Monday, April 14, 2014

A bike, a camera and plenty of time: Nick Hand's Conversations on the Hudson.

Every now and then, you meet someone who does something so perfect you wonder why you never thought of it. That's the way I felt when I first stumbled across the book Conversations on the Hudson a few weeks ago at a book store in Rhinebeck. This small, hardbound book is filled with gorgeous photographs that illustrate the stories and interviews author Nick Hand shares of the 20 artists and artisans he meets in his cycling journey from Brooklyn to Hudson Falls north of Albany. Nick's tale is a magical one in which he finds interesting creative people all throughout the Hudson Valley with wonderful stories to tell.

Conversations on the Hudson is not Nick's first project. He accomplished a similar (if more ambitious) journey several years ago in his native Britain. More information and photos from that project, known as Slowcoast, can be found on his website here. The book that grew from the Slowcoast project, entitled Conversations on the Coast, can be purchased through his publisher's website (and presumably in a few book shops in Britain). Another feature of Nick's brilliance is his creation of "soundslides," which are short films that include photos from each interview accompanied by the audio he captures during each interview in which his subjects describing their lives, work and passions. Think Studs Turkel for the 21st Century on a bike with a gorgeous visual sensibility.  Once you start watching these, I guarantee you will become hooked. Warning: they are quit addictive. You cannot watch just one.

British clothing designer Paul Smith discusses his life-long passion for cycling.

A tea taster explains the intricacies of his work.

A collector discusses the history of cycling in Britain from the earliest days.

A hat maker enjoys making people happy.

My lovely wife picked up a copy of this book for me several weeks ago at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck and when I noticed that Nick was coming to town to do a reading, I quickly added the event to my calendar. I knew the best way to attend a reading about cycling the length of the Hudson Valley was by bicycle and luckily the weather cooperated. With temperatures reaching the high 70s I was able to ride with a short sleeve jersey for the first time this season. After being held up by some computer troubles at home, I took advantage of some fabulous tailwinds as I rode north to the bridge making great time and turning what might have been a lazy saunter into a full-out sprint.

Miraculously, I made the 19 miles to Rhinebeck in about 1:04 and arrived in plenty of time to find a seat and settle in for a very enjoyable talk as Nick read from his book and showed several soundslides he created on his journey. Nick was joined by Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library who's featured in the book and who told us about his fascinating work preserving heirloom seed varieties in the region. After the talk, I introduced myself to Nick, had my book signed and took off to cycle to Vassar College 20 miles to the south where I met my wife and daughter for a performance by the amazing ZviDance Company.

Another great day in the Hudson Valley. Nick reads from his book at the Rapha Cycling Club in NYC on Wednesday evening. Check it out if you're in town.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spring is Finally Here! A Solo 200K Makes Up for a Washout Down South

While I had planned to ride in the MD 200K in Late March, a terrible forecast for a weekend of rain caused me to reassess my plans. Somehow driving ten hours round trip to ride for ten hours in the steady 45F rain did not seem like a terribly good idea. As a result, I took a DNS down south in favor of a slightly delayed inaugural 200K right out my back door.

There were quite a few "firsts" on this ride. It was the first time I've risen before the sunrise to prepare for a bike ride this season.  It was also the first time I've ridden a 200K in 2014, which says something about how terrible this winter has been in Upstate New York. It was also the first time this season that I've heard song birds and spring peepers as well as the first time I've ridden without gloves on for at least part of a ride since last fall. I could go on, but you get the picture. Winter is finally gone and spring is here to stay.

While I'm not in the kind of shape I would like to be in at the beginning of April, I am so overjoyed to be out on the road on one of my nice bikes without the fear of corrosive salt crystals eating away at a beautiful steel frame that I just don't really care. Fitness follows the joy of riding, as they say.

After a cold start at home, I zipped over to New Paltz to the beginning of the Flatlander's Delight 200K permanent adding a few extra miles to the day. The rolling hills served to warm me up and got me to the start eager for the day to unfold. I love the early spring in the Northeast as the colors are still so muted and subtle and this atmospheric serenity was matched along this route by the peaceful country roads generally devoid of traffic during this mid-week excursion. Against this muted landscape, even the most subtle colors stood out dramatically.

