
The next day we went to Alpe di Siusi, the largest high alpine meadow in Europe. We took a gondola from Siusi up to the village of Compatsch and were a little surprised at how developed and maintained the meadow was. Many of the "trails" were paved paths, and even the singletrack looked really gentle. There are various lifts in the meadow that can take you up (or down), and numerous refuges where you can stay overnight. Many even have a restaurant. It seems like a great place to get away without all the usual overhead of camping. We hiked for around for a few hours, had a picnic, and enjoyed the mountain air.
Alpe di Siusi pano
Alpe di Siusi
Cinque Terre
Back to sea level, heat, and steps. We stayed in a recently renovated room in Manarola with an excellent view of the sea and a big patio. Perfect for lounging at sunset with some wine, cheese, and meat we brought from Bolzano. One of the things on the to-do list for the Cinque Terre is hiking between the towns and our time here was mostly a mix between hiking, eating, and sitting on beaches. The humidity is killer, but that makes the ocean feel all the better. We also totally stuffed ourselves on an awesome seafood and pasta dinner our last night in Manarola. We ordered the seafood appetizer and the chef just kept bringing our plate after plate of small seafood bites. It was awesome. Then, dinner was fresh pasta served in/with a whole crab.
Manarola by day
Manarola at night
Manarola by night
Sunset from our patio
Sunset from our patio
Our hotel from the Via d'Amore
Our hotel location
The last stop on our tour was Rome. I don't know if it was good or bad to end with a big city. Either way, we were both exhausted from a couple weeks of walking, and we'd be doing more in Rome. There's so much to see in Rome, but in our short time there we tried to pick an manageable number of things. The people at our B&B were awesome, and gave us a lot of good info before we went to check things out. They even made some museum reservations for us. If you're ever in Rome, I'd highly recommend the Daphne. The ancient sights are pretty cool. Just like Pompei, I'm amazed at the level of skill they had to create these large (even by today's standards) structures. The Colosseum was pretty cool, but I think I was most impressed by the Pantheon. Unlike the domes we see in churches that are heavily adorned, part of the beauty of the Pantheon is in the lack of bells and whistles inside the dome. It's quite a sight to just sit and appreciate. We're not big museum-goers, but we did decide to go to a couple in Rome. The first was the Borghese Gallery. In a word, amazing. Even after all these years, the sculptures look like they're going to reach out and touch you. To make something as solid and hard as marble look so delicate and soft is an amazing thing. The other museum we visited was the Vatican Museum. Everyone I'd talked to told us how great it was and to be sure we went. So we did. And I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I didn't like how you were essentially in a slow moving crowd wandering your way along the pre-set path through the art. I just couldn't get into it. Then we got to the Sistine Chapel, and I was like "That's it?". I guess I expect it to be grander or something. Artistically, it's a great piece of work both for its size and the techniques used, but hanging out in a stuffy room staring up at the ceiling with a couple hundred other people was not my idea of a great time. On to St. Peters Basilica. Another huge, flashy church. What else can I say that hasn't already been said?
Pantheon dome
St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's basilica dome
Trevi Fountain turned off (pano)
Trevi Fountain
So that's the briefest rundown of the trip I can do. More pictures are on Flickr. Maybe more details and pictures later.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Browns Lake (2011-07-15)

Timberline Lake
(Actually, this is Timberline Lake, not Browns Lake)

Earlier this spring, Christine and I sat down a picked a few weekends for backpacking.  Getting a new puppy meant we had to modify our plans, but we still went out for a long weekend up to Browns Lake in the Comanche Peaks Wilderness.

We had out first vet appointment for the new puppy on Thursday and he told us it was okay to take him hiking as long as we let him decided when he needed to stop and rest. That help us decided to do the the hike to Browns Lake - it's one we've done several times so we knew it well.

