Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bike to Work: No Better Way to Start (or End) the Day

There are so many reasons to love the month of May and riding a bicycle is at the heart of quite a few of them. National Bike Month reminds us to pause to celebrate and spread the joy of cycling near and far. This May has also marked my daughter's entry into the world of driving, which has freed me up to ride to work with greater frequency without the need to pawn my kids off on someone else to ensure that they get to school. On Friday, I packed my pannier and suited up to join thousands of riders from around the country on National Bike-to-Work Day.

My trusty commuter complete with coffee mug and Ortlieb Office pannier.
One of the wineries I pass on my ride to work.
The Hudson Valley Rail Trail is always a treat.
The view from the Walkway Over the Hudson never gets old.

Since I live about 15 miles from work, the commute presents a great way to begin and end just about any day. Starting on July 1, though, my work and school worlds will change radically. After working in schools as a teacher and administrator for the past 25 years, I'll be leaving campus life to take up a new position as the Associate Director of the New York State Association of Independent Schools. In this role I'll be responsible for overseeing the accreditation of private schools throughout the state. While I'll spend time on the road visiting schools from the tip of Long Island to the far reaches of Buffalo (and all points in between), one of the best features of the job is that . . . (wait for it) . . . I'll be working from a home office.

This new position has the potential to have a profound impact on my cycling life. While working in schools provides more flexibility than most jobs, I'll now be even freer to pop out for a ride when the spirit moves me. Since I've solved plenty of sticky problems and devised some winning plans on two wheels over the years, I'm optimistic that the arrangement will work out beautifully. Not only will this flexibility help with ride frequency, but with a few larger panniers I may just be able to visit schools by bike as well. Think: Johnny Appleseed.

Up Next: The Central NY 400K.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Westfield 300K: Bash Bish Falls Edition

Despite getting my new rando bike in the fall of 2011, it wasn't until this week that I finally installed a wired taillight to the rear fender. I loved the B&M Seculight on my previous rando bike and it was probably my perfectionism and perceived lack of appropriate tools that held me back, so I flagged down my mechanic neighbor and (for the price of a frosty cold beer) my bike is ready to take on the elements.

This was not the first (and will likely not be the last) time that I awaken to rain at the old Elm Motel in downtown Westfield, Massachusetts. The Elm is a rando classic in Western New England. A decidedly no-frills place with a kind and generous staff, it feels a bit like an overnight control you want to get out of as soon as possible after waking up.

As always, RBA Don P. puts on a good show. The Bash Bish 300K follows a really lovely route filled with dazzling views, serious climbs, dense forests, assorted farmlands and even a dedicated bike trail for good measure. One of the best parts of the route is that the first and last 35 miles of the route follows a single road that climbs (and the descends!) though some lovely countryside making navigation super easy at both the start and end of the brevet which is always most welcome. The first control comes at mile 31 and riders found Don with a table of goodies set up in a small park at the entrance to the Appalachian Trail.

After the first control, cyclists wind their way through the lovely Berkshire mountains, an area filled with artistic as well as historic communities, on their way to the famed Bash Bish Falls in the eastern corner of New York State. It was nice to see the Blayleys at the start, but unfortunately, they needed to swap out a tire on their tandem on a borrowed wheel to allow for a better fit, so they took off 10-15 minutes after the rest of the field. I knew it was only a matter of time before we'd see them again and sure enough, after hearing the low rumble of a jet engine taking off, I looked to my left and heard a cordial "Hi George" as a tandem flashed by.

With over 60 miles between controls, randonneurs arrive in Kent, Connecticut with a hearty appetite. Good thing Don has arranged a pre-paid lunch control at the gourmet Gifford Market. Pretty classy, Don. After enjoying a roasted chicken and avocado sandwich with chipotle mayonnaise, I was off to tackle the wilds of eastern New York. In fact, the sandwich was so rich, I packed up half of it to stow away in my bag for later.

The rain came down rather heavily as we zoomed through quiet country lanes and even the Harlem Valley Rail trail en route to Bash Bish. The climb to the top of the falls was pretty intense, especially as it comes after 200K of riding through somewhat hilly terrain. At the top of the climb, John (a rider from the Boston area I had teamed up with after lunch) and I even scrambled up some slick rocks in search of a view, but sadly none was available. A view must be available somewhere, but we did not have time for the search.

To add insult to injury, the climbing's not done when you arrive at the falls as there are a few miles of switchbacks hidden right around the corner. The next section was wet and generally enjoyable as John and I snaked our way back into the Berkshires, departing from the route for only a few bonus dirt miles along the way.

The skies finally cleared as we entered the penultimate control to find Don and his wife with a full selection of sandwiches, snacks and drinks. These treats really hit the spot as we refueled for the final 31 miles to the finish. This last section, as I mentioned above, is one of the most pleasant route finishes I've experienced. Riders follow one smooth road with at least 25 of the final 31 miles pointed downhill. The icing on the cake was the text Pamela and John left me with instructions to their shower so I could clean up before the long drive home. The Bash Bish 300K is definitely on my list of rides to repeat in years to come.