Another thing I love about this route in particular is a short section of hard pack dirt about halfway through the ride. It always feels so "isolated" in all the best ways and leaves me wanting more. Time to design a permanent or two with more substantial dirt riding deeper in the heart of the Catskills.

One of the things I truly love about long rides are the many surprises we find along the way. Even on familiar routes, it's possible to discover something new and unusual. In this way, randonneuring feeds my need for adventure in the most welcome ways.

Next up: the Saratoga 300K on April 27. In the meantime, there will be lots of riding to get this old body back into "rando shape."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe: Choosing an Early Spring Brevet

I did it. I just clicked the “pay now” button for my first brevet of the 2014 season and, boy, did it feel good. While I’ve not ridden nearly as much as I would have liked at this point in the year, I couldn’t be happier that the rubber will finally hit the road on March 29 when I clip in at the start of the MD 200K. I thought something special was in order this year to kick off the season and with the average temperature differential between New England and Maryland hovering around 10F, I’m wagering that it may just be a bit milder (and more pleasant) on this early season brevet if I drive five hours south.

I’ve sampled a range of brevet series over the years, but never I've never ridden in the MD/Capital Region. Beyond the potentially milder weather, I’m also excited to clip in with a different group of randos than I’m typically riding with. There are some familiar names on the roster and it will be exciting to put names to faces as I make the transition from social network acquaintance to real life riding companion.

This brevet also appeals to me because the start is just 15 minutes from my sister-in-law’s house and a nice visit with family before and after the ride should be a whole lot of fun. Who knows, I may even be able to convince my kids to come down with me. Hell, my daughter could even share the driving. Unfortunately, my wife needs to work on Saturday so she won’t be able to join in the excitement.

We had some lovely spring weather yesterday, but I was tied up with a family event all day and today the mercury plunged back down into the low 30s. So much for a full day of base miles! I got out for a nice hilly loop, though, which put some added spring into my legs.  I have a nice ride scheduled with a friend on Tuesday afternoon when temperatures climb back into the 40s. This winter just doesn’t want to let go, but I did pass a stand of maple trees tapped for syrup production. In fact, as I was taking the photo above, the farmer came up to say hi. When I mentioned how pleased I was to see tapped maple trees as they are a sure sign of spring, he immediately told me how glad he was to see me as he associates cyclists with the coming of spring. I guess it's all relative. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb (We Hope).

Whenever I think of the month of March, the phrase "in like a lion, out like a lamb" enters my mind, often accompanied by memories my mother's voice. Growing up in the Northeast, March has always been a dramatic transitional month between winter and spring. This year, though, the month has not only come in like a lion, it also challenges the imagination to think that anything lamb-like is remotely around the corner. Last week, temperatures hovered in the teens and low-20s after we awakened each day in the single digits. To be honest, with a solid covering of snow and ice in every direction, it feels a lot more like January or February in these parts.

That said, the calendar tells me that in just three weeks I'll be clipping in for my first brevet of the season and while my training is a bit off, I could not be more excited. There are several 200K options on the calendar for me in that last weekend of March and I certainly hope that something more lamb-like than the current weather is in store for all of us who chose to begin the 2014 brevet season this month.

Despite the arctic visuals, during today's morning ride, I enjoyed temperatures in the balmy low-40s and actually felt the warm air fill my lungs with the hope of spring. No longer was I forced to take shallow breaths to avoid the shock of frozen air, and this alone seemed to put a direct and dramatic spring into my legs.

What are your riding plans as winter finally recedes into memory?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Two Randonneurs Suffer in Hit and Run Accident on 200K Permanent - Please Share.

I write today with a a heavy heart about two fellow randonneurs who were tragically struck while riding a 200K permanent in Maryland last week. To makes matters worse, the assailant abandoned the riders to die on the side of the road at the site of the crash. Fortunately, emergency crews were notified and both riders were taken directly to hospitals for treatment, one by ambulance and the other by helicopter.

The investigating police department was quick to post the notice above on Facebook, which you should read and share if you have not done so already, especially if you live in the Washington DC area. While unlikely to bring the perpetrator to justice, there's always hope that someone out there may be able to connect the dots. Here is a link to a full article in The Washington Post with additional details.