At first, Banksy did a lot of running back and forth and we did our best to keep his energy moving forward.  After a little while he got the hang of things and just wandered up the trail, usually following Kuzca's lead.  It's been great to have him learn from watching her.  He's already learned so much, like how to get the morning paper.

The dogs patiently waitingWe hiked at a pretty slow pace and took some breaks along the way. When we got close to the lake, we could see that our favorite camp site was taken.  Bummer.  We ended up going to a site we hadn't camped at before a little further away. On the way there we had to cross a small stream.  Instead of taking the log bridge, the puppy decided to try and walk through it.  His first (unintentional) swim. He made it to the other side and we dragged him out, no worse for the wear.

Banksy rests after his first hike
Banksy - damp and resting

At our campsite, we quickly learned that it was prime-time mosquito season. With the big snow year we had, things were still damp at altitude and it was a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. At this point, they were only moderately annoying, but it'd get worse.

The next morning we started to head out for some fishing and hanging out by the lake, but we ran into the people that were camped at the site we wanted. They were headed to another lake, so we decided to move our camp. We normally wouldn't go through the effort, but our camp site wasn't that great and we really like the other one.

After relocating, I put together my fly rod and tried to catch some food. The only bites I had were from fish that were too small to even take the fly. I've always had good luck fishing at this lake, but I got totally skunked this time. Maybe there was such and abundance of food (bugs) that they weren't really interested in my fake flies.

While I was fishing, Christine was hanging out, reading, and trying to keep bugs off the dogs. The bugs had gotten really bad. As soon as you stopped moving, the bugs would swarm you. Christine was actually able to get the dogs to lay down and let her cover them with jackets. That worked pretty well, and the dogs took a nice nap in peace.

Dogs keeping away from bugs
If you know Kuzca, you know she must have been pretty tired for her to allow stuff to be put on her.

The mosquitoes got *really* bad in the evening. If we didn't have a puppy with us, we probably would have just packed up and hiked out. Any time you'd sit still, you'd get swarmed by bugs. We actually walked around as we ate our dinner so we wouldn't get eaten alive. And when I wasn't eating, I was swatting bugs off of the dogs. It's enough to drive you crazy. We couldn't wait to get in the tent for the evening.

The next morning the bugs were lighter, but still a nuisance.  We had some leftover biscuit mix from an earlier dinner, so I tried my hand at baking. It worked pretty well and we had a nice morning biscuit with our breakfast. Without wasting any time for the bugs to feast on us, we packed up and headed out.

The hike is around 3.5 miles, and that turned out to be a bit too far for Banksy after all the playing he did all weekend. We noticed he would sit or lay down any time we stopped, so we decided to take a break for a while and snack. The worked for a bit, but he soon got tired again and we had to go to plan B - carry him. He's a bit of a snuggler and doesn't mind being picked up, but no matter how you look at it, carrying a 30 pound dog is tiring.

At first we took turns carrying him in our arms.  Then we put him in a small backpack that I had with me and I carried him in front of me.

Ryan carrying Banksy

After doing that for a while we took another break and the dogs totally passed out. The is another moment where if you know Kuzca, you understand how unusual and cute this photo is:

Kuzca and Banksy resting

We were close-ish to the car at this point, so I hiked out, unloaded my pack, and hiked back to meet the family.  For most of the rest of the way, I carried Banksy in my pack.

Banksy takes a ride in the backpack.

Soon he'll be too big for me to do that, so I hope he doesn't want to make a habit of it. We're all looking forward to our next trip, which will hopefully be less bug filled.

More photos on Flickr

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Our new Puppy

If you haven't been following my updates elsewhere, you may have missed that we got a new puppy. (Let's face it, if you're not following me elsewhere I have no idea how you end up here, but that's besides the point...)

