Saturday, October 11, 2014

How I Got a New Bicycle for the Price of a Pair of Tires.

I remember feeling the transformative power of a new set of high quality tires when I first upgraded to a set of Conti GP 4000s. My current upgrade to a set of Clement X'Plor USH tires is a bit different, though, as these not only enhance my ride, they also bring me places I was not able to travel on my road bike until this week. Riding through the Shawangunk Ridge has long been an interest of mine, but until I converted my Indy Fab Club Racer to a bike capable of riding on the trails and carriage routes, my exploration was limited. Each of these photos was taken either from the seat of my bike or while standing on the trail itself. No hiking required.

One of the great joys of working from home is that some days I can arrange my work schedule to allow me some flexibility on the bike. So today, while thousands of New Yorkers were fighting traffic in their cars heading out of town for the three-day weekend, I was exploring the trails along the ridge more fully. Parking again at the West Trapps parking area, I picked up the Trapps Road trail and headed west toward Minnewaska State Park. After arriving at the park entrance and confirming that an entrance fee is assessed only on those who arrive by car, I chose the Lower Awosting trail and proceeded to climb, climb, climb up to Lake Awosting deep in the state park preserve. The road itself at this point is crushed stone and the only challenge was to maintain a grip on the road surface with my rear tire on a few the very steep sections as I had to climb out of the saddle to create enough momentum to push me up the hill.

Once I arrived at Lake Awosting, I took a right turn to enter the Awosting Lake Carriageway to circle the lake counterclockwise. Here the trail became quite "technical" in places as large and sometimes loose rocks took the place of crushed stone. While there were a few moments I wished I was not using clipless pedals, my new tires enhanced my confidence. After circling the beautiful alpine lake, I took another right to enter the newly restored Hamilton Point Carriageway. This route is absolutely spectacular. These photos don't fully give justice to the expansive views from the trail literally cut into the edge of the 1000-foot cliffs. The smells and sounds of fall, circling hawks and overall isolation gave the ride an otherworldly quality that made it seem as though I was far more than 15 miles from my home. This trail climbs to over 2200 feet and then drops back down to 1200 at the park's entrance where I rejoined the Trapps Road trail to return to my car.

Now that my second bike is equipped with this new set of spectacular tires, I see no need to remove them any time soon. Until the snows arrive, I'll be including a few days of off-road riding each week in my routine to keep my spirits and fitness up.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Riding Along the Shawangunk Carriage Trails (with my new Clement X'Plor USH Tires).

For years, I've been thinking about swapping out my road tires for something better suited to riding on the local carriage roads and today it finally happened. These carriage roads, that weave through both the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park along the Shawangunk Ridge, are stunning artifacts of an earlier time. Built in the 19th century to accommodate the carriage traffic from New York City and elsewhere to this spectacular mountain destination, these roads are carefully maintained today for use by hikers, cyclists, rock climbers and cross-country skiers. While I spend a lot of time riding on the roads over and along the ridge, I've spent precious little time riding on the carriage roads themselves and never with my preferred road bike.

Last year I bought a pair of 35 x 700 Clement X'Plor USH tires to expand the range of surfaces on which I can comfortably ride with my road bike. These Clements are rated highly for gravel grinding and other off-road pursuits so I knew they would be a wise choice for the local carriage roads. It turns out that you need to do more than just buy the tires, though; you actually need to install them to reap the full benefit. Happily, the tires fit perfectly on my white Indy Fab and afford just the right amount of plush traction to instill confidence in a road rider like myself out on the trails.

Now admittedly, these roads are covered with fairly smooth crushed stone, so the riding is not what I'd call technical. Still, with a bright covering of fall leaves, one needs to use some caution so as not to hit a stray rock, stick, root or hole. This afternoon, I pulled out my trusty Shawangunk Trail Companion to map out a route with easy access to my car that would give me a nice introduction to the terrain. I entered at the West Trapps trailhead, a favorite of climbers throughout the Northeast who come to enjoy the dramatic rock climbing along the ridge-line. This afternoon, I began by riding down the Undercliff Trail passing five or six groups of climbers on belay enjoying the cool afternoon.

