New Bear’s Day

It all started innocently enough… Let’s ride on New Year’s Day to clear the cobwebs of the holiday season. And while not as crazy as the Polar Bear Plunge, our ride would include Bear Mountain. Emma hadn’t been to Bear yet, so Gavin and I were very willing to oblige. We got a “late” start to assure that the hangovers had properly set in, and there were actually six of us preparing to ride together at 9:30 AM. One of them was a “surprise guest” and he had no aspirations to take on the Bear this day, so he rode alone after the bridge. Susanna and Michael started with us knowing that they’d veer off at some point along the way.

 

The morning was cold and dreary with dark clouds that made it feel late in the day before we even got started. Not knowing what kind of crazies would be on the road on New Year’s Day, we opted to avoid 9W and instead took the suburban back roads through New Jersey. Of course we all had a different idea of which roads to take, so we zigged and zagged quite a bit before settling on a northbound road taking us to Sparkill. From there Susanna and Michael turned off for a food stop at The Market. The remaining three of us continued in search of our first food stop. We settled on a bagel shop off Route 303 and ate rather quickly sitting in the cold parking lot since the shop had no seating. I guess a cold, hard slab of concrete can certainly keep get you motivated to keep moving.

 

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From the bagel stop we continued through the more scenic suburbs before picking up the more “traditional” route through Haverstraw and up 9W to the start of Bear. In Haverstraw we came across this interesting holiday scene, complete with a “Where’s Gavin?” After Emma and I finally identified the Gavin (which is apparently the brown dog in front of the strange man in blue) we rode through Haverstraw along the water where we helped point out a few secret “quick stop” points to Emma for May 15th. It’s those insider secrets that can make the difference on “race day” (which Emma asked us to more politely call RIDE day.)

 

IMG_0016Despite the cold, dark and damp weather, we arrived at the base of Bear in good spirits and ready for the long climb. During the ascent there were some really light snow flurries which we all found rather entertaining. The entertainment wore off as the flurries became light snow which continued during, and after, our descent. (More on that in a moment.) I watched from my spot at the back of the group as Emma slowly pulled away from me, and Gavin from her. Until the entrance to Perkins Memorial Drive, Gavin in almost the precise location as my virtual training partner on my Garmin. This means that Gavin “taking it easy” up the first half of Bear is about equivalent to my best time. I was mildly pleased when he didn’t continue at that same pace up Perkins.

At the top of Bear, there was some snow on the roadside and there was a light snowfall as well. Yet for the first time all day there was a lift in the gloom allowing us to see this great shot of the city skyline:
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And we got this shot of us as well:

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It didn’t take long for the chill to set in while we were at the top, so we began a quick decent. The snow kept falling, but it wasn’t heavy enough to cause any issues on the road. Yet it was just enough to remind us how darn cold it had gotten! Half way down, as we approached the gate at the bottom of Perkins, I managed to lock my back wheel while traveling 44mph. Emma was a safe distance behind me, but she was probably more scared than I was as I skidded several times ultimately going off the road, skidding some more, and catching my balance in the dirt before getting back onto the asphalt. She was sure I was going to crash. I can’t say I wasn’t so sure, either.

When we reached the bottom and estimated that the wind chill during the descent was likely around 10F, we decided to head to Peekskill to catch the train back to the city. Although, as cold as that sounds, I think in the cold rain of GFNY 2013 it felt even colder! Before catching the train we had lunch at the local taco bar:

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Then we got punchy as the sun finally came out (too little too late):

IMG_0048And finally we completely lost our minds as Emma tried to find that one speck of sand on her cassette:

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All in all, it was a pretty fun day, even if we didn’t complete the century ride as planned. Maybe New Bear’s Day will become a tradition! Oh, right… Frank already started that, but didn’t tell anyone, so we were climbing Bear as he was riding home. Maybe next year we’ll do it together. Are you in?