We knew for a while that we wanted to get a puppy this year, and we had planned on waiting until the fall after we get back from Italy. But sometimes the right dog comes along and you just have to change plans. Our friend, Julie, knew that we were thinking about finding a labrador / newfoundland mix and she sent us text messages last week to let us know that the Boulder Humane Society had just gotten some puppies that fit the description. Christine was out of town, but she immediately fell in love with one. I put him on hold the next morning and went down in the afternoon to "test drive" him.  He was a cute and fun puppy, but I also played with another lab-newfie that I really liked. He was more newfie than lab with his fuzzy head and big paws. I put him on hold too.

He was really trying to win me over, but I wasn't willing to take home a puppy until Christine got to play with him too.

Sunday afternoon we went down to Boulder to play with puppies.  They were both so cute so it was a tough decision, and we took long enough that the shelter was starting to close. Christine wanted to put the fuzzy one on hold for another day so she could sleep on it, but we couldn't do that. When Christine felt like she couldn't take the risk of this dog going home with someone else, she knew we had to take him home. So we did. :)

He came with the name Melvin, but we're changing that.  We don't know just yet what it's going to be, but hopefully we'll figure it out soon so we can stop calling him "puppy". Kuzca is used to being an only child, so it's taking some time to adjust. Mostly the puppy tries to play with her, and she just looks annoyed.  Last night, though, they had a great time playing in the yard.  It was so fun to watch them play together.

Unlike Kuzca, the puppy appears to like water.  While Kuzca tries to avoid sprinklers as much as possible on our walks, the puppy is intrigued and walks through them. It makes for an interesting juggling act of leash ballet. Kuzca mostly lets the puppy push her around because she knows she'll get in trouble if she knocks him around too much.  Before too long, she wont have a choice.  At 3 months, he's already 27 pounds, so he should get to be pretty large. For right now, he's still good at being a lap snuggle dog.

Some of our puppy pics and videos are up on Flickr: New Puppy set.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

2011 BTC Day 7 - Frisco to Central City

Brrr, it was a chilly night. We woke up to some frost on our tent so we were in no hurry to leave. We waited until the sun came up over Swan Mountain and started to warm us up.

I wanted to start the last day with Christine, and we both rode up and over Swam Mountain Road together. It was a nice way to start our final day. After our descent, we split up to ride our own pace for the climb up to Loveland Pass. I ended up catching a couple friends and settling into a comfortable groove while we chatted. As we neared Arapahoe Basin ski resort, I ramped up the pace a little and climbed on my own. There were still people skiing at A-Basin, by the way. June 25th, and people are still skiing.

Over Loveland Pass it was a fun descent down to Loveland ski resort. And that's where things got hairy for a while. The original plan for the tour was for us to ride a bike trail from there, but I think someone at the BTC dropped the ball on securing the right permits. There was a running race happening on that trail and we weren't allowed to use it. There was talk of us having to be bussed down the road, but at the last minute CDOT allowed us to ride on the I70 shoulder.

I'm not sure if that was a good or a bad thing. When I got to Loveland Ski resort, the state patrol was there and letting groups of 50 or so riders go at a time to try to make things safer. My experience was that it had the opposite effect because it forced larger groups of people to be on the road together instead of what could have been smaller groups or singles on the road. It essentially created several mass start events for people have no experience or business being in a mass start event. For racers - Think of the scariest, sketchiest race you've ever been in. Now make it downhill at speeds 30-40 MPH. Now add cars and semis buzzing the group. Now add in some random cones that your fellow riders don't point out because they're not comfortable enough to take their hands off the bars because they also need their hands on the brakes to jam on them any time they see the slightest bit of gravel. I think you get the point. It was frightening, and I was pretty happy to get off the highway and onto frontage roads around Dumont.

At those speeds the miles melt away and before I knew it we were in Idaho Springs getting ready to head up the final climb of the trip. From the final aid station it was about 10 miles to Central City via a 8 mile climb up the Central City Parkway. The sun was blazing, but that last climb felt great. I turned on A Tribe Called Quest and got into a good climbing groove. After a short downhill there was a demoralizing 12% climb to the parking area. It was short, but the descent prior was just enough to make your legs feel like they were filled with lead.

