Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Catskill Climbfest: Festive 500 Edition

The Catskills Climbfest is one of my all-time favorite 200K routes. The roads are remarkably quiet, the views spectacular and the terrain quite varied with plenty of climbing (about 9,000 ft) accompanied by well-placed valleys and control points. As a result, the route provides a super workout without feeling like the Bataan Death March. A drawback is the unpredictable mountain weather in winter, so I typically consider this a three-season route. The weather has been so mild this week, though, that yesterday's ride made a perfect addition to my Festive 500 plans.

My friend Robin and I clipped in at dawn and began the climb from Rosendale to the Ashokan Reservoir with temperatures already in the upper-30s. The route either crosses or skirts preserve lands throughout the day so the scenery is generally pleasing no matter where you look. The first major climb is found on 23A between Palenville and Haines Falls and takes riders right into Catskill Park and passes the historic Katterskill Falls and the Hunter Mountain ski resort before hitting a magnificent decent into Phoenicia where hot baked goods and strong coffee await.

After refueling at Mama's Boy, we hit the trail again and climb slowly along Route 28 to the town of Big Indian where the second big climb of the day awaits. Robin and I have ridden this route enough to know the importance of removing layers before climbing Slide Mountain-Oliveria Road to Frost Valley. I nearly run out of pockets as I strip off my merino arm warmers, glove liners, and neck gaiter, but I will not be sorry as my engine switches into climbing mode.

Upon reaching the top, we enter a glorious valley filled with alpine fields, farmhouses, stands of pines and fast moving rivers. It seems like another world in the Catskills High Peaks and the slight descent through Frost Valley to Grahamsville makes us feel like super heroes after a climb that sapped so much of our reserves. Luckily, the next control is not far off and we both hear chicken salad sandwiches beckoning.

After a late lunch at the Grahamsville Deli, we clip in again and ride through the magical dense forest lands along Peekamoose Mountain Road. We reach the top of the long descent back into civilization just as the sun is setting and so turn on our lights and enjoy the smooth ride down to see the Ashokan Reservoir one last time before making the final approach into Rosendale. Luckily, the temperatures stay moderate since the loss of elevation returns warmth that the setting sun removed at the higher altitudes. Our last treat of the day is riding along a very quiet Route 213 with stars and the moon prominent in the sky. The warm evening air reminds us of what spring holds in store.

Next up: still a few more Ks to go in the Festive 500!

Monday, December 15, 2014

2015 Begins! The Festive 500 Season Opener

While I still need to sit down to design a detailed training plan for 2015, I do know that it will begin with volume. I also know that 2015 starts for me on December 24 with Rapha's annual Festive 500 Challenge. This will be my fourth time completing the challenge and each year I've found it to be a remarkably exciting way to kickstart the season ahead. In 2011, I was even a finalist in the competition for the Trek Madone 6.9. I completed the challenge in 2012 and 2013 as well, but my wrap-up posts were apparently a bit less comprehensive. You can see my individual Festive 500 posts by searching with the keyword Festive 500 in the search bar to the right.

Admittedly, riding 500 kilometers in one week is not a huge deal for the experienced randonneur. What makes this challenge so special, though, are two things. First, it comes at a particularly dark and cold time of the year. The weather around the winter solstice in the Northeast can be pretty grim, yet marshaling the discipline to complete this challenge despite the elements (while thinking of the warmer and brighter times ahead) is downright uplifting. 

The second reason the Festive 500 is so amazing is because of just how, well, festive it is. Over the past several years there have been tens of thousands of participants from around the globe joined together with a single purpose: to ride at least 500K in nine days. Sure there are the young guns in the southern hemisphere whose goal is to climb the leaderboard with thousands of kilometers, but most folks seem to be just scraping by in hopes of finishing. I've made friends I keep to this day through the Festive 500. How cool is that?

The Festive 500 rules really encourage community as all participants must upload their GPS tracks to Strava in order for them to be applied to their challenge total. While on Strava, it's easy to follow other riders and read posts about their accomplishments and setbacks along the way. Lots of folks also post updates to Twitter and Facebook so it really feels like a global event unfolding in real time across thousands upon thousands of miles. While I may look down my nose at participants in the southern hemisphere, it's nice to read about what they're up to if only as a foil to my own suffering.

