Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Festive 500: Recovery Ride to Slabsides

While Gilded Age robber barons were erecting massive estates along the Hudson River and throwing parties that cost more than most people earned in a year, a quiet man named John Burroughs (who also built a lovely home on the west side of the Hudson) snuck up to this rustic cabin and wrote some of the most influential works on environmentalism to date. I could not think of a better site to visit on my recovery day than Slabsides, which sits high on a rocky outcrop about a mile from my own house. Burroughs is not very well known these days, but he was one of the most highly regarded writers of his generation. His influence on others such as John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt was significant. Legend has it that TR sailed the official presidential yacht up the Hudson and walked up the hill to meet Burroughs at this cabin, irritating Frederick Vanderbilt right across the river to no end.

Today's recovery ride reminded me of that wonderful feeling that comes from riding too far. After several months in which I rode about 100 miles per week, five days filled with 270 miles creates a feeling that is both pleasing and hard to describe. Onward ho!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Festive 500: Olana Century Edition

I made a few more stops in my quest to visit the major Hudson Valley estates during this year's Festive 500 Challenge. Today's weather was a huge improvement, so I chose to celebrate by riding a full century that began and ended at my doorstep. In between, I rode up the west side of the river until Catskill where I crossed at the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and then found my way back home on the east side of the river crossing on the Walkway once again. This path placed me in the neighborhood of both Thomas Cole's Cedar Grove and his student Frederic Church's famed Olana masterpiece. Not surprisingly, both of these pioneering landscape artists of the Hudson River School chose to live in houses with spectacular views of the river as well as of the Catskill Mountains.

Olana sits amid 250 acres at the top of an imposing hill just south of the town of Hudson. Cedar Grove, on the other hand, is a much simpler affair right on the edge of town across the river in Catskill.

The third stop on my journey today was Clermont, an estate once owned by Robert Livingston who was issued a patent by the British crown granting him the privileges of manor lord over 160,000 acres from the river to what is now Massachusetts. It's hard to imagine how feudal life was in this region before the Revolutionary War, but it was.

As for riding, it was a great workout on a glorious day and my legs are definitely feeling the results of 400 kilometers ridden over four days, but that's what base training is all about, isn't it?

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Festive 500: Montgomery Place Ramble

Ah, what a difference 10F and a little bit of sunshine makes. After a dismal ride yesterday, I bounced back today with a 50-mile ramble through some lovely countryside along River Road in Dutchess County north of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge.

Like many Hudson Valley estates, the grounds at Montgomery Place are free and open to the public year-round, while the mansion itself is open for tours during the spring and summer months for a fee.

Just north of Montgomery Place is Bard College, which boasts one of the nicest college campuses in the country. It feels a bit like entering a magical land filled with gorgeous building both old and new, all of which appear completely in their element. The Fischer Center, for example, designed by Frank Gehry, is a remarkable performance space both inside and out.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Snow. Cold. Wind. Dark. Flat tire. The Not-Feeling-So-Festive 50.

Caught in a snow squall, fingers numb, glasses fogged, energy sapped, crunching along at 2/3 my average rolling speed, today's ride was decidedly not as festive as the one I took Tuesday. While I clocked in at 50 miles on both days, today's loop was filled with reasons NOT to ride rather than the other way round. I rolled into the town of New Paltz after covering 34 fairly desolate miles of apple orchards and I could take the discomfort no longer. I popped into the public restroom at the Water Street Market to warm my extremities and to call home to explain my delay. The break breathed new life into my legs, but halfway home I popped a tube and suffered through a sub-zero change on the side of the road. I'm sure tomorrow will be better. It has to be!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Festive 500: Christmas Eve Edition

I decided to kick off the first day of the 2013 Rapha Festive 500 Challenge with a 50-mile loop from my house hugging the Hudson River. This enabled me to cross the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge to the north and the Walkway Over the Hudson to the south and take in several of the area's majestic mansions along the way.

As you might imagine, each of these homes affords an exceptional view of the Hudson and most take in the Catskill Mountains beyond as well. The photo above is the view the guests to the Wilderstein home would have enjoyed as they got out of their cars and climbed the stairs to the front door.

The grounds at the Mills Mansion, otherwise known as the Staatsburgh State Historic Site, are open to the public throughout the winter so locals can enjoy sledding down the wicked hill from the house to the river.

The Vanderbilt Mansion, immediately across the river from my house, is maintained by the National Park Service and open to visitors year-round.

The final home on my Festive 500 tour this morning was FDR's home in Hyde Park, which boast his presidential library in addition to his private residence as well as some interesting sculptures. The one below is made from a section of the Berlin Wall.

The robber barons were onto something. The Hudson Valley is truly breathtaking and serene, but the homes they left behind add a significant level of charm and beauty as well and these four homes are only the start.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Rapha's Festive 500 is (Almost) Here!

It's hard to believe that it's been a year. After two successful attempts, Rapha's Festive 500 Challenge has become a fixture in my winter calendar, a way to welcome in the longer days while logging essential base miles for the season ahead. In fact, it's hard to remember the days before this event was available as a way to ring in the New Year and provide a boost to the coming season. What's more, finishers get a PATCH (!) and this year, the opportunity to purchase a finisher's t-shirt.