GFNY: 3-Years and Looking Back

GFNY-LogoRecently Omar and Frank each wrote a “looking back” post on Facebook about their GFNY experience, so I thought I should follow suit. Omar used a photo from three years ago to highlight his first day as a ride leader for Gruppo Sportivo GFNY. That very same day seems to have been Frank’s first GFNY group ride. And, well, that’s true for me as well – that fateful, foggy Sunday was what started this wild ride for me, too.

Before GFNY

In 2011 I was digging through the basement of a weekend house we had on the North Fork of Long Island and found a “beater bike” that my in-laws got at a garage sale for about $20. I brought it to the Local Bike Shop (LBS) and started riding on Sunday mornings around the mostly flat local roads. It was a 12-speed that was missing a chainring making it a 6-speed. (And if I mistakenly “shifted” into that ring, well, there goes the chain!) After a summer of increasingly “long” rides (15-miles was my longest) my wife encouraged me to buy a better bike. “It’s clear you’re enjoying this, so let’s get you a decent road bike for your birthday.”

In early 2012 I picked up a Giant Defy 3 from Country Time Cycle, my LBS, and joined their Sunday group rides. Soon I was riding 30-40 miles on Sundays. I was always the one catching up to the group, but I finished the rides and ultimately made great new friends. In September 2012 I rode my first century – a pancake flat 100-miles on the North Fork. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done at the time, but I knew for sure I’d do it again.

Introduction to GFNY

Immediately after that century ride I was riding with a friend in the metro-NYC area and he mentioned GFNY. He had done a few triathlons and was a big runner, but was leaning more toward cycling at this point. During GFNY 2012 he was riding casually when the peleton came through his neighborhood, so he dropped in as a “bandit” for about 10-15 miles before testing his luck for too long. But in those miles, he was convinced he wanted to do GFNY. He described what he knew about it saying, “sure, it’s a century, but it’s so much more than that,” going on to highlight the challenging climbs, matching jerseys and George Washington Bridge start. He had friends who did it in 2012 and they clearly convinced him it was worth it. He quickly convinced me.

We both registered for GFNY 2013 sometime before the December group rides started and when December 2, 2012 arrived, we were in the Strictly Bicycles parking lot along with Frank, Ramon and so many others. Up on the starting “podium” were (Don) Vito, Heidi, Hayden, Omar, Wade and Paul – the members of Gruppo Sportivo (GS) GFNY at the time. Checking in with Heidi that morning was such a joy – she was (and always has been) all smiles and so encouraging. I, on the other hand, like Frank noted, was terrified. The C group was riding 30 “easy” miles, but for me, 30-miles wasn’t all that easy – and I had never before encountered State Line or Alpine climbs, so I was in for a “treat.”

That Fateful, Foggy Sunday

The entire pre-ride presentation by Heidi is nothing but a blur today. Now I can recite it in my sleep, but at the time, there were so many new “tips” (rules, really, but GS-GFNY tries to keep it casual) that I was entirely overwhelmed. Don’t pass the lead rider; stay off the road paint since it’s slick in the wet conditions; ride single file; etc. What I DO remember clearly is rolling out of the parking lot and up Hudson Terrace for the first time with the exhilaration of the group all around me. That 1.5 miles or so were fun and relaxing, but that didn’t last.

As we turned off Palisade Ave onto 9W, the pace didn’t really increase, but the group spread out as some were slower than others to make the turn. Near the back, I was pushing to get back to the pack and that first little incline and then CNBC hill just left me in the dust. But just when I thought I was all alone, either Heidi or Vito came up from behind me (I can’t remember which it was that first time) and paced me back to the group. This was not an uncommon occurrence over my rides into 2013, but there was notable improvement as the weeks wore on.

The Winter of 2013

The group rides in 2013 (starting December 2012) were blessed with relatively cool temperatures – you know, just above freezing! I struggled to stay warm that year trying all sorts of different gear, but if it were any other winter, I’d have given up. 2013 was generally above freezing, often foggy, but rarely intolerable. I learned so much about winter gear that year and it really paid off the next two winters.