Upon reaching the end of the Undercliff Trail, I took a left to connect with the Overcliff Trail that climbs gradually and runs parallel to the trail I had just ridden to return to the West Trapps trailhead, but affords a view to the northwest of the full Catskill range in the distance. Once back where I began, I shot out towards neighboring Minnewaska State Park along the trail known as Trapps Road that brought me deeper into the peaceful afternoon forest. I wish there had been enough time to take in the loop out to Lake Awosting, but that will have to wait until another day.

In all, my afternoon was quite enjoyable, filled with peaceful, solitary riding without any cares or cars to consider. While I did not find the gradual slope of the carriage trails terribly challenging (it was hard to raise my heartbeat, in fact), the views and serenity more than made up for the loss. This will surely become a feature of my off-season and recovery riding in the future.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Princeton 200K: A Tale of Rainy Mechanicals

Once on a fleche, after riding 240 miles through hours and hours of rain in the chilly northeast, my rear tire developed a flat. Luckily, I was less than a mile from the finish and managed to hobble in without busting the final time barrier for the team. My flats yesterday on the Princeton 200K were not quite so dramatic, but the timing was almost as bizarre. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Princeton 200K is a great route and this year the event was well-timed to coincide with the beginning of fall as the NJ weather becomes far less humid and (on most days) one can expect crisp blue skies. The forecast for this running of the Princeton 200K was not quite so ideal, however, and as the day arrived it was clear that riders would be well-advised to pack rain gear and slap on some fenders. After a string of glorious weather, this news was a bit disappointing, but this is why we spend so much time fussing with rain gear and fenders, right?

Several weeks ago, I made plans to ride with Jon L. and Robin L. as we thought our paces on this day would align and provide us with the opportunity to catch up and enjoy a nice day of fall riding. Sadly Robin was unable to join us, but Jon and I clipped in as planned and set off to enjoy the day. Soon after the start, we were joined by Paul G. who was riding his first brevet ever (leaving us only one Ringo shy of the Fab Four). For most of the day, we were part of the lead group that included Chris S. and then Dougin W. who each had some fire in their legs for sure.

We were welcomed at the first control by volunteers Steve H. and the venerable Leroy V. It was great to catch up with these NJ Rando stalwarts and top off our water bottles, but it was after Janice C. arrived with two containers of homemade brownies that the fun really started! After each of us inhaled a brownie, we knew we were ready for the looming Adamic Hill climb ten miles down the road. So we clipped in and formed a pace line of sorts to build some confidence for the suffering ahead. The thing about Adamic Hill is that it's both not as terrible as people make it out to be and worse than you remember at the same time. Watching that windmill appear as we neared the top, we were grateful that the worst of the day's climbing was now in our rearview mirrors.

The next 22 miles of the route involved some glorious descents and a few choppers along the way to keep everyone's legs awake.  This section was generally enjoyable and we stayed relatively dry with only a few light passing showers to annoy us. The turnaround control at mile 70 was a welcome opportunity to enjoy a slice of pizza and a chocolate milk and we were soon on our bikes again heading home. Our one missed cue came as we exited the parking lot by turning left instead of right. While we quickly identified the error of our ways, I now see this as as omen for the events just a bit further down the road.

After adding some gas to our tanks, we settled into a nice pace that included some pace line riding along some fairly flat sections of road. It was in this section that the skies opened up a bit more so we stopped to put on rain gear and it was not too much further down the road that I felt that telltale softness in my rear tire that can only mean one thing. I had apparently picked up something sharp along the side of the road and luckily this happened as an ice cream shop, complete with protective overhangs, appeared where I could change the tire and sort things out.

Jon and Paul were a couple of mensches and held my frame as I did my best to manipulate the wet and messy rear wheel. Why is it always the rear wheel that needs to be changed when it's raining? Thankfully, my Gran Bois tires are pretty easy to remove from the rims so the whole job did not take very long, but since I was unable to locate the sharp cause of my misfortune, I was not convinced that this was going to be the last of my mechanical mishaps for the day. . .

One of the pleasant byproducts of the time we lost changing the tire was the arrival of three riders we had last seen arriving as we pulled out of the turnaround control. The infusion of some good additional rando energy was just what we needed to ward off the disappointment of messing with mechanicals in the rain and so the miles passed quickly as we chatted with our new companions Avri S., Chris K. and Mike S. It was not too long before we were smelling the barn and realized that dry clothes were getting closer and closer with each turn of the cranks.