The finish line festivities were down the road in downtown Central City. Seemed like a bad idea to me. The last thing I wanted to do was wait for another shuttle bus, so I loaded our bags into the car and drove to Longmont where our good friends let me take a shower and play with their new puppy for a couple hours.

It's so fun to get out and ride for week. I wasn't going to do it this year, but Christine talked me into it and I'm glad.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011 BTC Day 6 - Glenwood Springs to Frisco

On tap for today - 1 big climb. Vail Pass. I haven't climbed it from the west since Christine was in Vail for her hip surgery a few years ago. 

After a nice rest day, I was finally feeling pretty good and ready to ride hard. But before I could do that, we had to drive the 20 miles back to our bikes in Gypsum. We decided that we'll have to come back sometime and ride the bike path from Glenwood Springs when it's repaired. 

I rode hard to the first aid station and pulled in for a NASCAR type speedy stop. Just some water and a couple pieces of fruit. I came back to get my bike and it was gone. Talk about a momentary freakout. After a few minutes of wandering, I found it in a different part of the aid station. I'm not sure who moved it, or why, but it's totally not cool. 

With that business out of the way, it was time to get to the business of climbing Vail Pass. I hit it as hard as I felt like I could sustain for the whole thing and cruised all the way up. It's quite a bit longer than I remembered though and I'm glad I didn't run out of gas. 

From the top of the pass, it's a descent down to Copper and then on into Frisco via the bike path.

The truck carrying our bags got a flat tire, so again I was hanging out at camp waiting for my stuff to arrive. I passed the time by getting a massage and then getting back on my bike to ride in with Christine. One day to go... 

Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 BTC day 5 - Rest Day

What to do on a rest day? So many options. Raft, hot springs, lounge... We decided it was a good day to shuttle our car from Granby to Central City.

We took a shuttle to the Eagle airport and picked up a car. Then we took a really nice drive to Granby. We ended up on a dirt road (Trough Road) that had awesome views. I would love to include that road in a motorcycle trip some time. 

We also saw something really cool on this road - a bear. I've never seen a bear in Colorado before. It was pretty awesome. He was near the road, and then ran up a hill as we got closer. I would have loved to stop and take a picture, but I didn't want to be "that guy" who gets mauled trying to get close to a bear. It was pretty cool though. 

The rest of the driving wasn't quite as interesting, but the scenery was great. There's still snow on the mountains, the valleys are green, and the skies were blue. Beautiful. 

Back in Glenwood Springs, we showered up and went to dinner at Fins. The food was okay, but the service was awful. I won't be going back. And for a Colorado place to serve trout that's farm raised in Canada?  What's up with that. 

Then we sat around camp and probably disturbed everyone with our chatter before hitting the sack. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

2011 BTC Day 4 - Steamboat to Glenwood Springs

Today we rode from Steamboat to Glenwood Springs. Well, sort of. We rode to Gypsum and then took a bus to Glenwood Springs because the river has washed out parts of the bike path. 

Steamboat was chilly in the morning. Christine and I packed our stuff up and rode to breakfast at Freshies while we waited for the sun to warm things up. A little after 8, we finished our breakfast and started our 90 mile trek. 

Something about last nights's dinner didn't agree with me, and my stomach was still uneasy. I knew I had a long day ahead of me, so I picked a comfortable power range that I felt like I could sustain all day. 

I pulled a few groups here and there, but they'd usually drop off before too long.  About 5 miles from the first aid station, someone was passing me and put a hand on my hip to let me know he was there. It's an unfamiliar feeling on a bike tour, but pretty normal for bike racing. I figured that'd be a good group to hook up with and latched on to the back. 

There were about 6 people, but I noticed that only two were up front pulling. I didn't want to be a paceline freeloader so I went around the slackers and worked with the other two until the aid station. They pulled in and I kept going. 