Something else happened over those group rides that was pretty miraculous – from December 2012 to race day in May 2013, I lost almost 20-pounds. This was over wintertime when most (including me) usually get fat and lazy, justifying the “winter weight” as a way to stay warm. But when I started the group rides I was pushing 200-pounds, well over my ideal weight of about 170-pounds, so I was determined to shed some weight. And, let me tell you, getting dropped on every climb in group rides is incredible motivation! By May 2013, I was still at the back of the group on the climbs, but I was with the group instead of watching them ride away.

Race Day 2013

GFNY 2013 is infamous to this day for the Flandrian conditions – steady rain and cold for the entire day. Granted, the Flemish have it much, much worse – if nothing else we had no mud or cobbles – but locally, this was darn near Flandrian. So many riders caught their final chill on the Bear Mountain descent that there were ambulances at the bottom waiting to treat them and deposit them at the finish line. To this day I’m impressed that no rider with numb hands actually went off the side of Bear Mountain – and I’m quite thankful for that as well.

How did I handle my first GFNY in these epic conditions? Well, slowly and painfully. My biggest mistake turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Just before we left the GWB start, I shed my outer layers expecting what was then light rain to let up as the day progressed – and it would get warmer.Well, it never got warmer and the rain got heavier, not lighter. But when I got to the top of Bear Mountain, I had a dry rain jacket and full finger gloves that I was able to put on for the descent. I’m fairly certain if I didn’t have these dry items, I’d have abandoned at the bottom of Bear. As it is I barely finished the race – while stopped at the last stop in Ramapo I gave very serious thoughts to a DNF (Did Not Finish) because I was shivering so violently.

The one good thing about these conditions was that I spent less time at the aid stations. I stopped at every one, but I refueled and rode off quickly to stay (relatively) warm. So even though I was riding slowly, I finished with a respectable time by keeping my stops brief. Besides freezing, the thing I remember most about this race were the rolling hills right near the finish and how hard even the smallest hills were at that point. But the feeling of crossing that finish line made every moment worth it!

Summer of 2013

I rode with Vito, Heidi and Omar (and others) throughout the summer of 2013 – strengthening the bond we’d formed through GS-GFNY. Vito was an especially strong influence on my rising season and by the time the fall rolled around I was begging for ways to help GFNY for the next season. GS-GFNY helped me turn my health around – from my max weight and panting to get up a flight of stairs from the subway to the wonderful feeling of early morning solo rides before work. I couldn’t have done it without them.

When I was told there was an opening on the team and they wanted me to meet with Uli and Lidia, I was floored. I wanted to help, but I didn’t feel worthy of being on “the team.” When I met with Uli and Lidia, I was so intimidated by them – these are serious, serious cyclists that I can only aspire to understand. But over coffee on Columbus Circle I came to understand GFNY through their eyes and it was life-changing for me. These hardcore athletes didn’t want to sign up 5,000 elite athletes, they wanted to sign up a few elite athletes to race at the front and fill the rest of the filed with aspiring weekend warriors like me. I was inspired by their desire to grow the cycling community while offering a race that is a serious, but very fun, challenge. To this day I’m still in awe of what they have created.

Gruppo Sportivo GFNY

When Uli ultimately sent me the email asking me to join the team, I was floored. I also threw myself into it with gusto, trying to get into perfect shape before December 2013. I failed in that regard, but I was mentally ready for that first ride – or so I thought. As Omar noted, when I arrived that day, I didn’t think I knew what I was doing and didn’t think I was ready to lead rides. I’m thrilled that I overcame all of this and made those on the ride feel like I knew what I was doing!