So join me, whatever 2015 holds in store for you. Log onto Strava today to register. It's free. With 9 days until the start, there are already 34,012 other riders in the mix. All mileage logged between December 24 and 31 counts. And, if you finish, you earn a patch. Sounds almost like randonneuring, right?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

PBP: The Film

In this early planning stage, I've spent a some time watching assorted video clips and documentaries of past events to build enthusiasm (as if I need more enthusiasm), learn a bit more about how to prepare and soak in the ambiance. It was in this frame of mind that I found myself sitting by a warm fire on a cold December night watching the official PBP 2011 video below.

If you've not yet watched this short film, it is well worth your time. The countryside looks even more luscious and the villages more beautiful than I imagined and the enthusiasm of the French people and the hearty spirit of the participating riders just leaps off the screen. I know that somewhere deep into a cold, wet night of riding in late August, I'll wonder why I let myself be duped by such pleasant fiction and curse the day I set off on this adventure. In the meantime, though, in the comfort of my warm living room, PBP looks like just about the best possible goal a person could set for him or herself.

Up next: I clip in tomorrow morning to ride the Walkway Over the Hudson 100K permanent populaire.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

PBP 2015: The Planning Begins

Planning to train for and participate in something as physically ambitious and logistically complex as Paris-Brest-Paris is not done overnight. I am pleased to announce, however, that with fewer than 260 days until the start, I have begun the process to turn this dream of mine into a reality. Here are the first three steps I have taken on this journey.

  1. Building Enthusiasm / Learning from Past Experiences
  2. Blocking out the Time / Building a Plan for 2015
  3. Researching Travel Arrangements / Making Reservations

Building Enthusiasm / Learning from Experience

PBP has seemed pretty remote for quite some time. A few weeks ago, as I settled comfortably into the "off season" pace of recovery rides and coffeeneuring, I grabbed the RUSA 2011 PBP Yearbook from my shelf and began to work my way through the articles written by past participants.  To be honest, as a result of my deep disappointment for missing out on PBP 2011 following my 2010 accident, this is the first time I have been able to bring myself to read this outstanding publication. My first impression, leafing through the essays and photographs, is what a fantastic job Janice C. did collecting and organizing reflections from a wide range of randonneurs from the seasoned ancien to the eager first timer. Both fast and slow riders are well represented and my enthusiasm for the event grows with each page I read.

I've also begun the process of seeding most conversations I have with PBP anciens, either on- or off-bike, with questions about what they've found to be the best way to approach to the event. Questions such as: How crowded are those controls, really? Where did you sleep? Did you arrange transportation yourself or use a travel agent? pepper my conversations. I've also been pleased to see PBP pop up more frequently on the Randon listserv, which has prompted me also to search the archive for past discussions related to PBP planning.

Blocking out the Time / Building a Plan for 2015

Reserving the time to train and travel to the event is no small matter for a busy professional and parent, so I made sure to lay the groundwork early. Last summer at a staff retreat, I made sure to put in a vote for calendaring 2015 work events so as not to collide with my plans to be cycling through northern France in late August. I also added primary and back-up brevet dates to my calendar after the 2015 ride schedule was published on the RUSA site in early October. As you probably know, RUSA maintains a robust database of past and future events as well as member results to help all of us keep track of our riding and plan for the future. The more I use these tools, the more I am impressed. Just this fall, I realized that it is possible to search for events in multiple regions simultaneously, which is a great service for randonneurs like me who live within a reasonable driving distance from several regional series. Once I identify possible events, I transfer them to a color-coded Google calendar I maintain titled simply "events." Once I see a pattern that looks optimal, I transfer selected events to my "events plan" calendar and hope for the best. While my wife can become a bit irritated by my penchant for "claiming" dates so far in advance, in the final analysis, having complete knowledge of the possibilities really helps with the necessary juggling. This is especially true this year since completing an SR series before the end of June is a requirement for the big show in August.

Researching Travel Arrangements / Making Reservations
Once the basic dates leading up to the big event are carved out, it's time to develop a travel plan. Having successfully completed LEL in 2009, I am confident that international rando tourism fits comfortably in my wheelhouse, but planning any trip involves considerable research into both the past experiences of others and the currently available options. Knowing that Des Peres Travel is available to arrange the full compliment of services is comforting, but I am much more likely to save a few bucks and arrange my travel a la carte, which fits more within my general trip design strategy. It looks like I will be traveling to Paris without my family this time around, so it is likely that I will plan to simply arrive a few days early to settle in, adjust to the time change and see a bit of Paris before the ride.

