Archive for August, 2015

Double Century on the Putnam Trail

You know what hurts most the day after a long ride? Subway seats and subway stairs – two things I pretty much cannot avoid on a typical day. (I guess technically I could stand on the subway, but finding and taking a seat on the subway is a competitive sport. And, clearly, I’m competitive and can’t step away from a challenge.)

Which (kind of) explains why I rode 200-miles the other day. A lot of folks (and Tracy many, MANY, times over the last few days) have asked, “why in the world would you want to do that?!?” That’s a hard question to answer. Partly because I see a challenge and want to prove that I can do it. Partly because the challenge itself is fun (I’ll explain in a moment). And partly because, well, what’s life without a good challenge and some competition mixed in?

2015-08-23 21.47.28By The Numbers

Here’s a quick summary of the ride in numbers. I took a photo of my Garmin screen at precisely 200-miles for vanity sake, the end of the ride was a little further and the full numbers are below.

  • 201.9 miles = Total Distance
  • 14 hours and 14 minutes = Total moving time
  • 16 hours and 48 minutes = Total elapsed time
  • 5:05 AM = Start time (over an hour before sunrise)
  • 9:53 PM = End time (over two hours after sunset)
  • 12 blocks = Scariest part of the ride (Walnut Street in Yonkers)
  • 5,273 = Calories burned
  • Countless = Calories consumed

More on “Why” (and how could this be FUN?!?)

Believe it or not, I really enjoy long rides – the longer the better. Something happens on long rides where time and effort don’t seem as linear as they do normally. At some point, time seems to pass in blocks and becomes very relative to the ride itself. At the same time, my body responds with stronger output without the feeling of terribly strong input. All the while, I find the ride meditative and when I’m on a long ride it seems to be the only time I ever clear my mind completely. And with a clear mind comes interesting observations; I only fully appreciate my surroundings in this state. It’s, well, blissful.

That’s half the story. The other half is the challenge; I mentioned this above and I can’t stress it enough – I love a good challenge. Most cyclist share this feeling and it’s often what keeps us going. In 2013 my first GFNY was a big challenge. In 2014 it was climbing Stelvio and doing at least one century every month. In 2015 it was to beat a goal time at GFNY and begin circuit racing with CRCA. As this season progressed, I added the idea of completing a 200-mile ride after an interesting discussion about Everesting (which may be on the docket for 2016).

Everesting is an interesting challenge. As with most endurance rides, it combines mental and physical obstacles to result in a unique goal. The concept is a simple one – find a hill and cycle up and down that hill as many times as it takes to ascend the height of Everest. For the locals, the best option is Bear Mountain and it would take 24 repeats to “summit” Everest. This will take somewhere between 16 and 20 hours in total. My friend Steve said, “even if you can physically do this, do you have any idea how your mind would react to 20 straight hours of one activity?” He then challenged me to take a 20-hour walk. I opted for a long, flat ride with the theory that if I can do what amounted to almost 17-hours on level ground, then maybe I can do the same (or more) on a hill. But if I can’t do a flat 200-miles, there’s no hope in attempting to Everest.

The First Century

One problem with long rides that start and/or end in the dark, especially for me living in NYC, is logistics. Routes need to be meticulously planned to assure enough light and navigable roads in the dark to assure safety. I’m also a fan of starting in the dark when you are fresh and doing so as early as possible to (hopefully) finish near dusk. Sadly, many river crossings, with the George Washington Bridge being most notable, simply don’t open early enough. This limits the route options, so I selected a route through the Bronx and Yonkers to get to the Putnam Trail. The trail is about 45-miles long and relatively flat, so two full “laps” gets close to 200-miles. Add in the ride to/from and, viola – Double Century.

The early ride was mostly uneventful as I knew the route and I got to Elmsford on the trail easily enough. Here I met up with Rob who rode the better part of the first 100-miles with me. I really appreciate that I had the company. Despite the meditative results of riding solo, conversation and companionship can be a real help along the way. Towards the end of the first century, Rob was going at a very reasonable pace, but I was pushing to keep up; had he not been there, I’d likely have slogged it out at a really slow pace for far too long. It was also nice to stop for “lunch” (at 10:00 AM) and be able to sit with someone and BS while feeding the furnace for more of the ride.