But, honestly, after that first lead ride, I felt like a leader, but I also felt like simply a part of a bigger community that is greater than the sum of its part. And this is my key takeaway – Gruppo Sportivo GFNY is made up of a small team of lead riders as well as the entire group of riders each week. This is a critical point – there is no GS-GFNY without those that ride with us each week and together we all get better over the six months we ride together.

Thank You All!

This is also what I’m thankful for this holiday season – that everyone I ride with on group rides has worked together to become better riders, better friends and better people. And I have GS-GFNY (including all of you) to thank for that.

Fred’s Hierarchy of Needs

A Fred's Hierarchy of Needs

(Click to Expand)

Bike Rentals, Electronic Shifters & Disc Brakes

synapticI’m in LA on business with some frequency and I’m constantly told how great the cycling can be in SoCal, but I never had the patience to deal with a bike rental and getting to/from the shop. Then I discovered Synaptic Cycles – a self described “concierge road bicycle rental service that caters to you” who’s core service is bike rental delivery. This already seemed to good to be true, but then when I saw that $60/day can get me any high-end road bike from an offered assortment, I was definitely interested. I talked to the local guy, Greg, a few times and always got the feeling that this was truly a “service first” business. So on my most recent trip, I committed to riding a few times and booked a 2-day rental.

On the morning of my rental, Greg showed up (yes, in that car in the photo) precisely on time. I was expecting him to be a little late because, well, LA traffic – and the fact that he was coming to me an hour earlier than his normal start time so I could fit a ride in that morning. Greg was professional, knowledgeable and pleasant – everything I experienced on the phone, and the bike was ready to ride after the simple matter of running my credit card.

And before I talk about the gear, one more shout out to Synaptic Cycles. Nearing the end of my ride, I got a flat. I was in a bit of a rush so I called Greg to see if he was nearby. While he wasn’t, he still offered to come get me if I wanted him to do that. He’d never explicitly said that roadside assistance was included, but as I said earlier, he clearly seems ready to do what it takes to satisfy the customer at every turn. Since he was more than 30-minutes away I changed the tire myself and was back at my hotel in about 20-minutes.

Electronic versus Mechanical Shifting

My bike came with Shimano Ultegra Di2 and I’d never used electronic shifting before. It took me a few minutes to get used to it and since I ride (and I’m sponsored by) Campagnolo I still managed to go the wrong direction several times on the ride. Adapting to the “button press” in place of the “lever swing” was pretty easy and overall I found the shifting to be easy and somewhat mindless. But the only time I really enjoyed the button press shifting was in the drops at high speeds. In those moments, the ease of pressing a button paid off; but then again, how often do you need to shift in those moments?

Personally, I’ll stick to mechanical shifting for a few key reasons:

  1. Mechanical shifting keeps you connected to your ride and let’s you feel the bike. I really missed that when pressing a button.
  2. While I’m super geeky about computers, cameras and the like, when it comes to my drivetrain or other core components, I’m old school. I never want to be stuck on the road with an issue I can’t repair because it’s inside the closed system of an electronic black box.
  3. While the Di2 goes a really long time on a charge (like, months) there’s still that outside chance I’d forget to charge it, go on a long ride and, well, you get the idea.

Disc Brakes – a Brief First Impression

I’m guessing that the movement to disc brakes is somewhat inevitable where electronic shifters will likely remain a matter of personal preference for quite a while (just my opinion, of course.) My first impression riding on disc brakes, though, is to wonder why there’s such debate about these in the first place. Granted, on a high speed descent I felt a bit more deceleration and control, overall I didn’t see much notable difference. And they were occasionally quite loud; not that you’ll never hear a sound from caliper brakes, either. And never mind what the weight weenies will have to say about the “heft” of a disc brake system. Anyway, when they are forced upon me, I won’t resist, but I don’t otherwise see any reason to switch. Granted, I didn’t get to descend in the rain, and maybe that’s the clincher, but we’ll see.

