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Cold Weather Biking and All Seasons Commuting

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I’ve lived in Fort Collins for just over a decade now. In that time I have never owned a car. In that time I have also never worked in Fort Collins. Both jobs I’ve commuted to over these years have been in Loveland, and between a few different residences and a couple of workplaces, I’ve been able to count on a 12-15 mile one-way commute twice a day, 5 or 6 days a week.

Everyone you tell that you’re an all season commuter asks the same well-meaning questions, so here’s a quick FAQ:

1. You didn’t really ride today, in this?

If I’m here, the bike is here.

 

2. What about when it’s cold?

If you can dress to ski/board, you can dress for just about any weather conditions a Colorado commute can throw at you.

 

3. What about sweating up your clothes before work?

This one is a little tricky and has a few different answers depending on your circumstances. In my case, I have my own office and I can close the door and change when I get there. Sweat, by itself, doesn’t smell. It’s just that the places we sweat the most are the warm dark places where bacteria that cause B.O. like to grow, so commonsense good hygiene (shower right before leaving the house, change out of damp base layers as soon as I get to work) give me some confidence that I’m not offending my coworkers.

Chances are your commute would be shorter than mine and you could probably afford to ride slowly enough to avoid building up much of a sweat. There’s also choice of materials, which is its own article, but the short version is avoid cotton and use wool and fancy wicking materials as much as possible.

 

4. What about traffic and cars?

This is one I’ve been grappling with lately. The death of Fort Collins cyclist Ernesto Wiedenbrug, who was hit and left to die by a driver who later received a plea deal for an astonishingly light sentence, occurred on my commute route. He died on a stretch of frontage road south of town that doesn’t usually see a lot of traffic, where there is now a roadside memorial that reminds me daily of the bias our legal system has against cyclists and in favor of drivers. It makes me feel helpless and angry and vulnerable in a way I never used to. If you ever want to murder someone in the US and get away with it, run them over in a car and toss a bike next to the body. Not only will you get off, but the article about will mention that your victim wasn’t wearing a helmet and the comments will rant about how it was their fault.

The good news is Northern Colorado is one of the areas in the country where cyclists are getting organized and speaking up and trying to change the bias, by asserting our rights, educating the public, and holding other cyclists accountable for bad citizenship. It’s gonna be–to put it mildly–a long haul.

We’ve also got more bike lanes and multi-use paths, and more bike-friendly businesses and safe drivers than most of the US. It’s a good place to be a cyclist and a great time to be here.

And in my case, in what’s gotta be well over 80,000 miles by now, my most serious commuting incident in all those years was slamming into a delivery van that cut me off coming out of a driveway. Still kicking myself I didn’t let the company’s risk department make me an offer. I was working at a hospital at that point, so I straightened my handlebars, did a quick tooth check, and rode straight to work, locked up the bike and told my boss I needed to run to the ER real quick. They immobilized my shoulder for a couple of weeks but nothing was broken.

Scared? Don’t be. My commute is my gym membership, my therapy session, my antidepressant, my yoga, my meditation. It’s my buffer between the stresses of work and the sanctuary of home. And sometimes vice versa.

 

The truth is, not everyone’s lifestyle is suitable for bike commuting. There are some circumstances that rule it out, but not many. And most of our excuses have solutions that are easier than we might have thought, if we’re serious about it.

If you’re interested but concerned or unsure, feel free to drop me a line at NoCoCyclingEvents@gmail.com with your questions.

 

Weekend Adventure Report

 

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

― John Muir, The Mountains of California

 

This weekend was a solo hike on Trap Park Trail on Long Draw Road. The first snow has fallen and remains on shaded sections of the mountains. I get a good deal of comfort from snowy, muddy trails while hiking alone; it clearly shows who is sharing the trail with me.

Trap Park Trail

On this particular hike there wasn’t a soul in sight except for birds flittering about, woodpeckers knocking, and me. Not a single moose – no fresh tracks at all, even when coming across wallowing holes. This was a big change because the last time I attempted this hike solo, I was chased by moose and called it quits.

The logging project is finished on Long Draw. There’s not a single construction vehicle in sight and the roads have been repaired and cleared. Not only was I the only one on the trail, but there were very few people up in that area at all. There were only a handful of hunters, a few dedicated anglers, and a couple of families sitting around dispersed camping campfires to keep warm.

With snow sticking up in the high country, it’s time to start preparing for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Time is short on Long Draw Road. It will remain open until roads are impassable, closing on November 30th, depending on snowfall.

 

 

Preparing For The Hunt – Part 1

Elk Hunting

With getting ready to go on the hunt with Bill, my prepper personality has kicked into high gear. No, I’m not hoarding cans of soup. I’ve been feeling like I need to know everything about what we’re doing in order to have a successful hunt. Which every hunter should probably do, but I think I take it to a whole different level. I’ve looked for other blog posts and resources about prepping for an elk hunt. With the exception of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, almost everything has been painfully general. “Make sure you have great boots and a lot of water,” they say. Well, anyone who has been hiking knows you need that. So, I’m going to lay out everything we’ve done to prepare for our elk hunt. My hope is that this will be a useful resource for beginning hunters or people who have just moved to Colorado and aren’t sure where to start.

Since there is an incredible amount of information to share, I’m breaking this up into a two-part series. The first half will go over the education and knowledge expansion – the brains of preparation. The second half will go into gear and physical training – the brawn you’ll need to get the job done.