Just a few days ago, there was a post on the Randon listserv announcing that the ACP was exploring the need to modify the event's start date so I will wait just a bit longer to secure non-refundable airline tickets and hotel accommodations before and after the event. This will give me a bit more time to conduct research into the Byzantine world of airline baggage policies and Trip Advisor hotel reviews. Having stayed in Versailles in 2010 with my family, I am familiar with the area and will likely opt to sleep fairly close to the start of the event rather than right in Paris proper. I would rather take a thirty-minute train ride to the center of Paris for excursions than rush to the 5:00 AM 84-hour start on Monday morning or limp home after the event itself. I stayed at a friend's apartment in London before and after LEL and was stuck taking a cab all the way home from the finish due to a labor dispute on the suburban train line. Stumbling into a warm bed a few miles from the finish is much more my style.

Up next: The Journey Continues . . .

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lanterne Rouge: My Coffeeneuring Wrap-up

To say that the Coffeeneuring Challenge was not my highest priority this fall does not convey my fondness for this unique and growing phenomenon. I feel honored to be one of the original coffeeneurs and set out this fall with plans to build upon my past accomplishments to take this challenge to a new level. The trouble is that life simply got in the way. To begin with, October has become a harried month in my calendar with school accreditation visits to supervise as well family demands that have grown rather than lessened now that my daughter has begun her first year of college. With a few six-day work weeks and a trip to Ohio, it's been nearly impossible to squeeze in even the most rudimentary coffeeneuring excursions.

Yesterday, for instance, I was committed to riding a 100K permanent populaire to keep my monthly streak going after dropping off my wife to teach a workshop for childbirth educators in New York City. I selected JB's Yorktown Heights 100K, which begins and ends in Yonkers. The route itself is both pleasant and challenging with over 20 miles of rail trail and additional miles along sleepy (hollow) backroads throughout Westchester County. The only way I could fit in a coffeeneuring ride while staying true to the challenge rules, however, was to add on a two-mile loop after completing the permanent ride. 

Today, with the curtain closing on the 2014 Challenge, I managed to fit in a five-mile loop beginning and ending at the state park where my son was playing in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. While I was able to succeed, I did not excel -- and this, sometimes, has to be good enough. Out with a whimper rather than a bang. Lanterne rouge it would be.

I can tolerate a Dunkin' Donuts coffee, but I typically don't enjoy it unless I've ridden several hundred miles before drinking one. This was not the case here, it was simply the best I could do under the circumstances. As with randonneuring, not all rides are inspired, but the satisfaction of completing a series is very sweet indeed. So with gratitude and humility, I thank MG for her fine organization and inspiration and promise that I will put in a superior effort in 2015. 

November 15
Dunkin' Donuts, Yonkers, NY
Dark roast coffee and a Pumpkin Pie donut
2 miles

November 16
Dunkin' Donuts, Arlington, NY
Regular coffee
5 miles

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Coffeeneuring Round-up: Chasing the Dream

It's Veterans Day here in the Hudson Valley and I seized the opportunity to enjoy the mild temperatures to ride around the Shawangunk Ridge imagining a hot cappuccino at the end to complete my fifth ride in the Coffeeneuring Challenge. Unfortunately, the "barista" at my chosen cafe decided not only to neglect to create a fancy cream design on top, but also served me the drink in a Styrofoam cup. It was as if I passed through the Looking Glass and into the 1980s. It was a lovely ride, but the drink left a lot to be desired.

I had the inverse experience last Saturday with a short and barely legitimate coffeeneuring ride that ended in an absolutely fabulous brunch with my daughter and several of her friends. It was parents weekend at her college, so as loving parents, we packed the car and headed west for a chance to see our first born in her new natural habitat. Since this is her first term away, there was a little delay with the acquisition of a bicycle, but we were sure to throw mom's old beater onto the roof to deliver it in person. 

The brunch was a highlight of the weekend as it provided us the chance to meet our daughter's delightful new friends, which went a long way to helping us imagine her in her new surroundings. We also had the chance to see her perform in a dance concert, which further warmed our hearts.

