Bike the bluff

Having just completed a “bluff run,” Bugman and I were inspired to take our tandem up there.

We’d biked the bluff before on individual cycles. It was about time to try the tandem.

Because it was getting late in the day and because we weren’t sure how tired we’d be after biking the bluff, we decided to load the tandem onto the car and motor over to Scotts Bluff National Monument.

"Is it dorky to drive with cycling gloves on?"

Me: “Is it dorky to drive with cycling gloves on?” Bugman: “Yes.”

Here’s our roof rack getup – a Yakima Sidewinder, which Sonny’ Bike Shop ordered for us at less than the online price:

bike rack 1

The description for the rack reads “swing-out arm allows one person to load a bicycle for two.” We have found this to be not quite true. I think the only reason Bugman can manage this is his above-average height. It was difficult to swing the rack solo while holding up the bike because the front fork turned and didn’t allow the proper leverage. I suppose it would have helped if we’d remembered the stabilizing strap for the handlebars …

Just as I was taking this picture, Bugman uttered "help!" Not only was he having difficulty with the Sidewinder, he was being attacked by no-see-ums. I hate no-see-ums. Their bites make my skin erupt in dime-sized incredibly itchy lesions. They are the reason I have red splotches on my legs, the bloodsucking little cusses!

Just as I was taking this picture, Bugman uttered “help!” Not only was he having difficulty with the Sidewinder, he was being attacked by no-see-ums. I hate no-see-ums. Their bites make my skin erupt in dime-sized, incredibly itchy lesions that last a week. They are the reason my legs are covered in red blotches. The bloodsucking little cusses!

Up the bluff we go!

It took some adjusting to be on the back of a tandem on a canted surface. Because I have no control over the steering and because I can see the bike frame relative to the ground, I momentarily freaked out that the bike was going to tip over.

OK, so the camera angle might have been a little slanted, but this is what it felt like to me! "This bike is definitely not sitting straight!"

OK, so the camera angle might have been a little slanted, but this is what it felt like to me! “This bike is definitely not sitting straight!”

Road cant accounted for, onwards and upwards we go!

Approaching the first tunnel ...

Approaching the first tunnel …

Goodbye, first tunnel!

Goodbye, first tunnel!

Second tunnel ...

 Into the second tunnel …

Here comes the third tunnel!

Here comes the third tunnel!

I'm glad the sun came out for a minute so I could take a tandem shadow picture.

I’m glad the sun came out for a minute so I could take a tandem shadow picture.

I glanced up from my huffing and peddling and saw a small rock formation stick up from the bluff. I decided it looked like a woman reading a book. I can't believe I never noticed it before!

I glanced up from my huffing and peddling and saw a small rock formation sticking up from the bluff. I decided it looked like a woman reading a book. I can’t believe I never noticed it before!

At this point I’m sure Bugman was wondering what the heck I was doing back there on the bike. Believe me – I was peddling! That is one steep hill! (I tried and failed to find a way to calculate the percent grade of the road. Math was never my favorite subject. Can anyone suggest an E-Z solution?)

We finally made it to the top, legs burning. Our speed ranged from 5-8 mph on that climb.

It took several tries to get this image. The wind kept blowing the camera around on top of the trash can I'd set it on top of.

It took several tries to get this image. The wind kept blowing the camera around on the trash can I’d set it on top of.

Bugman discovered on the way up that only 12 of our 14 gears were accessible. He later figured out that was because the gear wasn't set all the way to 14 when he'd taken the back wheel off to change the tire. Problem solved! Alas, the two missing gears were the higher. With slopes like what the Monument has to offer, we could have used lower gears. Guess we have some training to do!

Bugman discovered on the way up that only 12 of our 14 gears were accessible. He later figured out that was because the gear wasn’t set all the way to 14 when he’d taken the back wheel off to change the tire, which can cause you to miss some gears on a Rohloff hub. Problem identified, problem solved! Alas, the two missing gears were the highest ones. With slopes like what the Monument has to offer, we could have used lower gears. Or some more training …

And now, for the reward – the downhill! Wheeeeeee!

Because of the serpentine road, Bugman kept our descent at 23 mph and slower.

Because of the serpentine road, Bugman kept our descent at 23 mph and slower.

We got to the bottom, and I convinced Bugman we needed to try the climb again.

“We need to train for climbs,” I said. “We need to work on standing while pedaling.”

He gave me one of his “I-know-you’re-not-kidding-but-I-wish-you-were” looks and acquiesced.

Pedaling while standing is a challenge in part because you have to shift the bike into a higher gear than you can comfortably handle when sitting. We tried a start position of standing on the pedals and coasting uphill before calling “go” and starting to pedal sans seat. This requires a significant amount of inertia on an uphill slope. I don’t think it’s quite the right approach.

The pedaling part went pretty well, actually. But then we got to a flatter slope and needed to change gears. HOW DO YOU CHANGE GEARS WHILE STANDING AND PEDALING??

This is a question we have yet to answer, as our leg muscles were screaming and Bugman gratefully accepted my suggestion that the sun was getting rather low and that we’d best call it quits at the first tunnel.

So, speaking of the SERPENTINE road . . . we were happily coasting back down the hill when something whizzed by in my limited field of view and triggered my amygdala.

“I THINK THAT WAS A RATTLESNAKE!”

“Shall we turn around and look?” Bugman asked.

“Of course!”

Yup. It was a rattlesnake. A li’l bitty baby one – maybe a foot long.

See how tiny it was, relative to our bike tire?

See how tiny it was, relative to our bike tire?

It was a chill little snakey. Just sat there and flicked its tongue a couple of time. I think rattlesnakes get a bad name because most people prod them until they're irritated enough to strike before they take a picture. (So says my informal survey of online rattlesnake images - they are mostly "action pictures.")

It was a chill little snakey. Just sat there and flicked its tongue a couple of times. I think rattlesnakes get a bad rap because most people prod the snake until it’s irritated enough to strike before they take a picture. (So says my informal survey of online rattlesnake images.)

Only 4.5 miles clocked, but a healthy 1,000-foot climb on this ride. Pretty slow, though. I guess that what you get when you take a “rattlesnake gazing break.”

Copyright 2013 bu Katie Bradshaw

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