Charlie Finds His Tempo

On the Continental Divide, Colorado

On the Continental Divide, Colorado

There is a place at 11,500’ elevation, deep in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, that I want to tell you about. This place requires some mountaineering chutzpah to get to, and some high altitude attitude to thrive in. So this time I got there, and back, on Tempo’s Carmel electric hybrid bike, and am inspired to share this story.

Mile 1

Frankly I didn’t know what to expect. Worst-case scenario – bike fails and I walk back. It’s a full-blown jeep trail on the Continental Divide at 11,500’. And it’s downhill the whole 6 miles back. So I wore a helmet, just in case. 

I have been up and down this valley passage since I was 10 years old, living in Denver in 1968. By pickup truck stuffed with a big family sized cotton tent and 5 sleeping bags when we first went up to scout out an amazing opportunity. In 1968, Chaffee County, high up in the middle of Colorado’s most majestic mountains, was still giving away free land to homesteaders. So our family started homesteading 120 acres up this valley, making several intrepid trips each summer to camp and make improvements on our land.

Today with my Tempo Carmel I think I get to make a little history by being the first person to ride up the South Fork of Lake Creek Road on an electric bike. Starting from Hwy 82 the route crosses Lake Creek, which is running high and fast, like all the creeks in the area now due to snow melt runoff. After featuring large mud puddles of mysterious depth, the jeep trail starts to climb. It is dry and rocky but most of the rocks were fixed and so traction is pretty good.

I didn’t really know what to expect out of this Carmel. Almost all of my experience on it has been on paved, level ground, framing the testing as a commuter. So as I dove into the task of climbing this hundred-foot hill - increase cadence, breath, pick the right route, keep spinning, out of saddle if need be, keep the momentum forward – I could feel the NuVenci hub doing its magic in finding a nice climbing gear as the MVF motor suck up power from that 36 volt battery and provided the angel like wings under my pedals as I confidently conquered that hill.

Mile 2-3

How sweet is was to come up into the South Fork Valley and see the long view up to Middle Mountain and ride along the creek that forms just up valley. In winter this valley fills with snow and the mountains provide avalanche drama starting in January, ending in April. 

By mid-June when I did this ride the trail was mostly dry accented with spring runoff in one track or the other, muddy puddles, stream crossings and wildflowers. Imagine my pleasure as I got to meander up the valley on a civilized incline at an almost effortless pace. My Carmel read the conditions and responded nicely.

The relative ease of these two miles gave me an opportunity to simply look around. If you look closely at the this photo, you’ll see two mule deer posing across the creek with the bike.

Mile 4

To get to the cabin pictured below you have to cross this creek. It was running too high and fast to ride any bike through, so I picked it up and carried the Carmel across and stopped at my favorite cabin for a break and the memories. This cabin was built around 1900 and is owned by our neighbors. We stayed in it once when I was about 12 years old and it was here I learned a very valuable lesson about heat. It hurts and is invisible. That stove pipe on the right side of the cabin is connected to the wood burning stove that burned my hand SO bad when I was reaching for something in a cabinet above it. I can still feel it burn, can you?

Mile 5 

We, my bike, and me made it to our promise land, our homestead. On a 72-degree summertime day at 11,500' altitude, deep into a special valley off Independence Pass, we made it back to my childhood playground and adventure land. Yes for me getting back here almost every summer is a sojourn. I get to reset, think out loud, remember and take account, and look ahead and dream.

Mile 6

A mile beyond our homestead at about tree line is the end of the road and the start of the Collegiate Wilderness. Our homestead is happily a part of this wilderness area now and open to you and me for free, forever. 

This last mile is steeper and rougher than the others. The Carmel performed beyond my expectations. In fact by the time I got here I had stopped coddling the bike and was putting it thru its paces. It took everything I threw at it admirably. I took a break here and contemplated the payoff for this just completed six-mile climb - six miles back down fast.

I like risk taking. Calculated and considered risks. So today after a timid start to test the disk brakes and handling this 53cc Carmel in the gravel on steeper runs, I gradually let go. In a couple of the longer stretches of less steep I was reaching speeds that guaranteed problems should I go down, therefore focusing my attention on the immediate issues ahead. And in the steeps, even the wet ones, the bike stayed the line, the brakes stayed dry and tight. Even the tires surprised me with their grip in wet and dry gravel.

Overall this Carmel performed closer to a traditional mountain bike than I expected. Uphill at full power gives the ebike rider a power boost that would exceed that of a normally geared traditional mountain bike. And the power can be adjusted down to achieve longer range or more of a workout for the rider.

On the downhill the Tempo Carmel was a sweet ride that had the feel of a traditional mountain bike. It was agile on the steeps and sure footed at speed.

So what an adventure day - at altitude, in paradise, and finding my Tempo.

Pioneers in the Bike Advocacy Movement: Susie Stephens

Susie Stephens speaks at the Thunderhead Retreat in Montecito CA. From left: Randy Neufeld, Tim Young, John Kaehny, Susie Stephens, and Chris Morfas.

Susie Stephens speaks at the Thunderhead Retreat in Montecito CA. From left: Randy Neufeld, Tim Young, John Kaehny, Susie Stephens, and Chris Morfas.

