Saturday, March 7, 2015

Just Under the Wire (or The Walkway Over the Hudson 100K Rewind)

As anyone in the Northeast will tell you, it's been cold, really, really cold this winter. Not only has it been uncharacteristically cold, but it's also snowed more than average and since we've not experienced a single thaw, most of that snow is still right where it fell. A few weeks ago, I read this interesting article about the work that ice breaking ships are doing to keep the Hudson River clear for shipping. Did you know that 70% of the home heating oil in the Northeast travels up the Hudson River? I didn't. I thought about this, though, on my recent attempt at the Walkway Over the Hudson 100K permanent as I looked down from the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge at the long trail left behind on the river signifying that life goes on despite the deep freeze.

Last weekend was not my first attempt at the Walkway 100K during the month of February, but it would be my last. I had set out the week before during what I thought was a suitable lull in the snowfall. I left my house on Saturday morning after the temperatures climbed to 17F from below zero at dawn. The forecast called for snow at 3:00 pm so I thought I would have just enough time to complete the loop before things got dicey. Sadly, this was one of those days when the local weather team underestimates the speed of a storm and so I found myself pedaling into a slippery whiteout 30 miles from home as I neared the turnaround.

So Old George would have likely soldiered on into the storm, but getting hit by a car on a brevet will teach a body a few things about second chances. As a result, I decided that successfully completing a P-12 was not quite as important as living to tell the story, so I reluctantly called my wife and asked her to pick me up. Imagine, if you will, how delighted she was to get the call. Torn between the joy that comes from realizing that your husband has developed some common sense and the irritation that comes from being asked to leave a warm couch by a cozy fire to drive into a snow storm, my wife came to my rescue. In the meantime, I needed to find a safe place to wait for my wife to arrive in the 18F weather. I spotted a school building on the horizon and pedaled over to seek shelter out of the wind. Being a Saturday, the school was sealed tight, but I found an unlocked van nearby and climbed inside to wait. I called my wife to talk her through a white-knuckle drive past emergency vehicles and spun-out cars when what should I hear but the worker in whose truck I was sitting return to pick up a few tools. Needless to say, this gentleman was not pleasantly surprised to see a lycra-clad stranger sitting in his truck. Luckily, I was able to talk him out of hitting me, but I soon found myself standing on the sidewalk again in the cold wind. What normally takes 30 minutes had taken my wife over an hour to cover since traffic had slowed to a crawl. After giving the matter some thought, the electrician invited me into the building to wait.

One of the reasons I was so intent on completing this 100K permanent on the second to last weekend in February is because without it, my quest for the P-12 would be dead in the water and I was off to Boston during the final week of the month to attend a conference leaving only February 28 to get the job done. So after failing in my first attempt, I was stuck shoe-horning the ride in at the last minute. As luck would have it, though, we experienced a thaw last Saturday with temperatures rising into the mid-20s. While still well below freezing, I was able to extract a small stream of water from my frozen bottles all the way to the turnaround and there was no fresh snow on the roads. The sun, now approaching a nearly spring-like position in the sky even gave the illusion that this winter wonderland may some day give way to green pastures.

In order to ride in the warmest part of the day, I delayed my start until 12:45 pm. I realized during the ride, though, that this late start left a question mark looming as to how I would recross the Hudson at the finish. The Walkway Over the Hudson, for which this permanent is named, is generally a lovely way to return home from a long ride, but the gate schedule is somewhat more mysterious and unpredictable than I would like. Would the it close at 5:00 pm or at sundown which was scheduled to arrive at 5:49 pm? How would this team of chilly park rangers interpret "dusk," which is advertised as the formal closing time of this narrowest of state parks. The alternative to crossing the river at this latitude is the Mid-Hudson Bridge that includes a pedestrian walkway, but one that is not reliably plowed during the winter months. The thought of a DNF on this ride and a call to my wife for a rescue terrified me in equal measure. Luckily, as the sun dipped low on the horizon, I approached the Walkway to find the gate open and slipped through to pedal across the crusty, snow-covered span to my awaiting car.

Up next: the Westfield Early Spring 200K. One day this winter must end.