Conquer the Cobbles in Richmond

At the UCI Road World Championship in Richmond, VA, there was an amateur event called Conquer the Cobbles. This event presented nearly anyone with the opportunity to ride the World Championship course for up to two hours on Friday night. Of course, I took advantage of this opportunity. Along with 1,300 of my closest friends.

The event was from 7:00 – 9:00 and both headlights and taillights were required. Not only was this for safety, but as I later came to understand, 1,300 riders with lights makes for a pretty cool show for the locals! In addition to riding this course and it’s tough cobbled sections at night, sure enough, it rained for the whole event. It was a steady but light rain, so not too bad, but those cobbles were like oil slicks from the rain!

I borrowed a friend’s GoPro so I could take video of the route and I ran my rear-view Fly6 as well. Along with a Strava flyover, I put it all into one (almost) synchronized video to memorialize the occasion. And for those of you that want to get an idea without watching for a half hour, I pointed out some of the best moments in the video. Trust me, if you’ve never raced on cobbles, you need to at least watch those sections. And, yes, it’s as bumpy as it looks! I also caught a few really well executed turns (if I do say so myself) so my non-riding friends can get an idea of how close we come to the barriers.

Below the video are a few photos as well…

Event Photos:

My friend John and one of his teammates at the start.

 

George Hincapie (who seems to be at every one of these events!)

George Hincapie (who seems to be at every one of these events!)

 

After the ride I found my friend Angelo - also visiting from New York.

After the ride I found my friend Angelo – also visiting from New York.

 

The first "Flemish Tan" that I feel like I truly earned on the cobbles.

The first “Flemish Tan” that I feel like I truly earned on the cobbles.

 

Review: 2016 GFNY Limar Ultralight+ Helmet

helmetgwb[1]The updated GFNY Limar Ultralight+ helmets have arrived, and they are awesome! Uli already did a write up here, but I wanted to say a little more about it after a few enjoyable rides.

First and foremost, as Uli already noted, this helmet is a “barely there” kind of feeling because it is so light and fits nicely on your head. And Uli also mentioned that the only notable change is to the strap system. Well, that deserves a further mention.

I personally struggle, with every helmet, to find a balance in straps that are comfortable and straps that are secure. Most often, when properly snug, they brush or tug at the bottom of my ears in a way that I can’t stop noticing. Even the previous Limar design, which was better than most, was a bit uncomfortable for me. But this new design somehow “spreads” the straps a little more so the “V” under my ear remains, well under my ear! The back knob adjustment seems to be part of this new placement – while it doesn’t feel like it’s lower on the back of my head (and shouldn’t) it somehow lowers the posterior strap just enough to make a huge difference in comfort.

I noticed the improved straps immediately upon wearing the helmet. But, honestly, I thought it was just the “newness effect” and after a few rides I’d be back where I started. Not so! After a few hundred miles including one very wet day, I can say that this is far and away the most comfortable helmet I’ve ever worn. It was already lightweight and nice on the noggin, but now the improved strap system is icing on the cake.

And the straps themselves have seen an upgrade, too. The lowly “chinstrap” which, in nearly every sport with a helmet is precisely the same – ugly and uncomfortable – is now a feature for discussion. First, this one is vented; which, OMG, why hasn’t someone does this before?!? Second, it’s black; because, duh, have you seen what a white strap looks like after just a few months of use?!? Thank you, Limar, for giving me a strap that is black on purpose!

Finally, let’s not forget the look of the helmet. The new coloring and decals are super slick and a perfect way to top off (pun intended) a slick GFNY green kit. I’ll bet you haven’t taken a long, hard look at your helmet lately, but you should. And if it doesn’t live up to the expectations I’ve set here, or it’s just old and needs replacing, order the GFNY Limar Ultralight+ today.

** Sorry, view of the NYC skyline is not included with purchase. Unless you register for the GFNY 2016 event and join our Gruppo Sportivo GFNY Sunday rides, of course!

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