As we turned the corner at mile 124.3, I felt a strange lopsided feeling in my rear tire and moments later heard a loud BANG. While I'm not sure how the second flat was related to the first, it was clear once I pulled over to the side of the road that I was going to need to do something quickly to fix the problem in order to finish the ride. Close examination confirmed a sidewall blowout rather than a puncture. Since I threw out my last flatted tube and this one had an inch-long rip in it, Jon was kind enough to share one of his spares with me. Does RUSA award a medal for riders who experience mechanicals within the last 1% of the ride? if so, I want one for my collection.

So after putting the wheel back on, I inflated the tire to what seemed like the minimum pressure to ride the final 1.5 miles to the finish. While the end of the ride was not quite as triumphant as I had imagined with the six of us riding in together arms raised, it sure was nice to make it in without further trouble after my makeshift repair. Jon and I even arrived within the 10 hour goal we set for ourselves at the start. Go figure.

Luckily I have a spare Gran Bois tire in the basement, so I'll be back on the road with mechanical confidence in no time. Thanks to ride organizer, Jud H. and all of the wonderful volunteers who made the Princeton 200K such an enjoyable event, despite the nasty weather.

Up next: a local 100K permanent populaire to complete my September P-12 quest.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When in doubt, #alwaysbringthebike.

I was reminded this afternoon that it's always a good idea to have the bike close by in case an opportunity opens up for a serendipitous ride. Today I made the trip to Cooperstown to visit a school and found myself with a little extra time on my hands in the early afternoon.

Since I am not a baseball fan and the thought of walking through the Fenimore Art Museum on a lovely September afternoon did not really appeal to me, I was grateful to have had the foresight to throw my bike into the back of the car along with a bag of my gear before heading out the door this morning. After my meeting, I simply popped into a local supermarket bathroom to change my clothes and fill my water bottles and I was off.

Cooperstown is an amazing little town on the banks of Otsego Lake in upstate New York pretty far from just about everything. The architecture is simply stunning and the 20 mile loop around Otsego Lake was both beautiful and exhilarating. I really must read Alan Tayor's book William Cooper's Town to figure out how this frontier outpost from the early national period came to be. 

The Federalist homes that line the lake and fill the town are simply breathtaking. In fact, since so many of the houses are in such fine shape, it feels a bit like stepping back in time. The photo above was taken of a home built in 1803. 

Up next: the Princeton 200K on Saturday.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Otisville 108K: My Quest for the P-12 Begins

Several years ago, RUSA added the P-12 Award to celebrate the accomplishments of those who ride at least one event or permanent route in the 100K - 199K range (also known as a "populaires") in each of twelve consecutive months. It occurred to me recently that one way to keep my mileage up as I build a strong foundation for PBP 2015 will be to add the P-12 to my list of goals for the coming year. I am already working on another R-12 this year, so this additional challenge will require that I ride at least one 200K and one 100K each month between now and July 2014.

To get started, I reached out to my pal Doug H. who manages the Otisville 108K, which begins and ends in New Paltz right next door. Luckily, Doug was happy to oblige me at the last minute and I was able to squeeze this ride into the last day of August. The Otisville 108K is a pleasant out-and-back route along the Shawangunk Ridge that also comprises the first and last 33 miles of the Dingman's Ferry 209K that I've ridden and enjoyed in the past. On Sunday, the skies were heavy and grey and not particularly photogenic, but trust me, it's a pretty lovely ride.

One of the nice things about a 100K is that it's basically just a nice long training ride and takes less than half a day to complete, which leaves plenty of time in the day for other activities. This should make the P-12 a whole lot easier to attain than the R-12, but it will also keep me motivated to get out and ride in the bitter cold months ahead. Completing both the R-12 and the P-12 at the same time will give me just the boost I need to build a strong base. To make this challenge even more manageable and to increase the frequency with which I ride, I plan to submit several of my favorite training routes to RUSA as permanent populaires in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more details.

Up next: The Princeton 200K on September 13.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Paris-Brest-Paris: T Minus 364 Days . . . and Counting!