11927826_1192931347387060_3483966429634978901_oFood versus Fuel and Resulting Energy

Speaking of feeding the furnace… I carried a lot of fuel with me on the ride. Most if it was my now favorite Maple Syrup but I had some Accel Gels and some Amrita bars as well. I also carried several Nuun tablets to add to the water I’d buy at local stores along the way. I also stopped for two actual meals which are less about energy (fuel) and more about satisfaction (food). I personally find that the hardest thing about a long ride is feeling “satisfied” with food intake. Gels and maple syrup can provide enough calories and energy, but I reach a point where I need some “real food”. So I stop and do just that – eat a real meal.

Beyond that, I learned a few things on this ride. First, the Trailside Cafe has an amazingly simple yet perfect smoothie of peanut butter and banana with rice milk. They call it the “Perfect Pair” which highlights that they understand cyclists. I had two of these over the course of the ride and the only thing that would make it better would be a shot of espresso for some caffeine.

Caffeine. I try not to focus on caffeine (other than an honest coffee before or during the ride.) But on the back half of this ride I had two Starbucks Mocha drinks and I really felt like these gave me a huge boost.

The Second Century

Every endurance athlete knows that there’s a “dip” somewhere along the course of the event. The dip is a period of time where the athlete struggles and isn’t sure that they can finish. For me, it typically happens around the 65% complete mark of a competitive century ride. The challenge is to minimize the dip and move into “the zone” which so often follows. During this ride, I hit the dip around 95-miles as I was turning back to do my second lap. And it lasted about 30-miles. It was tough; really tough – but mostly mental. Looking at my stats after the ride, I didn’t really slow down, it just felt like it. The dip is definitely a mindset and can be overcome.

After that, I was soaring and it was a little bizarre. From mile 125 until about 180 I felt like I had just started the ride. I felt fresh, aware, exhilarated! It was really awesome. I kept my pace high during this time because I kept thinking it was too good to be true. It wasn’t, and I finished pretty strong because of entering this zone.

My only issue came during the last 15-miles. While it was only dusk, the trail got dangerously dark due to the tree cover, so I had to use an alternate route to finish. I had planned for this, but my Garmin didn’t behave and I ended up navigating more from memory than maps. The problem was that the section of Yonkers I had to pass through had lots of hills and wasn’t familiar to me, so it was a challenge. I stopped to check Google Maps and found a road I had taken in daylight that was comfortable, so I headed there and turned south. What followed were the scariest dozen or so blocks I’ve ever cycled…

I was on Walnut Street for those familiar with Yonkers and it’s not a nice area. On this evening, there were crowded sidewalk parties with SUV’s pumping music from the street. Party-goers kept getting in front of me, taunting me and running along side me. (But not like in the World Tours.) I just tried to focus and keep moving. Eventually this section was done and I was on my way into much more familiar territory in the Bronx. You know you were in a bad neighborhood when you are celebrating your arrival in the section of the Bronx near Van Cortlandt Park. Sure, there’s hoodlums there, too – but I’m familiar with these hoodlums!

Conclusion

Routing a long ride and timing it based on daylight and road conditions is a challenge – and part of why I chose to ride to the Putnam Trail. But adversity is also part of the challenge and I’m thrilled with the outcome. I do want to try to Everest next year. While I’m unsure if I’m up to the physical challenge, I know I’m up to the mental challenge, so why not give it a go?

Also, when I stopped, I interacted with folks on social media and that was super motivating. Thanks to everyone that participated, albeit virtually, in this ride. Especially Shannon who kept tossing various encouragements throughout the day and through different channels – each was a bit of a surprise!

Reservoir Reconnaissance

Four bike dorks go out for a ride… Yeah, I know, sounds like a bad joke. And, well, I guess in a way it is. But to us, it’s pure bliss. It was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, I hadn’t seen Rob or Shannon in quite a while, and there was a route promised that was completely new (to me, at least.) Added bonus – Rob brought his friend Scott along as well and the four of us had a great day.