Beginning on December 24 and running through 11:59 on December 31, thousands of cyclists from around the world will attempt to log at least 500 kilometers on their bikes. While it's a bit frustrating to read ride reports from Southern California and Australia - and no, indoor miles don't count - snow and ice be damned, it's time to get out and ride.

For a review of my previous attempts you can read here (2011) and here (2012). In 2011, I was part of the final 10 finishers in the Facebook grand prize competition. Sadly, the Trek Madone went to a nice guy from Sweden.

Are you with me? Sign up on Strava today. On Tuesday we ride.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Goals for 2014: the Lap of the Lake 1000K and Beyond

One thing I love about the coming of winter is the chance to sit back and assess the past while planning for the future. As a cyclist, this process begins for me when RUSA posts the ride schedule for the coming year in early October and my head begins to spin with options for organized rides around the country.  For me, the structure of the year is largely determined by the longest ride that I will build towards as the ultimate goal; a ride that from the comfort of the couch seems like it might be slightly out of my reach. Once this is established, I look to build the season around brevets and training that aligns with my family and work obligations.

This year, the answer for me was obvious. The last time I had planned to ride in the Lap of the Lake 1000K (LOL) was 2010. It was to be the major goal of that season of riding and was to serve as the event that pushed me to the top of the pecking order in the new system of pre-registration that ACP established to regulate the size of PBP. While preregistered for LOL, though, I was unable to start due to a humerus fracture I sustained during the NJ 600K that June and I had let let my pal Andrey ride on to success without me.

2010 was a momentous year in my life. It was the season I pushed myself to complete a full SR series in under 60% of the maximum time allowance, or or R60 according to the rules of the Cyclos Montagnards challenge set up by Jan Heine and the folks at Bicycle Quarterly. I was interested in this challenge as a way to assess whether I could successfully complete PBP in under 56:40, which at 60% of the total allowable time of 90 hours, would qualify me to become a member of Le Societe Charly Miller. By June, things were going pretty well. I had finished the Princeton 200K, Saratoga 300K and the Boston 400K all safely within the time limits. It was my strongest season ever; I felt like I was on top of the world. This feeling would not last long.

In late June, I set out to complete the NJ 600K, a beautiful, flat ride through the magical Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey, in under 24 hours. Never having completed a 600 in 24 hours, I was not concerned about the pace or the distance, but rather the impact of riding straight through the night without sleep. To make matters worse, the ride start was at 10:00pm and I clipped in after a full day at work. Starting out strong, I fell in with Anthony M. from VT and we kept pace as we rode through the peaceful night and reached Cape May at the southern tip of the state by dawn. All was going according to plan until mile 309 when I lost focus for a nanosecond and hit a patch of sand on the shoulder and went down hard on the pavement. I knew something was not right with my shoulder, but thought it was more likely a muscle injury than a fracture as I clipped back in and rode with determination to the finish 66 miles down the road. Anthony was a prince and paced me as my speed declined. No longer able to hit the 24 hour goal, we finished in 25:50 and I was left with an R70 finish for the season.

The Lap of the Lake was less than two weeks down the road and while unable to secure a visit to the orthopedist in time, I knew something was wrong enough with my shoulder that 1000K was not a good idea. So I took a DNS and subsequently found out that my shoulder was broken. After six weeks in a sling, four of which were spent with family off the bike in Europe, I entered the Endless Mountains 1000K in hopes of completing the 2010 season with a 1000K under my belt to secure my spot in the first wave of US registrants to PBP the following year. As you may know, the Endless Mountain 1000K did not work out as planned. I was hit from behind by a distracted driver merely two hours after clipping in and spent the following six weeks in the hospital, and the following three years out of the hospital, recovering from 26 broken bones and three surgeries.

It's been over three years now since my accident and I've accomplished quite a few things on a bike about which I am very proud. I was permitted to ride again 9 months after the accident and in my first full year of riding I completed D2R2, a full SR series, the Festive 500 and an R-12. My perspectives on life and cycling have changed, though, as often happens following a catastrophic event. Since the accident, I've not been able to ride as fast as I once did. Neither have I completed an event over 600K. My ultimate goal, though remains clipping in to ride PBP in 2015. I doubt I'll be in shape to complete the event in Charly Miller time, but complete the event I will.

As all of us who consider ourselves randonneurs know, our sport is all about incremental change. This year, I will complete a full SR series and I hope to increase my pace to at least R70 limits to see if I am capable of training to ride more swiftly than is currently the case. LOL will also be a step along my journey to PBP. I need the experience that a 1000K close to home will give me to plan and build confidence for that legendary ride. LOL will not only be a stepping stone, though. If I have learned anything from my accident, it's to savor life as it comes. The Lap of the Lake will be an amazing opportunity to ride with friends in two countries along a majestic course around a Great Lake, which in itself is a goal worth savoring. Care to join me?

So here's to 2014. May all of your dreams come true.