I first caught the PBP bug in 2007 during my introductory year of randonneuring. I was swept up in the PBP frenzy, but knew better than to attempt to squirrel away several thousand dollars to make my way to the start in Paris that summer. The next time around, I was sidelined by my 2010 crash on the Endless Mountains 1000K and I have spent the past four years slowly rebuilding my fitness and confidence on the bike to undertake a similar long brevet.

Needless to say, PBP has been on my mind quite a bit on and off over the past seven years. I even went so far as to secure a “PBP 2015” license plate to help me to keep my eye on the prize during my long recovery. While I never imagined hosting a vanity plate, the coincidence of a three-letter-followed-by-four-number license plate pattern in New York State was too much to pass up. This way I can have a vanity plate that only the initiated can interpret. Clever, right? No, my family didn’t think so either. Oh well.

Now that we have rounded the corner and entered the final stretch, I could not be more excited. With less than a year to go, it’s time to plan out how to prepare to not only successfully complete the event, but to do so with a strong foundation so that I can enjoy every minute of it.

Why am I so excited? 1) I love France, 2) I love traveling, 3) I love good coffee, 4) I will have attained a goal I set many years ago and which has seemingly receded into the distance the closer I have gotten, and 5) All that I’ve heard and read about PBP suggests that the event will be as exciting as I found London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) and then some.

When I rode LEL in 2009, I was swept up in the collective enthusiasm of participating in a long, long, long ride with hundreds of other riders from all over the world. Riding in a 1200K brevet with over 5000 other riders from around the globe in the country that invented randonneuring and where citizens have not only an actual familiarity with the event but a reverence for those who ride in it sounds positively supernatural.

As with most large-scale, expensive goals, the planning and preparations will be half the fun. Here are just a few of the steps I anticipate along the way:
  • Rekindle my R-12. Riding at least one 200K each month between now and August will help me build a strong base.
  • Ride a full SR series. While this is a requirement for entry, I am eager to see the 2015 calendar that will be published in early October to find some outstanding and challenging brevets to help me develop optimal fitness while at the same time connecting me with friends and acquaintances also preparing for the big event. 
  • Complete at least two challenging 600Ks in 2015. I would love to ride the Westfield 600K again next year and NJ Rando may well run the Catskill 600K again next year. 
  • Spend a lot of time refining my equipment. I plan to ride all 2015 events (except for the salty winter rides) with my brevet bike set up for PBP to fine-tune my set-up and work out any kinks in my planning.
  • Have fun!
Up next: the Princeton 200K on September 13.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

At Long Last, a 1000K Medal for the Collection.

When I first began participating in brevets in 2007, I was struck by the heft of the well-designed ACP finisher's medals. Since brevets are not races, all who finish events within the prescribed time limits are entitled to a medal to commemorate the achievement. Not only that, to keep event costs down, medals are optional and must be purchased (for a nominal fee) by official finishers after the event results have been certified. This last fact brings endless mirth to my children who routinely ask me whether I've "bought any new medals" after finishing a brevet. The fact that not everyone is entitled to such a medal is lost on them. Oh well.

Medals are generic and available to finishers of brevets of all of the established distances (200K, 300K, 400K, 600K and 1000K) certified by Audax Club Parisien (ACP), the French organization that certifies and regulates randonneuring events around the world. ACP issues a new design series every four years to coincide with the running of Paris-Brest-Paris. As such, since 2007, I have collected awards in three designs. There is also an award that matches each design series, known as the "Super Randonneur," which is available to those who complete a full series of events (200K, 300K, 400K and 600K) within a given season.

The 1000K award is a bit of an outlier. Not formally considered part of a Super Randonnuer series, 1000K events are not even held in all regions that host randonneuring events. I first planned to complete a 1000K brevet in 2010 to prepare for and to receive an early registration slot for PBP 2011. Due to an accident on the NJ 600K, however, I was unable to clip in for the Lap of the Lake (LOL) 1000K in July 2010. Just six weeks later, when I was about two hours into the PA Endless Mountains 1000K, I was hit from behind by a distracted driver. As a result, the 1000K distance has grown to near mythic stature in my recovery plan. It was with great satisfaction, therefore, that I opened the envelope yesterday containing my first 1000K brevet medal. The only visual difference from the medals in this series currently in my collection is the silver color and embossed "1000km" lettering.