I got back into my steady groove and chugged along to the next aid station, where I stopped for a refuel and to shed some clothing. On the next climb, the two workers from my earlier group caught and passed me. I didn't feel good enough to up my pace, but they slowed down near the top and I caught them. Good timing because the descent was rip-roaring and the three of us had a great time killing it. It's awesome to have a couple good and safe riders to descend with. 

The detour around the damaged bike meant we had an extra climb to do. It was a long 7-8% grind up to the final aid station. Then a short descent down and a slight downhill run to Gypsum where we stored our bikes and took a shuttle to Glenwood Springs. 

From the shuttle we could see the raging river and the washed out bike path. Impressive. I've never seen the river that high. 

We spent our evening drinking recovery beers with friends and probably disturbing the rest of the camp. It's my only chance to get back at the people who are up getting ready before sunrise. :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2011 BTC Day 3

Finally some sunny weather today for our ride from Granby to Steamboat Springs. 

As much as I try, I can never sleep in here. Between the early sunshine and the noise of people getting moving at 6am, it's just not possible. I didn't want to get an early start on the road today, so I went out and picked up breakfast for Christine and I. The world famous Jessie McDaniel (who is on the tour to entertain us and also work the massage tent) recommend a great place - Ian's Mountain Bakery. Ian makes some wicked biscuits and gravy and it was such a good way to start the day. 

I eventually got on my bike around 8. The whole route today was on US40. It's not a terribly nice road to ride on. Sometimes there was a nice shoulder, other times there was little/no shoulder, and sometimes we had some bonus rumble strips. There was also a consistent headwind, which made for a tiring day. 

With all the wind it probably would have been smart to get into some pacelines, but some days I just want to ride my own pace. Not to mention that it frightens me to think about getting into a paceline with a lot of these people. I certainly towed a lot of people today though. They were happy to sit on my wheel, and I was happy to just cruise. 

Tomorrow was supposed to be a 100 miler, but they had to reroute due to some flooding. So we're *only* doing something like 90 miles. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

2011 BTC - Day 2 - Making Lemonade

What an interesting day. The route for the day was Estes Park to Granby, over Trail Ridge Road. I've always meant to ride Trail Ridge, so I was really looking forward to this.

There was a lot of uncertainty through the evening and into the morning as the whether the road would be open or not. An official announcement was made sometime around 8am. People would ride up to the second aid station, and if the road wasn't passable, they'd ride back to Estes and get bussed over to Granby. 

The chance for rain in Estes Park was nearly 100%, and that translates into snowfall on the pass. At the end of the day, we'd like to primarily have fun on this trip. It is vacation afterall. To paraphrase the neo-philosopher Livia, the fun-to-suck ratio should be way on the fun side. So Christine and I came up with another plan. 

The potential of riding partway up Trailridge, getting wet and cold, and then having to sit in a bus for a few hours sounded sucky. Instead, we hopped on our bikes and rode from Estes to our house in Fort Collins. It's mostly downhill and we enjoyed a really nice ride through the Big Thompson canyon, with minimal moisture until we got near home. 

At home, we cleaned up, did some laundry, and went to REI to buy some warm stuff for a friend. Then we packed up the car with a cooler full of beer, some clean and warm clothes, our bikes and we drove to meet the bike tour in Granby. 

As expected, Trail Ridge got closed and nearly everyone had to get shuttled to Granby. Some people made it through the pass before it was closed but it didn't sound very fun. We totally made a good choice today and had a great time. 

Tomorrow is another day, and it looks to be clearer than today. I'm looking forward to it. 

(I'm blogging via my mobile phone, so I expect there'll be lots of typos. Try not to think any less of me than you already do.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

2011 Bicycle Tour of Colorado - Day 1

BTC Blog

Day 1 of the 2011 BTC is in the books. 56 Miles from Central City to Estes Park. It was a beautiful ride along the Peak To Peak Highway. 

