Archive for April, 2015

Winter Miles on the Old Putnam Trail

Last week, while still quite cold, had great weather for a Sunday group ride. However, as the GS-GFNY gods would have it this year, we were given yet another Sunday training ride obstacle: the pedestrian and cycling path on the George Washington Bridge was closed for emergency repairs. Without a reasonable river crossing, the GS-GFNY team was split in two – so we decided to offer riders some alternative rides that week.

Being on the Manhattan side of the bridge, and far to the north, I opted for a ride on the Old Putnam Trail (aka South County Trail and North County Trail). This is a 50-mile stretch of mostly protected and paved trail with very little elevation change. Perfect for winter base miles, but also difficult to ride in the winter as snow is not regularly removed from the trail. The first few miles in Van Cortland Park are not paved, but are navigable on a road bike as long as the trail isn’t wet and muddy. We had no issues on this section since it was below freezing at the start and the ground was solid. The return trip was a bit different.

Wade, Matt and I set out at 9:30 AM and took a fast but pleasant pace north into Westchester. We encountered some patches of snow and after a few low speed spills we learned to take the snow with a little momentum and just ride through the skids and slips. In Elmsford the path is incomplete and there’s a short stint through an industrial park. Wade took this opportunity to remind us that Captain Lawrence Brewing Company was basically just around the corner. Maybe a detour for another trip, but the idea of a cold beer outside in near freezing temperatures wasn’t quite as appealing as it would be on a hot summer ride.

Shortly after this detour we were flagged down by Rob, a fellow cyclist, at a parking lot on the trail. Rob was meeting Shannon, another cyclist, and was intending to connect with my small group to continue north. Rob and Shannon were, it turns out, in different parking lots about a stone’s throw away, yet they couldn’t find each other. We decided to proceed and the foursome head out to the north, but Wade and I soon realized we were a twosome and headed back. Turns out that Matt had a puncture right after the parking lot and by turning back we were all able to connect with Shannon as well. Once again, we set off to the north.

In Briarcliff Manor the path has a second detour, this one on a longer stretch of county road before picking up the trail again. Wade and Matt turned back at this point based on a predetermined time in order to get home. When Rob, Shannon and I returned to the trail, we quickly ran into a stretch of more formidable snow. We dismounted, walked through this section and soon realized that all three of us had cleats jammed packed with snow. We used sticks and rocks to free the slushy mess and eventually proceeded. This happened a second time and after that we proceeded to ride through any snow we eencountered. Remarkably, there were no spills.

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From left: Shannon, Jared (Fred) and Rob

After several more snow patches that seemed to be increasing in size and frequency as we proceeded north, we stopped near one particularly long snow section to contemplate. A runner coming south said it only got worse and there was ice on the path where there was an underpass. We took this as a sign to abandon and returned south for a coffee stop. It was a little disappointing because we were so close to the Croton Reservoir where a very cool bridge with great views becomes part of the trailway. Oh well, a sight for another day.

Over coffee we all shared the usual cycling war stories and enjoyed the company. Shannon shared a personal and truly inspirational story that I won’t include here only because I didn’t ask if I could. If you see this friendly and strong rider on the road, just be sure to say hello and get to know him; you’ll be glad that you did. And while I’d ridden with Rob before on other training rides, I got to learn more about his journey to cycling and the GFNY coming up in May. It’s going to be a challenge after a rough winter of limited training, but one that we’re all looking forward to tackling. And the strength of other riders both on these training rides and on race day are something that makes the GFNY unique.

As we returned south, we stopped at the parking lot where Rob and Shannon started the ride, but they both determined they wanted to go further. Shannon came with us almost to the dirt path in Van Cortland Park while Rob continued through to the start/finish of the path at Broadway and 139th Street. Rob and I quickly realized that the firm path of the morning was now a much softer mud as the frozen ground was thawing in the afternoon sun. I came to a screeching halt in front of one mud bog and Rob barely averted a collision. Well, technically he ran into me, but when he did he was nearly stopped, so it was more laughable than concerning. We managed to navigate the mud and get to the final point on the trail safely. Rob headed back up the trail to his car and I headed south on a very traffic filled stretch of Broadway toward my apartment.

About ten blocks from home my Garmin told me I’d done 1,000 vertical feet of elevation gain.  The last ten blocks are a single hill up to my apartment and I clocked nearly another 300 feet. Goes to show just how flat that trail really is!

1511422_10206583271840933_5430803472249865221_n[1]UPDATE: I forgot to highlight the interesting wildlife observations from the ride. First, on the return south, Shannon, Rob and I saw two people standing in the middle of the trail taking pictures of what appeared to be nothing on the ground. As we got closer it became clear that they were photographing a fully intact and gutted carcass of what was likely a dear. All the was left were bloody bones – maybe a coyote’s meal? Second, Wade and Matt saw a hawk swoop down in Van Cortland Park and catch a pigeon. Unlike me, Wade was able to catch a photo of the carnage – or at least the hawk in the tree with the pigeon.

Winter Afterthoughts

So, we all know that winter was pretty brutal this year around these parts. Last year was among the snowiest winters ever in New York, yet we only cancelled three or four Sunday group rides. This year, well, I lost count after eight cancelled rides!

Here are a few random thoughts about this winter:

  1. Dear Mother Nature – it was bad enough, but why you go and hate on Sunday so much?!?
  2. Sufferfest – I love you, but you’ve been partially displaced by Zwift.
  3. Zwift – you saved my winter! Gamification #FTW!
  4. Indoor training is undoubtedly good training, but there are limits.
  5. Pushing yourself past those limits is critical. (Thanks Gavin and Omar for that 4-hour Metric Century n Zwift Island!)
  6. Sometimes you gotta just say F.U. to the weather and ride outside. Even if you can only tolerate a short ride, it’s worth it.
  7. After lots of indoor riding, steering becomes a shockingly complicated skill when you hit the roads again.
  8. Indoor training doesn’t have hills. Period. (I don’t care how you train, “resistance” is not the same as a good climb.)
  9. Getting on the indoor trainer is crucial. (See #3 and #5)
  10. You know it’s been brutal when preparing for an outdoor ride starting at 25F and you say, “yeah, that’s warm enough that I can skip the winter jacket,” and you actually don’t regret that decision.

Now, on to some serious spring training!!!