Monday, April 29, 2013

The Ronkonkoma 200K: A New Brevet Series is Born

Route designer Mordecai and Patrick at the start

Today marks the inaugural event in the new Long Island Brevet Series and what an event it was! The Ronkonkoma 200K takes in some of the most lovely countryside in Eastern Long Island along the famed southern shore and lesser known northern shore. In between the two, riders are treated to two short ferry crossings and a quick (4.5 mile) ride across Shelter Island, a lovely, quiet barrier island that lies between the two forks at the easternmost end of Long Island. NJ Rando stalwart Mordecai S. created the route as a permanent some years ago and RBA Paul M. has taken it over to use as the inaugural ride in his new brevet series.

There were about 30 riders at the start on a beautiful spring morning. All but two of us had pre-registered, but I decided to come down at the last minute when my plans to ride the Westfield 200K fell through on Saturday. I slept in the guest room on Saturday night and set the alarm for 4:50am in order to make it to the start 2 hours and 20 minutes from my home without waking anyone up in the process.

The sea glistened as we rode through the Hamptons.

After a few suburban miles, riders travel through wooded areas en route to the sea. There's still a fair amount of farmland in eastern Long Island, although much of it has been commodified for the tourist industry. It seems that high-end country farm stands are more common on the southern shore while wineries dot the northern coast. In other words, there are plenty of spots to stop along the way for just about anything a randonneur might like to fuel the engine. If, like me, you try to keep stops to the absolute minimum, the first control offered a wonderful assortment of baked goods and fresh, hot coffee. Tempting as these treats were, I decided to forgo food in favor of an early boat connection.

Waiting for the next boat.

While ferry crossings are not unheard of on brevets, this was my first experience and, boy, was it a thrill. I arrived at the first ferry just as the gate was closing and was nearly tempted to pedal harder in hopes of making an Evel Knievel-style leap to the ferry's main deck. There were children watching so I figured I should model appropriate law-abiding behavior and so waited for the next boat. In the meantime, five other randonneurs arrived and we sailed together across the short stretch to Shelter Island. The sea was a most appealing shade of blue on this gorgeous, warm spring day. I even texted my wife a photo, which based on her response turned out to be a fairly mean thing to do. OK, looking at these pictures again, I can see why she might have been a little annoyed. What a day!

Once on the Shelter Island, it's a quick 4.5 mile ride to the second ferry. One could take much longer to explore, but we had a schedule to keep and so hopped on the second ferry and returned to the main island via Greenport. The boat schedule served to create greater distance between riders, so once this group of six was formed, we stayed together for much of the second half of the ride.

Farmland and wineries dot the course.

The first 90 miles of the ride were flatter than some pancakes I've made, but just as I'd settled into serious confidence about the energy I had left in the tank, the route began to get choppy. There's nothing dramatic in these hills, but a series of continuous rollers serves to keep riders engaged and alert. While I don't recall much of a tailwind on the ride out, we suffered from a somewhat blustery headwind that tore out group apart at a few times on the return. Those with more miles in their legs predictably fared better than others. By the info control at mile 115, though, we had reassembled and settled into a comfortable pace for the final shot to the finish. All of us were grateful to see Paul standing outside of the pizza shop at the finish and happier still when he announced that the first slice was on him! So, despite ferry crossings and headwinds, we still finished in a respectable 9:02. I guess this stands as the course record, though one that will be broken as soon as the ride is repeated, no doubt.

Up next: the Westfield 300K - Bash Bish Falls edition.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Woodstock Meet-up with the Blayleys

John and Pamela at Kaaterskill Falls

When rando-celebrities like the Blayleys come to town, it's a good idea to drop everything and join them for a ride. Such was my luck last week when Pamela let me know that she and John would be spending a little time in Woodstock catching up on some well-deserved R & R. Living in Boston, John and Pamela described a surreal time hunkered down while FBI agents and the local police force scoured the city in search of the young men who caused such terrible destruction earlier in the week at the marathon. While dramatic, the siege was fortunately short-lived and our friends were able to escape in time for their vacation.