I would have loved to sleep in today since it was such a short day, but people just *love* to get up at the crack of dawn. I think I finally couldn't take all the noise anymore around 6 and rolled out of the tent. People were already on their bikes and moving out. 

I decided to try the early departure thing and got out of camp around 7. I rode the first 20 or so miles fairly hard to get past big groups of people. After a quick stop at the first aid station, I carried on but at an easier pace. 

I ended up getting to Estes around 10:30 and was bummed to find out that I had beat my luggage here. In fact, the people transporting out bags didn't get here for many more hours and I just had to hang out in my nasty bike clothes. Not cool. 

Late in the afternoon the rain started moving in and we got a few waves of heavy moisture. There's talk about snow on Trail Ridge (our route tomorrow), but I've got my fingers crossed. It's one of the reasons I wanted to do the your this year. 

One thing is for sure, I'm not going to get as early a start tomorrow. :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dark Canyon backpacking

Morning view
Morning view
Christine and I took a long weekend to do some camping in Utah. We started our trip with a little drive through the rain and snow to Moab, Utah. Stopping in Moab was a last minute decision, and all of the camp sites close to town we saw along the way were full. It's a popular time of year to go to Moab (before it gets blazing hot) and there was also a XTERRA triathlon that weekend. Gearheads to the rescue. We stopped in this excellent gear shop to pick up map, and they recommended a BLM area down the road for some free camp sites. We found a spot and it worked out great.

The next morning we packed up and headed out. Our trailhead was near Natural Bridges National Monument so we decided to do a quick drive through there and check things out. We would have done some hiking there, but they don't allow dogs on anywhere except the paved trails at the scenic overlooks. Our national institutions are taxonomically racist. :)
Scorup cabin at sunset
Scorup cabin at sunset
Our hike took us into the Dark Canyon Wilderness, from The Notch down to an old cabin. It's a bit of a shock to the knees to start the hiking season with a mile of downhill, but we stopped frequently to stretch and things were mostly good once we reached the floor of the canyon. The trail was pretty well defined for the first couple miles, but then it became faint and it was more a matter of bushwhacking along a small creek. It was slow going and tiring, but eventually made it to our destination: Scorup Cabin. The cabin is part of a cowboy camp that dates back to the 1930's.

We found a great camping spot near the cabin and next to the nearby stream, where we sat and soaked our feet in the cool water. It was really a nice place to hang, and best of all there was nobody else there. In fact, we didn't see anyone else from the time we parked the car at the trailhead until the time we got back.

Our original plan was to hang down in the canyon the next day and explore the area, but with the amount of time it took to make the hike down we decided that we should just only stay one night so we didn't have to hike out and drive all the way home in one day. We spent the next morning lazily lounging about camp before packing up and heading out.

Once out of the canyon, it was already late afternoon so we decided to drive back to Moab and camp again. We camped at the same BLM area, and this time the rest of the place was vacant. Ah, solitude once again. We sat in the back of the wagon and drank some beers while we cooked up some dinner. A great way to end the weekend.

Sometime last year Kuzca finally figured out that she gets baths after backpacking, and she'd refuse to get out of the car. We pulled a quick one on her this time and drove directly to a dog washing place. Here she is "recovering" on the couch from her bath.

Kuzca recovering after her bath

More pictures here.

Scorup barn at sunset

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Louisville Crit

The 2011 bike racing season opened for me today. I'm not planning on doing much road racing this year, so I haven't really been training like I usually would. It was just so nice here today that it seemed like a good idea to race. I don't think I've ever opened my race season wearing without wearing leg warmers and/or arm warmers and/or a jacket.

The course is pretty basic, with really only 2 corners to speak of and a long climb to the finish line. It's always weird to get back to pack racing. I'm never a fan of cornering shoulder to shoulder with people, but the road is really wide on this course so there was generally a lot of room. There was only one crash, and several close calls of people trying to shove their bike were it shouldn't be. There is always a new crop juniors every year that are fearless and fit, but their skills don't necessarily match their ambitions.

