Wednesday, May 30, 2012

School + Hudson Valley + Cycling = ADVENTURE!

Most great ideas come to me when I'm riding my bike. This was certainly the case in mid-April when I was riding one of my 200K permanent routes rather than completing the Princeton 200K after being asked to serve as the master of ceremonies at the school's annual gala auction. As I stepped up to the microphone that evening, I announced my plan: this summer, I will ride my bike to every town in which a student from my school lives, in the shortest amount of time possible.

How better to combine my love of long distance riding with my love of the Hudson Valley and my love of Poughkeepsie Day School, where I have worked for the past 10 years as the head of middle school? Some kids live right around the corner from campus while others spend over an hour and a half on the bus in the morning AND in the afternoon. As you can see from the map above, the school draws students from over 50 towns, cities and villages in five counties and two states. While the greatest number of families live close to campus in Poughkeepsie, others are spread more or less evenly up and down both sides of the river.

The questions at this point are: how long will this adventure take? and what is the best route to use? I asked a few math teachers at school for a little help with route planning and found out two important things. 1) My journey is a close approximation to the Traveling Salesman Problem that has plagued mathematicians for years. Apparently there is no straightforward algorithm that works to determine the shortest distance between so many points. There are simply too many variables to consider.  2) There is a willing group of young people around just about every corner in my school, so today the second and third graders and their teacher helped me begin to measure and strategically design my route using maps cuisenaire rods. Here's a brief film of their work. I'm eager to see what they come up with.

With a goal of completing this ride in one or two days, I have my work cut out for me, but if adventures were easy they wouldn't be adventures, now would they.

More soon!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Princeton 300K: A Little Confidence Grows with Each Ride.

The Princeton 300 is the longest ride I've attempted since my August 2010 accident. It's an old favorite that takes in large stretches of the New Jersey countryside I prowled in my younger days. The Princeton 300 is also the first event of that distance I ever completed in 2007 during my first year of randonneuring. The weather forecast could not have been better on Saturday with blue skies, still air and temperatures peaking only in the mid-70s. For these reasons and more, it was a perfect day to stage my return. 

We rolled out of Princeton before dawn and traveled north over smooth, barren roads to the first control in Whitehouse just a few miles away from my mother's home where I had awakened several hours earlier. Throughout this first 40 or so miles, I rode at the front of the pack with a few old riding buddies swapping the usual tales of rides past and future and bikes custom and vintage.

After the first control, the field spread out a bit and, while I was disappointed not to hang with the big dogs, I knew that maintaining my reserves was the only way to approach this day. Riding strong throughout the event and simply finishing the ride with some gas in the tank would bring me great relief. With over 9,000 ft of climbing, this is not a ride to take casually. Although it was hard to let the rabbits go, I knew this was the wise choice.

Support on NJ Rando events is fantastic and this brevet was no exception. Ride organizer Paul S. was cheery at the start and and finish and made countless appearances at controls, both secret and announced, throughout the day. NJ Rando stalwart Bob O. was on hand at both the start and the first control and it was great seeing RBA Katie R. and diehard NJ Rando volunteer Jon L. at the Blairstown control. Their smiling faces mitigated any pain and suffering I may have been feeling as I contemplated the nasty Jenny Jump climb that punctuates the turnaround.

Attuned to my own rhythms, I spent much of the day riding alone which eliminated the need to feel as though I was either holding someone back or riding slower than I would like.  In all, I felt fairly steady, if not truly strong, throughout the day and finished without any noticable pain, despite the requisite suffering.

They say you can't go home again, and I do believe that's true, but just as I was rounding the corner to enter Hacklebarney State Park, I ran into an old friend I haven't seen in quite some time. John R. is the master teacher I worked with 25 years ago as a teaching intern fresh out of college. While we've seen each other since that time, it's been a while and it was good to catch up and see yet another encouraging face when his wife Barbara arrived to pick him up.