Climbing 23A to Tannersville
After exchanging a few messages through Facebook, we locked in a time to meet at Bread Alone, a favorite local spot for pre-ride carbs and piping hot coffee. Once we were suitably fueled, we turned our attention to bicycles. While unloading my bike from the car, I noticed a nasty sidewall tear with all the potential to ruin a beautiful mountain ride. Luckily, John was able to loan me a spare tire so I was not forced to rely on a boot and a prayer as I rode through areas more remote than my cell coverage. Leaving Woodstock on Glasco Turnpike, we headed east towards Palenville with Overlook Mountain over our left shoulders. I pointed out Platte Clove Rd. and my partners took note of the climb for another day. At the base of Route 23A, I removed and packed my jacket into my pocket so as to keep the climbing sweat at bay.

After a short pit stop in Tannersville, we were rewarded with the lovely descent into Phoenicia on Route 214. There's just no way to keep up with a pair of strong riders on a tandem heading downhill. To prepare for this, I let John and Pamela know that I'd meet them in the village below so we all enjoyed the descent at our own optimal pace. We arrived in Phoenicia with appetites for lunch so we stopped at Mama's Boy Market where there's a treat for just about everyone. Soon it was time to head out for the last stretch of road into Woodstock. Despite the gorgeous weather, there were very few people on the roads which only enhanced the surrounding beauty.

All in all, it was a lovely day. The conversation was stimulating and the roads and weather were spectacular. While jealous that John and Pamela get to spend the week exploring the paved and gravel roads sprinkled around the Catskill Mountains while I head back to work, it was a pleasure and honor to orient them to this exceptional place as a tour guide. Bonnes vacances!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fine-tuning a Favorite Permanent Route

While riding my Hudson River Double Cross training ride this morning, I decided to stop off and take a look around the grounds of the historic Wilderstein mansion. One of several stately Hudson River homes in the immediate area, this one was built in 1852 and occupied by FDR's cousin/lover Daisy Suckley featured in the film "Hyde Park on Hudson" until her death at age 100 in 1991. The view is pretty majestic, but the home is only open for visitors during the summer months.

In addition to getting a good 50-mile workout on a lovely Sunday morning, I was also taking notes on a re-route of the Keep the River on Your Right 200K permanent that will bring riders closer to the Hudson on several gorgeous back roads between Rhinebeck and Hyde Park. Riders will now be able to take a peak at Wilderstein and the Mills Mansion down the road as well as the Vanderbilt Mansion and FDRs home in Hyde Park that appeared on the original route.

With my first official brevet just two weeks away, I better get some more training miles in . . .

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring has Finally Sprung!

Spring has finally arrived in the Hudson Valley and I could not be happier. This year, March entered like a lion and pretty much left like a lion as well with temperatures hovering below freezing on both ends of the month. April is another story, however. This past week we've enjoyed temperatures in the 50s and low 60s as crocuses pop their heads through the earth and spring peepers sing in chorus from every pond and waterhole. The combination of warmer weather, longer days and spring lifeforms freshens my love for riding as a source of pleasure and not just transportation and exercise.

With the longer days, I've been able to steal away for short rides after work before dinner and this alone brings joy to my week. Luckily, there are a range of options right out my door so a 90-minute ride can feel like entering a different world. With even less time, I can manage a great workout with hill repeats as I did last Thursday. One way or the other, I'm committed to getting this soft and flabby body back into peak form over the next several months.

Today, my pal Peter and I decided to ride a 50-mile Hudson River Double Cross as way to welcome in spring. We met up on the road just south of Kingston and found our way over to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge where we were nearly blown over by the high southerly winds as we watched the mighty tug boats guiding barges toward Manhattan. After returning to solid ground, we hung a quick right and followed the Hudson south along River Road. Neither of us had ever ridden south of Rhinecliff on these quiet country lanes and we were dumbfounded by the beauty we found along the way all the way through Staatsburg to Hyde Park where we rejoined State Highway 9. We passed no fewer than half a dozen gorgeous Hudson River mansions along the way, which gave me the idea for a RUSA permanent devoted specifically to viewing the historic mansions in this region.

After skirting the City of Poughkeepsie on Route 9G, we met up with the Walkway Over the Hudson for our second river crossing. We successfully dodged all of the other pedestrians enjoying the spring weather in everyone's favorite regional state park.  Just a few miles up the rail trail from the river, Peter and I parted company to complete our last legs of the journey to our separate towns alone.

These have been a mighty busy few weeks for me as I've recently accepted a new job that will begin in July. More soon on how my new job will not only bring me incredible professional satisfaction, but also enhance my riding in direct and dramatic ways.