The route was based in Westchester, so I had to start early, ride north through Van Cortlandt Park and the South Country Trail to meet them in Elmsford and ride from there. (PSA to those that ride this way – the “mud bog” at the start of the trail has been filled with loose gravel. Tough on a road bike, but better than mud filling your cleats if you want to walk this section.) Rob’s route took us on a tour of five Westchester reservoirs and it was a really beautiful ride. We went out at a pretty good pace, but we didn’t have to work that hard and it just felt great to ride. And to ride in some beautiful country with quiet (and occasionally fresh paved) roads.

The route took us way off the beaten trail and seeing this trout fishing sign made me think we were way out in the country. We weren’t all that far from the city, but I got a kick out of this either way. I guess it would have been more compelling if we saw some trout. Or a bear. Or a fox. No such luck on this ride.

We had to take a few major roads to get from point to point, yet even the busy roads really weren’t all that bad. When we were on the quieter roads we were able to ride and chat a bit. I learned that Scott rides from Tarrytown to NYU Medical Center every morning in the dark – and that he organizes midnight rides which I may have to find a way to join sometime. His route to work may also solve a routing problem I’ve been having for an early morning start, so we’ll see. I didn’t even know that there’s a path across the Henry Hudson Bridge that connects to the Husdon Greenway. Great stuff!

Scott had a deadline, so he couldn’t stay for the full ride. And late in the ride Shannon realized that he could easily turn off in order to get home without taking the train. Well, it seemed easy, but as you can see here, it took two guys looking at maps on their smartphone and one ex-sailor navigating by the stars to figure out the complicated route change needed to get Shannon home. (In truth, all we had to do was get to a particular intersection where Rob and I turned left and Shannon turned right, but leave it to us to make it way more complicated.) At mile 85 for me, we were basically passing Rob’s house so he invited me over for a quick burger, which was incredibly appreciated. His wife and daughter were so sweet when I showed up unexpectedly. Just goes to show that when you ride with good people, the circle of good people around you just continues to grow.

 

After thanking everyone for the burger and friendly banter, Rob took me a bit of the way to be sure I knew where I was going. Then I headed back down the trail and through the park. But since we spent the day enjoying the reservoirs and the High Bridge was originally part of the Croton Water System, I decided to try a new route and finally cross the High Bridge. It’s absolutely beautiful and such a pleasurable way to cross from the Bronx to/from Manhattan. And after an uneventful return, I ended up with a solid 108 mile ride on a great day. Awesome!

And, Shannon, since you asked… Here’s the power of pure maple syrup. And just in case you want a second opinion.

Central Park? Nah!

Tomorrow’s CRCA Club Race will be the third time I’ve taken a ride in Central Park in less than a week. That’s more than the entire rest of the summer this year! Since moving up to Washington Heights, my typical morning ride is the loop over the GWB, through the Palisades Interstate Park on River Road and back down 9W. That 20-mile loop is the perfect morning ride, and it has mostly kept me out of Central Park.

So how did I end up in the park three times in six days? Well, there’s almost always a Monday evening recovery ride that I usually cannot join, but this week I could, so that was one. Then I decided to mix it up for my morning ride on Thursday and go to the park instead of River Road. Things went sideways, fast. First of all, the 30-minute ride to/from the park means less actual “riding” since dodging potholes, trash and cop cars in the bike line – plus traffic lights – doesn’t make for much of a “ride”. That first photo is just one example, but all down St. Nicolas Ave the buildings toss their trash into the bike lane instead of on the sidewalk like everyone else.

But this really takes the cake. Why the city thinks it is OK to create a bike lane and then let the local police precinct park perpendicular instead of parallel is beyond me. If they need to park this way, fine – but let’s acknowledge it and paint the street markings accordingly. Not to mention the parking signs that contradict this behavior as well. And at least in this case there’s enough room on this street to move the lane further out. But I digress…

After finally getting to the park I rode two laps and, while I really do enjoy riding the Central Park Loop, I ultimately hate riding in the park. The biggest reason is that the traffic lights make no sense and really cause way more confusion than help to everyone involved. Cyclists don’t stop, pedestrians don’t stop, and cars, well, for a newly “car free” park, there’s still an awful lot of them on the loop!

