Monday, March 30, 2009

The Flatlander’s Delight: 200K Permanent

For weeks I’ve planned to ride in the Saratoga 200K held on Sunday, March 29. I reserved the time and sent in my registration weeks ago. I was especially eager for this first brevet of the season as John Ceceri always puts on nice events that tend to draw a strong field of riders. After months of virtually solo training, a long group ride is just what I need at this point.

On Saturday night, I consulted my printed checklist and carefully packed all of my gear. The plan was to leave my house at 4:30 a.m. to make it in time for the 7:00 a.m. start. After pulling together some food to eat on the drive and pouring a fresh pot of coffee into my thermos, I drove off into the drizzle. About an hour into my two hour drive I reviewed my mental checklist: socks – check, arm warmers – check, helmet – check, front wheel – front wheel – FRONT WHEEL!!! Looking into the back of my car I realize that I DID NOT PACK THE FRONT WHEEL!

To save time in the morning, I packed the car on Saturday night. Due to the forecast of heavy and steady rain, my IF was equipped with a pair of excellent Honjo fenders I purchased last year from Velo Orange. To ease the bike into its rightful place in the back of my small car, I needed to remove the front fender. While doing this, I left the front wheel propped against the side of the car. You can imagine what happened next. Luckily, when I pulled out, I didn’t run over or damage anything.

Trying to think of how to best salvage the day in the car on the drive back, I realized that if I didn’t ruin the wheel on the way out the driveway, this would be a good day to ride the Flatlander’s Delight (a 200K RUSA permanent I manage) for the first time this spring. I got home at about 6:30 a.m., saw the wheel lying innocently on the wet driveway, ran inside to print out the cue sheet and brevet card, explained the mishap to my confused wife and son, and headed out the door for the day. My 12 year-old daughter, who dragged herself out of bed at about 10:00 a.m., had the best response of the day when she heard what happened: WHAT AN IDIOT!! she screamed.

The Flatlander’s Delight permanent got its name to distinguish it from the other, more common rides in the area that all feature lots of climbing. The approximate gain over this route is about 4800 ft., so it’s not completely flat but features some gentle rollers nonetheless; nothing like what you might expect in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, though. The route begins in New Paltz, once a Huguenot settlement in the days before the American Revolution and shoots up to Kingston, the historic first capital of New York State, where Dutch farm houses line the streets and then crosses the Hudson River into Columbia County.

After about 50 miles, the rain tapered off a bit and it actually stayed dry for much of the rest of the day. My full-fingered gloves were so wet, though, and my fingers so cold that they were more or less useless to do simple things like open my money clip at the control. Luckily, I had packed a second pair of gloves and with the relatively warm air my fingers were much more comfortable once they were free of the wet gloves.

In Catskill, I found that control #1 had closed for business. Shuttered and gone. Actually, there is a sign saying they will open again in January. I assume they mean last January. Searching around, there is very little open in Catskill on a Sunday morning, so it was going to have to be O’Henry’s Hot Weiners and More for a quick cup of coffee, a bathroom break, a receipt and some water. Maybe I’ll order a weiner (or more) the next time.
After cycling across the Hudson River on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge between Catskill and Hudson, riders quickly leave these two small Upstate cities behind and cover some exceptionally lovely rolling farmland in New York’s Columbia County. There are historic farmhouses and barns, livestock galore and even a dirt road or two. It’s best to bring some wide tires; my 25mm Conti GP4000 were fine but I’m looking forward to putting on my new Grand Bois Cyprus 30mm tires when they arrive.

At the second control, in lovely Chatham, New York, I bought a turkey and provolone sub, some chips and a coke. I figure that speed was not going to be the highlight of this ride and since I got up at 4:00 a.m. I was feeling a little peckish. Fully fueled and ready to go, I sped off through more of Columbia County’s rural reaches. I was so enjoying myself that I put on some bonus miles between controls #2 (mile 61) and #3 (mile 98) where I stopped for a cup of coffee and a chocolate scone.

I’m happy to report that the Honjo fenders worked beautifully. The front fender comes quite low on the wheel so my toes stay virtually free of road spray. The rear fender keeps rooster tail at bay. I do need to install a mud flap for anyone who may be drafting off me in the rain, but on a solo ride, I’m in good shape. I also need a good cycling cap (Rapha has a brilliant model, but the cost is a bit steep) to wear under my helmet to keep the water from dripping into my eyes. I also need a waterproof glove arrangement; the folks in Seattle have some interesting Gore-Tex suggestions I’ll need to explore.

The next big event on the calendar is the Connecticut Rive Double Century. This will be my first time riding in this event which is billed as a great early season race without too many hills. It is a figure-eight out of Brattleboro, Vermont that rolls up and down the lovely Connecticut River valley. No matter how few the hills are in number, it still seems a bit early to be racing so I’ll be out riding intervals and hill repeats several times a week to get my climbing legs and cruising speed up to par.

The happy rider at the end of 140 soggy, spring miles.

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