The completion of this 1000K in 2014 has provided me with a preregistration slot for Paris-Brest-Paris on April 26, 2015, which is a few days shy of my 50th birthday and one week before those who completed a 600K as their greatest distance in 2014 are able to register. While I'm not concerned about PBP selling out early, it is nice to be at the front of the line. Registration for PBP will also be a wonderful birthday gift to commemorate my first half century. The 1000K medal represents more than just an early preregistration slot to me, though. It is symbolic of my return to long distance brevets after a debilitating accident. I can assure you that it will not be the last 1000K medal in my collection, but it may be the most cherished.

Up next: the Princeton 200K in early September.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The R-12 Reloaded: JB and George Enjoy a Day Along the Hudson

After letting my goal to complete at least one event of 200K or longer each month lapse after achieving my first R-12 Award, I've decided to reinstitute the practice to help me lay down a strong base for next year's edition of PBP. RUSA's R-12 Award provides both a great structure and challenge, especially for time-pressed randonneurs who live in the northern reaches of the US where frigid weather is a fact of life for at least three months of the year. When I first set out to tackle this feat, I established several local "permanent" routes close to home that I could ride on a whim without the hassles involved with traveling to events far afield.

Yesterday, JB and I got together to enjoy one of these routes that I misnamed the Flatlander's Delight (in contrast to my very hilly Catskill Climbfest). The route starts and ends in New Paltz crossing the Hudson over both the Rip Van Winkle and Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridges and takes in the hills and farmland of Columbia Country. One of my favorites, the Flatlander mixes in great views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains with farmland, historic villages and wooded rollers. Over the course of 207K, riders climb about 6500 feet. Not so flat, but not so hilly either.

There are three main control points on the route (in addition to two info controls) that provide the opportunity to refuel and reorient. The Dunkin' Donuts, while nothing fancy, sure is a welcome break at mile 40 and on this edition, JB and I each enjoyed a hot coffee and a muffin before refilling our bottles and applying our first layer of sunscreen.

The next control is not too far down the road and comes after a scenic river crossing, a brief tour through the city of Hudson and a ride through some gorgeous country roads. At the midway point in the ride, things shift from generally flat to quite hilly. To punctuate this transition, there is a simple country deli where I often grab a chicken salad sandwich and a bag of chips. On this day, I followed JB's lead and also grabbed a cold chocolate milk off the shelf, which was remarkably cool and refreshing. 

After a brief, early lunch, JB and I took off to enjoy the choppy, rural roads that come in the second half of this route. Columbia County is quite beautiful with views alternating between farmland and forest. There are quite a few rollers to test your climbing legs on this route and even a few miles of dirt roads to make you feel almost off the grid. On the south-westerly return leg there are even dramatic views of the Catskills range that pop out from between the trees and provide a bearing.

We definitely save the best control for last on this route, though. Taste Budd's Cafe in Red Hook comes at mile 98, which is perfectly timed for a tasty high calorie treat washed down with full-bodied coffee served in a range of styles and temperatures. This time around, I selected a delicious chocolate chip oatmeal cookie and an iced coffee and was not at all disappointed. For the truly decadent, Taste Budd's also stocks a full range of homemade chocolates and fudge.

With most of the ride behind us, JB and I clipped in and made the short trip back to the Hudson. We passed just south of Bard College taking in some lovely roads on our approach to the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge which brings us back to Ulster County and provides (on clear days) an outstanding view of the full Caskill Mountain range. On this day, though, we were racing a storm home, so the hazy, overcast skies obscured the view and added an ominous feel to the day. We knew full well that afternoon thunderstorms were a likely component of this ride and luckily made it across the bridge before anything too dramatic arrived. We could see the dark grey skies off in the distance, but only felt a few drops as we made the crossing. The skies opened up just enough once we reentered Ulster County to encourage us to stop to adjust our clothing, but we were very fortunate to skirt the heart of the thunderstorm which stayed mercifully off to our south and east as we made the final push to New Paltz.

One of the enjoyable yet slightly challenging aspects of this route for me is that it passes within three miles of my house and takes in some of my daily training roads. This was especially challenging on this particular day since I was left without a car in the morning and rode 13 miles to the start. Since I was not too keen on riding that same 13 miles home after a long and hilly day in the saddle, I texted my daughter who was happy to meet me at the finish with only the bribe of an ice cream cone.

Up next: the Princeton 200K in early September.