Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Westfield 600K: A Super Randonneur Again!

This was not the first time I've ridden the Westfield 600K, but it was the first time I've completed an event of this distance since my August 2010 accident. I love riding in the Catskill Mountains and I can't think of a nicer way to complete my super "re-randonneur" season. Other than a few sprinkles at the start, the weather was outstanding; warm, but not too hot with little humidity and virtually no wind.

In Woodstock, Brian and Doug organized the most gracious checkpoint I've ever encountered. They made sandwiches, filled water bottles and was generally made riders feel like royalty.

Right after Woodstock, our work really began with the climb through Devil's Tombstone. The Catskill Mountains sure look a bit different up close.

After the Catskills, we enjoyed a sweet descent down the backside of Windham Mountain into a rolling section that inched towards Albany through the Helderbergs.

The least scenic section of the route involves the stretch through Schnectedy, but I was able to find a small slice of beauty anyway. If you can forget that GE dumped millions of tons of PCBs into the Hudson over the years, it's easier to see the beauty.

I woke up on Sunday with a sour stomach, but upon arriving in Bennington, VT, I craved an egg sandwich. Sadly, the only place I could find this protein-rich delicacy was at McDonald's. It was delicious and the coffee hit the spot too, and helped fuel me up the monster hill just east of town.

While I was generally well-hydrated throughout the event, at some points, I wondered about halucinations. Take this milk bottle for instance. Doesn't it make YOU thirsty?

So in all, it was a great weekend. I learned that 600 kilometers is still within my reach. While this was not my worst time on an event of this distance, it was certainly not my best. I returned to Westfield with strength, confidence and the hope that with more training and conditioning, I will be able to ride greater distances and at higher speeds.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Newest Commuter Upgrades

Working at my children's school comes with blessings too numerous to count. One of the less convenient aspects of the relationship though involves commuting by bicycle. Since we live 15 miles from school, the shared bike commute is pretty much out of the question. Sure, my son has humored me once or twice, but this is not a sustainable solution. As a result, riding into work often involves me arranging to pawn the kids off either on one of my colleagues or my wife. The loose ends generally come in the morning, since they have reliable bus transport in the afternoon if necessary.

When morning rides for the kids are arranged successfully, everything generally works out, but other issues arise, such as how to transport my laptop bag to and (more importantly) from school in the evening. On at least one occasion, my kids have actually forgotten my laptop bag by the kitchen door which is NOT GOOD. It's also generally a hassle to arrange to have someone drop my bag off at my house in the evening. So, needless to say, a more sustainable solution was needed. Enter: Ortieb.

After doing a little research I found that the Ortlieb "Office" pannier would perfectly suit my needs. This large, spacious bag comes highly rated and includes flexible internal paneling to help organize a laptop, papers and assorted smaller objects like chargers, phones, keys and pens. It's completely waterproof which gives me great peace of mind as far as my laptop is concerned. I also bought a sleek laptop sleeve to ensure that my precious cargo would have a little extra padding for the ride. This particular model from Timbuk2 even has interesting vent holes to aid in laptop cooling after a hard day of work.

Since panniers don't hang by themselves, I also needed to install a rear rack on my old Bianchi to round out the picture. I chose a Topeak Explorer rack since it looked pretty darned solid, was not too heavy and was priced considerably lower than the high-end touring racks I might have used if money was not an object. Finally, I added a Busch & Muller Toplight to the rear rack for early mornings and late afternoons in the fall and winter.

The attachment hardware is ingenious. Here's a video from Ortieb showing how it works.

With just two days under my belt, I already love the arrangement. The bag is spacious enough to fit my work materials, a few personal items and a change of clothes. I even packed and successfully transported a bottle of red wine to an evening potluck on Friday! The best part, though, is my total self-sufficiency as a commuter. Now that summer has arrived and my kids no longer need to travel to and from school with me each day, I can really see what it's like to live the bicycle commuter lifestyle.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Sweet Feeling of Success

It feels especially sweet to reach goals that are both challenging and long standing. I've wanted to earn the RUSA R-12 Award for many years, but the cold Northeast winters and countless compromises I would have had to make kept this out of reach; out of reach until this year. This weekend marked my final monthly ride of over 200K since last July. It also marks a year of riding brevets since returning to cycling after my August 2010 accident. In addition to the R-12 credit, this brevet also proved to me that 400K is still within my reach as a cyclist. I finished tired, a little sore in my left shoulder, but strong and within 20 hours.

The field was tiny on this late season 400K. There were just six of us, two from North Carolina, one from Cleveland and two from the local area in addition to me. The first six hours of the ride were filled with steady rain which calmed into showers and then petered out all together leaving us with a beautiful afternoon.

Shortly after the start, I fell into riding with Jonathan, a strong rider from Cleveland with a beautiful new Velo Orange rando bike, who really helped me stay focussed throughout the day. Jon is a great guy and I look forward to riding with him again. It reminds me how randonneuring can unite total strangers in a shared mission. Maybe it was the rain, maybe the green hills and valleys throughout the day, maybe it was the smell of fresh cow manure, but something about this ride reminded me of London-Edinburgh-London.

It was a spectacular ride set in the beautiful Finger Lakes region. The vistas were amazing and the roads smooth and free of cars. I will surely be back for more rides in Central New York and highly recommend them to you. I could actually hear Lake Ontario beckoning for circumnavigation as I stood on it's banks at the start of yesterday's 400K. Perhaps the Lap of the Lake 1000K lies ahead. I sure hope so.

Next up: the Westfield 600K on June 23-24.