Monday, April 28, 2014

Another Roadside Attraction: The Saratoga 300K

The man-made roadside attractions on the shores of Lake George stand out in part because they are in such stark contrast with the largely desolate wooded splendor of the Adirondack High Peaks region of New York State that comprised much of this ride. Starting in Schuylerville, the Saratoga 300K is an out-and-back route that winds its way up along the northern Hudson River before passing through Glens Falls, Lake George, Schroon Lake and turning around in Elizabethtown. It's a no-frills ride with plenty of scenic beauty that continued to surprise me throughout the day. When I scanned the route and saw that we would be riding on State Route 9 for considerable portions of the day, I did not have such high expectations, but boy oh boy, was I pleasantly surprised by what we encountered.

Since this north-south, out-and-back route generally follows the path of the Adirondack Northway (US87), there are few reasons for cars to take secondary roads. As a result, we spent much of the day riding in peace and quiet. While we did not encounter much wildlife (unless you count Spring Peepers and the cows that dot the farm country at the start of the ride) but it did seem possible that a bear would pop out of the woods at any minute for much of the ride. The temperatures hovered in the 40s throughout the day and despite being generally comfortable, I was able to find a lone stand of ice at the site of a shaded waterfall.

The were only four of us that turned out to ride on Sunday morning: a local ultra racer, who shot off the front with a support crew to meet up with at each of the controls, a rider from New Jersey out for his first 300K and a rider named Simon who I had met on last year's Bash Bish 300K and fell into riding with again this weekend. All told, it was a very enjoyable day. With smooth, low-traffic roads and majestic views, this is definitely a ride to put on your calendar.

Up next: I'll be riding in the PA 400K in a few weeks. Time to build some endurance and speed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A bike, a camera and plenty of time: Nick Hand's Conversations on the Hudson.

Every now and then, you meet someone who does something so perfect you wonder why you never thought of it. That's the way I felt when I first stumbled across the book Conversations on the Hudson a few weeks ago at a book store in Rhinebeck. This small, hardbound book is filled with gorgeous photographs that illustrate the stories and interviews author Nick Hand shares of the 20 artists and artisans he meets in his cycling journey from Brooklyn to Hudson Falls north of Albany. Nick's tale is a magical one in which he finds interesting creative people all throughout the Hudson Valley with wonderful stories to tell.

Conversations on the Hudson is not Nick's first project. He accomplished a similar (if more ambitious) journey several years ago in his native Britain. More information and photos from that project, known as Slowcoast, can be found on his website here. The book that grew from the Slowcoast project, entitled Conversations on the Coast, can be purchased through his publisher's website (and presumably in a few book shops in Britain). Another feature of Nick's brilliance is his creation of "soundslides," which are short films that include photos from each interview accompanied by the audio he captures during each interview in which his subjects describing their lives, work and passions. Think Studs Turkel for the 21st Century on a bike with a gorgeous visual sensibility.  Once you start watching these, I guarantee you will become hooked. Warning: they are quit addictive. You cannot watch just one.

British clothing designer Paul Smith discusses his life-long passion for cycling.

A tea taster explains the intricacies of his work.

A collector discusses the history of cycling in Britain from the earliest days.

A hat maker enjoys making people happy.

My lovely wife picked up a copy of this book for me several weeks ago at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck and when I noticed that Nick was coming to town to do a reading, I quickly added the event to my calendar. I knew the best way to attend a reading about cycling the length of the Hudson Valley was by bicycle and luckily the weather cooperated. With temperatures reaching the high 70s I was able to ride with a short sleeve jersey for the first time this season. After being held up by some computer troubles at home, I took advantage of some fabulous tailwinds as I rode north to the bridge making great time and turning what might have been a lazy saunter into a full-out sprint.

Miraculously, I made the 19 miles to Rhinebeck in about 1:04 and arrived in plenty of time to find a seat and settle in for a very enjoyable talk as Nick read from his book and showed several soundslides he created on his journey. Nick was joined by Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library who's featured in the book and who told us about his fascinating work preserving heirloom seed varieties in the region. After the talk, I introduced myself to Nick, had my book signed and took off to cycle to Vassar College 20 miles to the south where I met my wife and daughter for a performance by the amazing ZviDance Company.

Another great day in the Hudson Valley. Nick reads from his book at the Rapha Cycling Club in NYC on Wednesday evening. Check it out if you're in town.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spring is Finally Here! A Solo 200K Makes Up for a Washout Down South

While I had planned to ride in the MD 200K in Late March, a terrible forecast for a weekend of rain caused me to reassess my plans. Somehow driving ten hours round trip to ride for ten hours in the steady 45F rain did not seem like a terribly good idea. As a result, I took a DNS down south in favor of a slightly delayed inaugural 200K right out my back door.

There were quite a few "firsts" on this ride. It was the first time I've risen before the sunrise to prepare for a bike ride this season.  It was also the first time I've ridden a 200K in 2014, which says something about how terrible this winter has been in Upstate New York. It was also the first time this season that I've heard song birds and spring peepers as well as the first time I've ridden without gloves on for at least part of a ride since last fall. I could go on, but you get the picture. Winter is finally gone and spring is here to stay.

While I'm not in the kind of shape I would like to be in at the beginning of April, I am so overjoyed to be out on the road on one of my nice bikes without the fear of corrosive salt crystals eating away at a beautiful steel frame that I just don't really care. Fitness follows the joy of riding, as they say.

After a cold start at home, I zipped over to New Paltz to the beginning of the Flatlander's Delight 200K permanent adding a few extra miles to the day. The rolling hills served to warm me up and got me to the start eager for the day to unfold. I love the early spring in the Northeast as the colors are still so muted and subtle and this atmospheric serenity was matched along this route by the peaceful country roads generally devoid of traffic during this mid-week excursion. Against this muted landscape, even the most subtle colors stood out dramatically.

Another thing I love about this route in particular is a short section of hard pack dirt about halfway through the ride. It always feels so "isolated" in all the best ways and leaves me wanting more. Time to design a permanent or two with more substantial dirt riding deeper in the heart of the Catskills.

One of the things I truly love about long rides are the many surprises we find along the way. Even on familiar routes, it's possible to discover something new and unusual. In this way, randonneuring feeds my need for adventure in the most welcome ways.

Next up: the Saratoga 300K on April 27. In the meantime, there will be lots of riding to get this old body back into "rando shape."