All-in-all, it was generally a moderate pace. There wasn't much attacking, and I was happy to sit in and get the workout without trying to cover moves off the front. I survived the battle of attrition and finished 18th (out of 50+ starters I'd guess).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Hardwood

My hardwood floors are 9 years old. During that time many dog claws, dog bones, bike shoe cleats, dropped dishes, and general wear and tear had taken their toll on the hardwood floors. I like to think of it as "rustic", or "distressed", but it was obvious that they needed refinishing.

Last week we moved all of the furniture out of the first floor (read: pain in the ass), packed our bags, and stayed at the elegant Residence Inn Fort Collins. It's pretty weird staying in a hotel in your own town.

The end result is some great looking floors by my friend Barry Schmidt of Schmidt Custom Floors. I've heard horror stories from several people about all the dust in their house from having floor sanded down, so I was shocked (and happy) to find our house almost completely dust-free. (Well, as dust-free as usual anyway.) We also took the opportunity to go with a lighter stain and we're really happy with the way it looks. It feels like our house just got a facelift.

Before refinishing:
Hardwood before refinishing

After refinishing:
Hardwood floors after refinishing

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In de Verzekering Tegen de Grote Dorst

One of the things I was looking most forward to in Belgium was revisiting our favorite beer cafe: In de Verzekering Tegen de Grote Dorst. We first visited Dorst a couple years ago and immediately fell in love with the place and the family who runs it (the Panneels). You can read more from our first trip here.

I wondered if they'd remember us two years later. The place is only open on Sundays and church holidays so we rolled up on Christmas day right when they opened. We were the only ones there so all eyes were on us when we walked in the door. There was a brief silence. I could tell we looked familiar to them, but the cogs were turning as they tried to figure it out. Smiles came to their faces when they remembered and they gave us hugs like old friends had just shown up. It was a great moment.

Ryan, Lydia, Maurice, and Kurt at DorstWe stood at the bar talking with Maurice, Lydia, and Kurt for a little while and Kurt brought out a nice bottle of Giardin Oude Geuze Black Label for us to enjoy. As people started to file in, we grabbed a spot out of the way at a table. The Panneels told some of the cafe regulars that we were working on learning Flemish and they were happy to come over and give us a hard time. My Flemish is nearly non-existent, and Christine's is rudimentary. But it's fun to learn.

Since our last visit, they have started a guest book at the cafe. They had put the Christmas card we sent them last year inside the guest book, and apparently we had been the subject of some discussion in our absence. I don't know what they talked about, but it was probably something to the effect of "those crazy American alcoholics".

Ryan and Christine at DorstThere is no place in Belgium (and probably the world) that carries the selection of Lambics that the Panneels carry. We sampled some really good stuff over the next few hours. We were settling up on our bill as the 1:30 PM closing time approached and Maurice and Lydia asked us if we would come over for dinner. That's not entirely accurate. They insisted we come over.

What an amazing gesture. In all the years they've been running the cafe they've never invited anyone over to their house, so it's pretty cool that they wanted us to come over and talk some more. I originally thought we'd just be going over to have some soup, but we ended up talking and eating for a few hours. It was fun getting to know them and learn more about their family. It's the unexpected moments like this that make a trip memorable.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Euro Christmas Trip 2010 (part 4)

All vacations must come to an end, and this one was winding down. We set the alarm for early-o'clock so we could drive back to Brussels for New Years Eve. First things first, we picked up some pain au chocolat. Seven of them actually.

We left Christine's "dealer" and started back to Brussels with a stop in Blaugies along the way to find some of their beer. Me and Blaguies just weren't to be. They were closed, just like they were closed two years ago when we went. Next we went to Beer Mania in Brussels to pick up some more take home beer and then head to our hotel. We booked a room at the Marriott in downtown Brussels using Christine's Marriott points. We were living large on the "executive" level and we had a sweet room looking out onto the Brussels Stock Exchange.