We were on a road trip from Seattle to San Francisco in 1998 promoting bikes on buses. Susie was driving the big white support van. We were just south of Eureka in the Redwoods headed South, and I was riding shotgun giving my usual expert counsel on everything. When I finished reciting some miracle I'd performed in Texas as the executive director of the Texas Bicycle Coalition, Susie let a beat go by and using her best Washington nice voice cut me down to size with, “Well Charlie, that’s one way to do it.”

In that moment she reminded me that there are usually a lot of ways to solve problems, or take advantage of opportunities, my way was only one of several. Ouch, but thanks.

Susie Stephens was the 2nd Executive Director of Washington Bikes, the Washington State bike advocacy organization. She started that job in 1995 with a skeptical board of directors, a handful of volunteers, and a few hundred members. Her youth and inexperience was typical of those of us who had found our tribe in these early days of the bike advocacy movement. Most of us were environmentalists, or urbanists, and could see how bicycling was part of the transportation solutions our communities were looking for. We weren’t non-profit management professionals, we were political activists pioneering bike advocacy. And we knew we needed to build people based, powerful and sustainable bike advocacy organizations to keep the movement going long term. So we banded together to learn from each other.

This year, 2016, this band of brothers and sisters is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of our first gathering at the spectacular Thunderhead Ranch outside Dubois, Wyoming. Using foundation money raised by Bill Wilkinson of the Bicycle Federation of America, he set me to organizing a training session for a handful of professional bike advocates who were running non-profit advocacy organizations in their cities or states, along with some promising newcomers such as Susie representing fledgling bike advocacy organizations.

Susie’s inexperience was balanced by three other traits she possessed and honed as she matured as a professional bike advocate. She was constantly learning and applying new skills. Susie tapped into her mentor and peer network with a student’s curiosity and innocence. In return she gave freely of her talents and skills at Thunderhead Gatherings, and as a co-creator and first Managing Director of the Thunderhead Alliance. Her style set a tone of giving freely among our growing network of advocacy professionals. Over her career Susie established herself among the seasoned, inspirational advocacy leaders of our movement.

Like her peers, Susie was an ambitious risk taker. She knew she had to work hard and over-perform to create confidence and momentum. She knew she had to be thinking three moves ahead and anticipating outcomes without assurances of success. So she was bold and fearless in service to her mission. And as she would confide in me, the fearless part didn’t come easily. When she first started standing before audiences to share her vision and invite them to participate she would simply role play. Gradually she built her confidence and became a dynamic and persuasive public speaker.

The last trait Susie Stephens possessed and went with her in her untimely death in 2002, was her sunny spirit and optimism for bikes role in the future. Susie was famous for hitting the road on her bike and traveling the back roads of Washington, gathering her members and interested folks together in small groups to discuss their future together. She could teach, charm, persuade and recruit better than anyone in the nation at the time. And as an early adopter of technology, she used the internet to amplify her voice telling tales of the road to her fans across the state. As a consequence Susie was beloved indeed.

In 1996 a small group of seasoned bike advocacy veterans decided at the Thunderhead Ranch that they valued the type of peer training and inspiration they received from being networked with each other. They pledged to nurture a sustainable organization that would continue this mission and expand the network. Susie was among this group of visionaries who started the Thunderhead Alliance, now the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking.

After this decision was made Susie and I went for a walk and talk. As the guy who had organized the first two Thunderhead gatherings, my role was that of default leader of this group of peers. Being sensitive to my sense of ownership, she told me of the groups plans. My surprise was not that they wanted to take ownership but that it came faster than I anticipated.  I was expecting a slower progression. As the idea sunk in to my head Susie could tell I needed reassurance. She provided it with this prediction. “Charlie,” she said, “you will be proud of what we do with what you started.”

I was and am proud of our progress as a movement. Susie Stephens is remembered as a leader in the top ranks of bike advocacy and as a pioneer of the profession. She was also a very good teacher and friend.

More About Susie Stephens (from the Alliance for Biking & Walking Website)

Susie worked with several key local advocates from around the country to form the Thunderhead Alliance, now known as the Alliance for Biking & Walking. Susie served as the Alliance’s first managing director. After serving as the Alliance’s founding director, Susie started her own consulting business to help communities and government agencies better plan for bicycling and walking.

In 2002, Susie traveled to St. Louis on her second consulting job. The task at hand: train National Forest Service employees on better planning for bicycle and pedestrian use. While in town, she walked across the street to make copies and grab a cup of coffee. On her way back across the street, she was fatally struck by a turning tour bus. She was 36.

Learn more about Susie and the powerful impact she had on those who were fortunate enough to know her at the susieforest.com.

About Charlie Gandy

Charlie Gandy consults with cities promoting active living. He is a nationally recognized expert in bicycle and pedestrian advocacy, and a popular consultant and speaker known for sparking innovation. Charlie founded Bike Texas, and has hosted biking and walking advocacy trainings across the country, including the groundbreaking Thunderhead Alliance retreat. In the mid 90's he played a key role in the original "Bikes Belong" national political campaign to re-fund biking, walking and public transit at the federal level. During his time as the Mobility Coordinator for the City of Long Beach he originated and developed the Bike Friendly Business Districts program. Reach Charlie at gandy.charles [at]gmail.com. Image by Allan Crawford.