With the main work of basic recovery behind me, I'm on my way to rebuilding an endurance foundation. Completing a full brevet series in search of the Super Randonneur (SR) award issued in Paris to recognize riders who completion a full series of qualifying brevets (200K, 300K, 400K and 600K) in one season will make that return even more sweet. This weekend's Princeton 300 also served as the penultimate ride in support of my R-12 attempt. Only June remains.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The NYC Five Boro Bike Tour: Third Time's a Charm

Yesterday, my son and I again rode in the NYC Five Boro Bike Tour. This father-son family tradition began in 2009 when Eli was just 9 years old. That year, we braved Biblical rains as we passed countless middle-aged riders pushing bikes up hills and taking advantage of the bail-out option at mile 25. "No stopping," he said at the time. Now that he's 12, a few things have changed. For one, he's using an actual geared bike (with 3 chain rings!) - we look for creature comforts as we age, don't we? 

In this, the tour's 35th year, 32,000 riders again descended on the city in search of adventure. This event, while thrilling for many, was becoming known as the "Five Boro Bike Walk," so drastic measures were necessary. This time, the organizers chose to send out starters in three waves rather than just one. As a result, we experienced absolutely no bicycle traffic along the way, even at the typical bottle necks.

Eli, or "Squeaky Magee" as he came to call himself, was riding his mother's Trek mountain bike which could have done with a little additional lube. We saw lots of commuter bikes, many with rusty chains and some with odd modifications, like the rear rack-mounted handlebar bag that I could not quite figure out or the full suspension mountain bike with the high rise handlebars. I also saw a few old Detours bags here and there, but never when I seemed to have ready access to my camera, so I have no pictures to share. None of these bags was as cool as the two I was sporting that day anyway. My Sodo handlebar bag has really grown on me as a place to store food, gear and gadgets all within easy reach.

One of my son's many great qualities is his determination to stick with something once he's started. He was very happy, for instance, to find out that we did not need to stop at the first or second rest areas. Why waste time, he reckoned? This steady forward motion enabled us establish a new family record with a sub-4 hour finish. Done before noon? What do we do with ourselves?

The final 3-mile stretch from the festival to the Staten Island ferry was predictably relaxing up until the final 1/4 mile when the two of us became separated as riders started funneling into the ferry staging area. Images of 19th century steerage popped into my mind and I may have been humming the theme to Titanic as I weaved through the crowds looking for my son. As luck would have it, we found each other before too long, but he is now using this as leverage to get a cell phone. Can't really argue with him there.

Here'a time-elapsed video of the entire tour in under two minutes.

Next up: A return to randonneuring with the Princeton 300K this Saturday.

Friday, May 4, 2012

It's Starting to Look Like a Season

After a long, weird warm winter, spring is now solidly here and my brevet and ultra race season is beginning to take shape.  I had to postpone my first official brevet due to a work conflict, but my next event is almost here. I had planned to kick off brevet season with the classic Princeton (NJ) 200, but rode a local 200K permanent on the same day to cut out the excess transportation time that would have made me late to the school's annual action benefit.  So next weekend's Princeton 300K will be my first time riding with a crowd this year.

I plan to follow this over Memorial Day weekend with the flat NJ 400K that takes in large swaths of NJ Pine Barrens that transports me back to high school camping trips with friends in the 1980s. A month later I'll take in the Westfield (MA) 600K that rolls over familiar roads in MA, CT, NY and VT. I'll need to fit an ACP 200K in somewhere along the way to round out the official Super Randonneur award, but that could happen as late as next September. In addition to these brevets, I'm lined up to compete in the Saratoga 12-hour race again on the first weekend in July. This old favorite will be great fun. I'm quite eager to see what kind of speed and endurance I can muster over the next two months. It will be a great measure of my post-accident recovery against my past times on the event. Later this summer, I'll also be riding the D2R2 in Western MA.

  • May 12 - Princeton 300K
  • May 26 - Heightstown 400K [Change of plans - family conflict]
  • June 9 - Central/Western NY 400K
  • June 23/24 - Westfield 600K
  • July 7 - Saratoga 12-hour race [Change of plans - family conflict]
  • August 18 - D2R2
  • September 8 - NYC 200K

Up next: the BikeNY Five Borough Bike Tour on Sunday. A father-son tradition continues. Stay tuned.