Post Script - a week earlier, I discovered a new breakfast spot in Kingston when the cafe I planned to visit was not open when I arrived.

Coffeeneur Ride Details:

November 12
The Mud Puddle, New Paltz, NY
32 miles

November 8
The Feve, Oberlin, OH
Black Coffee
One pancake, two eggs and three slices of bacon
2 miles

November 2
The Frozen Rainbow, Kingston, NY
Hot Cider
Toasted Corn Muffin
23 miles

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Walkway Over the Hudson 108K Permanent Populaire is Open!

All of my permanent riding has been on 200K routes until this past August when it occurred to me that adding regular and routine 100K training rides to my monthly calendar would help to maintain my general fitness and aid in my training for PBP 2015 over the "off season," whatever that is. So now I'm in search of the RUSA P-12 award to keep that goal in focus. Until this month, my permanent popluaire riding has been done on the routes of others. With the grand opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson 108K permanent populaire route, though, this is no longer the case.

For those of you unfamiliar with the amazing Walkway Over the Hudson, you are in for a real treat. Opened in 2009, this repurposed rail line 212 feet over the Hudson River is one of the most exciting and dynamic pedestrian parks around. The Walkway itself is the longest pedestrian bridge in the world at 1.28 miles long and connects with two rail trails on either side of the river. A great recent development is the installation of a glass elevator that connects the Walkway with the Poughkeepsie Metro North railroad station making the route highly accessible to those arriving from New York City by public transportation.

The route is almost entirely comprised of quiet back roads that meander through Ulster and Dutchess Counties, cross the Hudson River twice and pass by the lovely Bard College campus and four historic Hudson Valley estates including the Vanderbilt mansion, the Mills mansion, Wilderstein and the FDR Presidential home and library. All this in 108 kilometers!

My first go-round on the Walkway loop took place on Halloween so there were signs of festive merriment in every direction I turned. This ghoulish server brought me a delicious egg and cheese sandwich and a piping hot cup of coffee at the fantastic Historic Village Diner in Red Hook.

So shoot me an email if you'd like to give this permanent populaire a try. Here's a link to the map. Additional information is available on the RUSA site.

Up next: keeping the coffeeneuring spirit alive.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

'Tis Time for a Little Coffeeneuring

I have been SUPER busy this month. So busy, in fact, that today marks only my second ride in the 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge. If you're not familiar with coffeeneuring, a) what?, b) where have you been?, and c) check out MG's great Chasing Mailboxes blog on the subject or take a look at the posts in the active Facebook group. I'm proud to be one of the original coffeeneurs and while several weeks have passed without my participation, I'm now eager to join the party.

Today I decided to keep it local and sample the wonderful fall fare at the bountiful Apple Bin Market where I was surprised to find not only fresh apple cider donuts, but also a new pumpkin-apple cider donut variety. Needless to say, I had to stage a taste test. Results: pumpkin wins by a neck.

Coffeeneur Ride Details:
October 25
Apple Bin Market, Ulster Park, NY
Costa Rican Coffee w/ sugar and half & half
Apple Cider Donuts
17 miles

My first coffeeneuring adventure this fall was on October 12 when I went for a quick ride to check out a new combination art shop/cafe in Kingston's famed Rondout district. The coffee was tasty and the location quite lovely.

On my way home from Kingston, I spotted a new historical plaque on a familiar street corner. I've known that abolitionist and women's rights activist Sojourner Truth had ties to this area, but I did not realize the complex depth of the connection. After seeing the plaque below, I decided to do a little research. It turns out that Truth was born into slavery in 1789 on a farm within 10 miles of my home, sold at the age of 9 with a flock of sheep for $100 to a man in Kingston, sold at the age of 11 to a tavern owner in Port Ewen with whom she lived for the next 18 months until she was sold to yet another slave owner two doors down from my house in West Park. At the age of 29, Truth finally escaped from slavery by walking over ten miles one night over the road I now use as a major training route directly across 9W from my house. Since the farm house I live in was built in the 1770s, it's likely that Truth knew or visited it during her time in this town. While I've known that slavery was present in all of the northern states in the 18th and 19th centuries, it is still a shock to learn how embedded in New York society it once was.  I don't think I'll look at this training route in quite the same way again.

Coffeeneur Ride Details:
October 12
Olivieri's, Kingston, NY
Fig Newton
22 miles