The worst incidents, though, were caused by my “fellow” cyclists who I’m ashamed to be associated with. At any red light, I’d slow down and at least make sure there were no pedestrians passing through. And if there are any, I’d stop. Then the pedestrians would begin to cross only to get nearly creamed by some other cyclist barreling through. Running the light is one thing, but not paying attention to others in the road is simply negligent. And then in one case the pedestrian yelled at me for their behavior. I tried to be patient, but as this person had a dog, I shot back, “I saw dog crap a few blocks back and you really need to go clean it up.” My point was completely lost on this soul.

I do enjoy the park, but perhaps it’s no longer a place for bikes except during organized events. The park has lots of lovely things and on this fine morning, I spotted one of the “local” bald eagles. I saw several folks pointing cameraphones into a tree, so I slowed, stopped, and saw the majestic creature perched on a branch seemingly posing for the cameras. As I reached for mine from a safe viewing distance, two cyclist saw the bird and rode right off the road to get a closer look. The eagle took flight and all I got was a wing as it passed behind a tree.

I guess even the eagle was fed up with rude cyclists in the park.

Tour of the Catskills (and the infamous Devil’s Kitchen)

26353[1]For 2015, I decided it was time to try Tour of the Catskills. I (very briefly) considered the stage race before many of my trusted cycling friends quickly talked me out of it. There were lots of good arguments, but the very best one was along the lines of, “taking on Devil’s Kitchen after 65-miles is bad enough, but after two additional days, well, at least try it in the road race first!” So I signed up for the Gran Fondo and crossed my fingers that the Devil would be kind on August 3rd.

The week leading up to the race was very odd. There were a number of conflicting emails from the organizers about changes in registration and start times. Included in these emails was also the note that, starting in 2016, there would only be the road race on Sunday (no more stage race.) None of this was much of a concern to me other than assuring that I showed up on time. But it also turned out that our start time was nearly 11:00 AM when we thought it was going to be around 9:30. The original time was already pretty late in the scheme of bike racing – but 11:00 AM was pretty much unheard of! And in August, well, sun and wind await those foolhardy enough to delay their start times.

TOCRoute_zpsd0dbe2d2[1]The course seems manageable when you consider 77-miles and a bit over 5,000 feet of climbing. But there are a few twists. First, “rolling hills” in the metro New York area are typically 5%-8%, but in the Catskills, there are very few modest slopes and even the shortest climbs are typically at or above 10%. Second, the matter of wind (more later). And, third, well, there’s no avoiding the inclusion of Devil’s Kitchen in this course. Looking at the elevation profile here, I’m sure you can pick it out at mile 65. It also throws the rest of the profile completely out of whack – sections that look flat are typically full of small but steep rollers that simply don’t show up in this scale.

Devil’s Kitchen is one hellacious climb. A very good climber that I ride with once said, “some hills are not meant to be climbed on a bike and that’s one of them.” While the photo below (from 2012) doesn’t even begin to do it justice, it is a sample of the Devil’s Kitchen climb. For locals that I ride with, imagine doing nearly the full elevation of Bear Mountain, but in HALF the distance. Yep, that’s the Devil. And even that doesn’t indicate that practically each pitch of the climb is over 14%. The climb undulates, and believe it or not, every time it “flattened” to about 9% I was so incredibly thankful. NINE PERCENT!

But I’m getting ahead of myself since there were 65-miles to ride just to get to Devil’s Kitchen. The first 20-miles are relatively flat and after setting out from the start with my friend Jerry, we got into a group of six riders and pacelined for a solid 15-miles. We were going really strong, when… I ran over some rusty metal thing and got a flat. Jerry stopped with me, but the other four continued on. I changed the flat pretty quickly and, of course, SAG arrived right as I was putting the wheel back on. Jerry and I worked together to pass two groups before getting to the first KOM and then we went into “conserve” mode hoping to save our legs for Devil’s Kitchen.