Brussles Plice ready for NYE actionWe did a little shopping at the Christmas market and then managed to run into our friends from Naples while we were both getting food. We had planned to meet in another hour at a bar, so it was funny to just run into them early. We all went out for a couple drinks at the Delirium Cafe. They have a massive beer list so we took the opportunity to try some new beers. The place was packed, and was filling in more and more as the evening went on. I could have sat there all night and drink, but we had some packing to do. We still needed "dinner" though, so we made a stop at Friteland. Mmmm. frites. A couple police came in and they looked ready for business: shin guards and zip-ties. Later they'd have helmets too.

I actually planned ahead for packing beer this time and I brought a bunch of bubble wrap and tape. It quickly became evident that all our beer and gifts were going to be difficult to pack (safely) in our bags alone. Thankfully the fine people at the Marriott front desk found us a couple boxes to use. I'll have to remember that for next time and maybe bring a couple broken down boxes. With Christine's status on United, we could take a total of 5 pieces of luggage so we had 2 suitcases, a duffel bag, and two boxes.

NYE chaos in BrusselsHaving stuffed just about everything into our luggage, we went back to Delirium to meet Garrett and Sue for one more beer. It was getting close to midnight and the crowd had gotten even crazier. We actually just stood outside with our beers. Instead of heading into the belly of the New Years beast, we all retreated to our hotel where we could watch the mayhem from above and drink some of our own beer. (It's a clear sign we're getting older.) And mayhem there was. The highlight was when one of the Christmas market booths caught on fire.

How much beer did we cram into the bags?
Beer Collection

- 23 Westvleteren 12
- 2 Rodenbach cans
- 4 Rodenbach Grand Cru
- 3 Kapittel Prio
- 1 Kapittel Triple
- 1 Dupont Saison Biologique
- 1 Mea Culpa
- 1 Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek
- 1 Blaugie Biere Darbyste
- 1 Hoegaarden Le Fruit Defendu

Monday, January 3, 2011

Euro Christmas Trip 2010 (part 3)

Colmar FranceFrom Luzern, we drove up to the Alsace region of France and check out the Christmas markets and villages around Colmar. It's the kind of town that looks straight out of a story book with its timber framed buildings. It gives Brugge a run for it's money in the cute old city department. We shopped their Christmas Market, bought some cookies, and had some lunch before driving down the a similar (but smaller) village, Eguisheim.

The next morning we got up early and drove to Baden-Baden Germany to check out their thermal baths. What a great idea that turned out to be. They have a large pool with multiple levels (and multiple temperatures). That pools also connects to a large pool outside. There is a cold pool that I guess is supposed to be refreshing. We hopped in that briefly and then back into a nice hot pool. We spent a little time in an aromatic steam room too.

Feeling newly refreshed we drove to Paris to see the city lit up with Christmas lights and feed Christine's croissant addiction. We stayed at a hotel near the Bastille that had a parking garage. That was an interesting experience. I pulled the car into a narrow little car elevator and went down one level into a small 4-space garage. I've never ridden a car in an elevator before. It's kind of unsettling.

We were feeling a little nostalgic and decided to have dinner at the place where we ate before getting engaged, Reflets des Scene. I'm glad we stumbled on that place 5 years ago. It's a nice small restaurant that will forever be etched as part of our history. We walked in and the owner almost immediately recognized Christine. He gave her some friendly cheek kisses and had us wait at the bar until a table opened up. The food, as always, was great. Maybe the best coq au vin I've ever had.

It's amazing how much time you can take enjoying a nice dinner in France. It was getting late when we left but we still wanted to see the Champs Elysees lit up. I'm glad we did, because it looked pretty cool. We skipped the Eiffel Tower because we were so tired.
Champs Elysees
Champs Elysees