 

Hunter Education

If you’ve just moved to Colorado, if you’ve never been hunting before, and well – if you’re hunting as a non-resident too – this is your very first step. You need to take this course in order to get your hunting license in order to pull a tag. Organized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, they go over safe gun handling procedures, hunting laws and regulations, survival skills, and a field dressing. We did the two-day course at Jax, and it was packed with information. Almost too much to take in at once.

Colorado began offering voluntary hunter education training in the 1950s. In 1970, the state legislature mandated hunter education for all persons born on or after January 1, 1949. Because of this mandate, hunting has become dramatically safer over the years. Here’s an interesting link that shows the reduction of incidences over the years since Hunter Education has been mandatory. Here’s the incident report for 2013 that includes summaries and details of fatalities. Colorado averages 2 hunting fatalities a year, and there are 20,476 new hunters coming out of Hunter Education (2011 stats report). It goes to show that carelessness is the number one reason for an unsafe hunt, and we’re fortunate that there are very few incidences.

While I learned a lot over that weekend, Hunter Education is basically a course you cannot fail. Everyone passes and gets a license. Even my 8 year old son who took the class with me and has limited gun handling experience with mostly the good old Red Ryder BB Gun. There were numerous questions that went above his head because the course is 99% verbal instruction through conversation rather than really studying any material. He had difficulty answering questions on the test on his own, and being the type of mom that I am, I didn’t help him with his answers. He had to go over his missed questions, and then he passed. He really shouldn’t have.

Hunting in Colorado

You are provided with materials during class and the very informative hunter education manual, but honestly, expect to educate yourself before and after Hunter Education. The course provides you with an outline of what you need to know and it’s up to you to fill in the details – including gun basics.

 

Apply For Your License (aka: pulling your tag)

I think this can be intimidating if you’ve never applied for a license in the draw. Essentially, you’re putting your hat in the ring for your ideal hunt. There are a certain number of tags allotted to specific areas that are determined by Colorado Parks & Wildlife wildlife biologists for wildlife management and population control. There are over 280,000 elk in Colorado, so there are some areas that need unlimited hunting through over-the-counter tags.

There are two important things you need to know before filling out the application:

  1. Your preferred season, and why
  2. Your preferred limited license GMU (game management unit)

You’ll already know what big game you want to hunt for and the means by which you’ll do it (bow, muzzleloader, or rifle). If this is your first time pulling a tag, it’s going to take some prep work so you know what you’re getting into. Mostly – know the area that you’re wanting to hunt in, and the GMU boundaries (I’ll go into more detail on this below). In the draw you’re applying for a license for your preferred game in a sought after area where limited tags are given, so it can be difficult to choose if you’ve never been out there before. But, this draw doesn’t mean that you’ll actually get the tag you want. Many times you may find yourself with an over-the-counter tag in a later season because you didn’t get anything in the draw. When this happens, you get preference points which increases your chances for getting a limited license tag next year.

2014 Big Game Brochure

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a fantastic online Elk Hunting University that walks you through absolutely everything. Here’s the chapter on applying for your license and how preference points work.

 

Know Your Game Management Unit

Of all things, I think this is the most important in preparing for an elk hunt next to spending time at the shooting range. We’ve spent so much time researching where to go this year because in previous hunts we’ve been on private property with the land owner. It’s very nice to have a friend offer that generosity and mentorship through a hunt together, but I think it’s becoming less common for others – especially new hunters. The numbers are growing with new inexperienced hunters who are looking for that assistance and hands-on education. If you don’t have a hunting buddy, you also have the option of hiring an outfitter to guide you, or if you’re like us, you can figure it out on your own.

Our first step in choosing a GMU was by going over the unit map in the Big Game Brochure and filtering the selection through distance. We wanted to be close to Fort Collins and not driving out to Grand Junction. Then we started looking through the Colorado Big Game Hunt Guide to sort through the harvest statistics for our season. This helped us to narrow it down to a specific GMU.

After that, we used the Colorado Hunting Atlas to virtually scope our GMU. This is a really cool tool because it gives you elk migration patterns, tells you where there are summer and wintering areas, and a good deal of info before you actually start hitting the game trails to scout. I love how technology has helped change something that people have been doing since the beginning of time.

Finally, after we had everything nailed down, we called a Hunt Planner with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to make sure we were on the right track. They are incredibly helpful in making sure you have all of the information you need because your hunting success means better wildlife management.

This was all just the prep work before getting out there. Once I knew where we were going to be, I drove out to our unit, hit up the ranger station and poured over maps. The ranger station actually had the GMU boundaries mapped out on a master map that you could copy on your own map. We still need to get our private property boundary maps. It is a huge deal to accidentally hunt on somebody’s property. It’s a good idea to get those 2 weeks before you head out in case there are any changes. Some people have this all programmed into GPS units (which is a smart investment).

Backroads

Then I drove. I drove all freakin’ over the place to check out the roads and what we needed to expect for the challenges of our season (like chains and snow tires). I timed the distance between hunting spots and where were setting up camp so I had solid timelines to work with. Then I started hiking around those areas to look for game trails and to get familiar with the terrain since we’re in a brand new GMU.

 

Whew! This was the busy work to prep for the real deal. The backbreaking work starts once you actually get an elk. The next post will go over the gear you need to field dress and haul out over 100 pounds of meat on your back, and the training you need to do to make sure you can do that (this is where my 10 years as a personal trainer come in handy).