Once in Prattsville, there’s a section of climbs about 10-miles long and, again, since everything in the Catskills is steep, this section takes a toll. After those climbs, we stopped at the first feed zone and had the pleasure of watching the pro peleton pass through while we hydrated and fueled up. Man, they were FAST!

Departing the feed zone was the backside of all those climbs – a descent about 5-6 miles long. If it weren’t for the spotty road conditions, that descent would have been amazing, but moving at 45-mph requires that you avoid the potholes! After the descent is a long slog of rolling road through beautiful, but practically abandoned, countryside. When passing through the open fields of large farms so late in the day, the wind started to really become a factor. I also found this section tougher than I should have. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t matter, but I was struggling a bit while Jerry was chugging along.

Let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to Jerry who made the 65+ miles we road together so enjoyable even when I was struggling. Jerry is a really strong guy, and he has to be since he’s a pretty big guy, too. But no matter how hard he is working to raise his power to weight ratio, he’s an all around gentleman and just a terrific guy. We had some great conversations along the way, a few good laughs and, thankfully for me, he was feeling strong so I could suck his wheel more than I should have. Without Jerry I would have gotten to Devil’s kitchen much later and with much less energy. Thanks, Jerry!

Around mile 55 we turned south onto a state road with good pavement and a broad shoulder. I got pretty excited that this was going to be a 5-mile “recovery” stretch before the approach to the big climb. Well, it might have been just that, if it were 10:00 AM. But at 3:30 PM on a hot summer day, the atmosphere was getting unsettled and the wind began to whip up. Those five miles went from a recovery to a huge drain. Turning off the state road, the marshal said, “the feed zone is just ahead!” Jerry and I were both relieved – until we realized that “just ahead” in the Catskills is another 3-miles!

At the second feed zone we fueled up while “mentally preparing” for Devil’s Kitchen – as if that’s possible. And then, we set out to tackle the monster…

TheKitchen20112After a few miles of gentle incline, Platte Cove Road, a seasonal road that is closed in the winter and known to cyclists as Devil’s Kitchen, comes into view. It’s narrow, has bad pavement, and looks like a vertical wall. Of course, it’s not a wall. It’s worse. After almost 70-miles of riding together, Jerry and I agreed that Devil’s Kitchen is a personal matter. I set out just ahead of him fully expecting to see him grunt past me at some point. The first pitch immediately hits 16% and only 0.3 miles into a 2.4 mile climb, I’m dying! After each pitch, I tried to catch my breath on the “flats” (9%) and this worked a few times, but eventually, I had to stop on one of the flats and catch my breath. Jerry caught up to me for a short moment and then I proceeded up one of the steepest sections.

At the top of that section there’s a sharp right turn and several folks cheering us on. I stopped there (as others did as well) and almost immediately the pro peleton was approaching, so this turned out to be perfect. (The pros had a longer course with a loop, so they passed us twice.) It was great to watch the pros on this section as they were panting as much as I was (although they were still moving) and there were a few walking. After the pros I continued on and finished the climb in about 45-minutes. At the top I was proud to say that, while I did stop, I didn’t walk, and therefore I pedaled every inch of the climb.

After the climb, I slogged through the last five miles – really the only time all day that I rode alone. Riding alone is create during training, but not great on race day. It was a tough and lonely final five miles. But, alas, I finished the course, proceed to my car and headed out for a burger and beer with friends.

Final Thoughts on This Event

This was a strange event – some things were awesome, others were terrible. Quick summary:

PROS

  • Terrific course
  • Amazing challenge in Devil’s Kitchen
  • Motos and SAG were EVERYWHERE (Motos went back and forth and were highly visible
  • Controlled intersections (granted, there’s only like six of them on the whole course!)

CONS

  • No timing chips (seriously!)
  • Disorganized event before race day
  • Late start (this, alone, discourages me to the point that I’ll pass next year – I didn’t get back to NYC until 1 AM)
  • Feed zones had AWFUL water – smelled so bad I almost went without more water