Gauging from the story and from photographs posted online, the accident occurred at what appears to be a fairly common location, a bridge where the road narrows and the shoulder disappears. We've all been there before. There are steps to take, but no manner of reflective gear, lighting, hand signals and "taking the lane" will fully protect you from the negligence of a driver of a two-ton SUV.

This accident certainly stirs memories for me as I recall the long, painful road to recovery after my own particular run-in with a car. In my case, though, I was fortunate that the driver of the car that hit me did not leave the scene and took full responsibility for his actions. As a result, the medical team came to my aid quickly and his auto insurance company delivered on their commitments to my care.

Please join me in sharing the news of this terrible accident and in offering support to the victims and others who suffer from similar tragedies. I hope that our two sisters in randonnering will recover quickly and completely from this terrible crash and that they and their families get the support they need along the way.

Beyond this particular crisis, we all need to engage in whatever it takes to reduce the incidence of vehicular cycling accidents. Ride your bicycle often. Call your representative. Write a letter to your local paper. Riders of bicycles have just as much a right to use our nation's roads as do drivers of automobiles. We will not live in a civilized society until everyone acknowledges this simple fact.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Laying Down Some Base Miles (in my dining room).

It's hard to believe that it's been over three weeks since my last post. While I wish I could say that it's because I've been riding outdoors so much, that would just not be true.

The unseasonably mild weather during this year's Festive 500 gave me the illusion that accumulating base miles would be a piece of cake this year. Not so fast. Despite my interest in logging long, early-season rides, recent arctic temperatures have held the northeast hostage over the past several weeks and show no signs of abating. I know, I know, it's winter. There's really no surprise that it's cold and snowy in late January, but when the thermometer doesn't climb above 20F for several weeks in a row, it tends to take the wind out of your sails as far as early training goes.

In order to build a strong base, I'd like to log a minimum of 10 hours on the bike each week including at least one 50+-mile ride. In the context of limited sunlight, ice, snow and work, this is not as easy as it appears. So indoors we must go. This Saturday, I dragged my trainer, my laptop, my speakers and my bike into the dining room and rode with Coach Troy Jacobson through one lap of the Michigan Ironman bike course and, despite my whining, it was a pretty good workout.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Festive 500: There's No Place Like Home

The Festive 500, like all good long rides, was a bit like life in microcosm. There was joy, there was disappointment. There was anger, there was humor. There were parts that exceeded my expectations and parts that fell short. There were the plans and there were the modifications to the plans.

All in all, this challenge provided me with just the kick in the pants I needed to jumpstart the new season. It felt great to ride longer, harder and farther than I would have without the peer pressure involved with 30,000 other nuts trying to ride at least 500 kilometers over the course of eight winter days. It does a body good to go a bit too far, especially where training is concerned. I'm proud to have completed this challenge for a third year in a row. Would I have liked to have ridden 1500 kilometers like some other lunies? Sure, but I'm glad I have a family that needs and wants me around.

Over the course of eight days, I saw some beautiful houses, but my favorite by far is the one I live in myself. There's no greater feeling, after a long, cold ride, than returning to your own warm, cozy home.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Festive 500: Recovery Ride to Slabsides

While Gilded Age robber barons were erecting massive estates along the Hudson River and throwing parties that cost more than most people earned in a year, a quiet man named John Burroughs (who also built a lovely home on the west side of the Hudson) snuck up to this rustic cabin and wrote some of the most influential works on environmentalism to date. I could not think of a better site to visit on my recovery day than Slabsides, which sits high on a rocky outcrop about a mile from my own house. Burroughs is not very well known these days, but he was one of the most highly regarded writers of his generation. His influence on others such as John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt was significant. Legend has it that TR sailed the official presidential yacht up the Hudson and walked up the hill to meet Burroughs at this cabin, irritating Frederick Vanderbilt right across the river to no end.

Today's recovery ride reminded me of that wonderful feeling that comes from riding too far. After several months in which I rode about 100 miles per week, five days filled with 270 miles creates a feeling that is both pleasing and hard to describe. Onward ho!