Monday, July 30, 2012

The Farm Ride, 7-28-2012 - Amherst Massachusetts (52 miles)

Being a city dweller I don't often get chances to ride in real farm country. For this reason I was excited when Tony's Bicycles made it possible for me to join the good people at Bicycle Shows U.S. for The Farm Ride, in Amherst Massachusetts.

Friday morning I awoke at 6 to shower and put my things together for the trip to Massachusetts. The Farm Ride is a 3 day event that features rides of varying lengths for riders of all skill levels, from 15-100 miles long. There are many options for lodging as well, from a standard dorm to nearby but off campus hotel accommodations, none of the profits from which go to Bicycle Shows.

I had promised myself I would not ride before Saturday in an effort to try to save my legs for the 100 mile effort, so I put myself with my bike on the N train and had an uneventful trip to the 34th Street Herald Square station. From there it was only a few avenues roll to reach 10th and 33rd, where I was to meet my bike and body transport to Massachusetts.

There I found I was one of the early ones (as I prefer it to be), and met a couple of friendly riders already waiting on the corner. After a few minutes the inevitable friendly cyclist conversations start, and I meet a cyclist named Kevin who is also going to attempt the 100 mile route Saturday. He's a far more experienced rider than I, with a beautiful road bike carefully wrapped in protective foam for shipping.

Slowly other riders and some of the organizers arrive at the meeting point. Anne, one of the lead organizers and from what I can tell, one of Glen's (the creator of Bicycle Shows) most trusted workers in his ride organization arrives. She quickly sets out to get us all situated in the right area where we could await the final minutes before registration, and loading our bikes on the respective trucks.

Kevin and I decide to grab coffee and are joined by another rider named Tom, a friendly fellow with an honest good nature about him. We all start trading various short stories regarding other organized rides, and what our expectations were for the Farm Ride this year. By the time we returned to the meeting area a table was being set for registration, and in only a few minutes the trucks for our bikes, and the bus for the people arrived.

Soon we all piled onto the large charter bus, and got ourselves situated comfortably for the ride. I had not slept more than maybe 5 hours the night before so I periodically dozed off, making the trip seem shorter than it's 3+ hours. During the ride we were supplied with cardboard lunch boxes complete with gourmet sandwiches, fruit, drink, and chips. After shaking the bottle too much, the fizzy fruit drink I opened erupted partially onto my clothing and the nice people around me helped by supplying me with their napkins.

There was no escaping the heat and humidity of the city, and Amherst was equally muggy. The combination made it feel as if it was in the high 80's and my body responded as per usual, by pouring sweat whenever I exerted myself in the least. The "command center" for the ride was situated on the first floor of a deluxe dorm building set near the parking lot. Everyone was anxious to get to their rooms with their gear, so we all lined up in the lobby to receive our room keys. The truck shipping the bikes was a little delayed so I had time to stash my bag at my standard dorm room before coming back out to the lot to retrieve my bike.

The first bikes are carefully unloaded.

The master of ceremonies, Glen, hard at work.

Glen helps a rider with last minute registration instruction before driving off in a truck used for supplies.

The good people at SRAM had top of the line road bikes on offer for people to demo during the Farm Ride.

Professional fitters, and bike mechanics were on site to make sure your demo bike was properly fit for you.

A short tutorial on using the bikes was given before anyone could ride a demo bike. Riders were then required to participate in a survey after riding, a small price to pay for trying a 10k+ bicycle!

My room at Amherst for the weekend, my commemorative Farm Ride t-shirt draped over my bike.

I must say that throughout this entire event I met so many great people! I really and truly wish I could remember them all by name and I know I forgot some names, but here goes! Kevin, Kenneth, Tom, Dana, Moshe (and his lady friend!), Christina, Jess, Diane, James, Jared, Joe, Micheal, Glen(!), Sue, Rocko, (the nice couple across the hall, so sorry I cannot remember your names), Ursula, Mark (and his lady friend!), Susanna, Johnny, Graham, Brian (from Bike Hoboken), Andrea, Doug, Jill, Jodie, Anderson, ugh... Who else am I forgetting...? The nice ladies from Westchester who like to hike and bike! The nice woman with the Capricorn jewelery.... (sorry!). Phew! If I forgot your name, and we met, my sincere apologies. Comment or send me a message if you want the proper shout out, I would be happy to make the correction, or addition.

Soooo, now I've arrived in my room and drop off my gear, and set my bike against the desk where it will stay until Saturday. Friday's ride was a short 20 miles to a self paid dinner of your choice. As I had promised myself that I would not ride Saturday, and due to the fact that I was getting hungry early, I walked from my dorm to main street and tried to read the menus in the windows of the restaurants I passed. On my way to main street I was passed by some of the other Farm Riders who were off on their afternoon rides and managed to shoot a picture as they pass.

Coming to the end of main street I called out to a man who was getting into his car. I had hoped he was a local when I asked, "Where should I eat? I'm from New York!". He happily began listing some of the local spots I had passed, and I thought the restaurant Judie's seemed to fit the bill. I ate a delicious grilled chicken with lobster ravioli dish which came with a salad, and large popover, and apple butter. The food was excellent and the service prompt, I recommended this spot to others who informed me later that they were pleased with the choice of restaurant.

Returning to my dorm, still feeling a bit tired, I relaxed in the tiny twin bed watching television on my phone. By nightfall I decided I should seek some the Harpoon Brewery beers that were on offer, as well as make more efforts to meets more of the good people in attendance. Good beer, good conversation, and good vibes were all around while I relaxed in the command center area with other riders, and some staff pulling together the last details before tomorrows ride. Conversation often veered back to the subject of cycling, and organized rides, with Glen even offering a little insight into the factors as to why things sometimes take an unfortunate turn for the worse. Time flies as they say, and I was walking back to my room at around 11 to try to to get at least 6 hours sleep before the ride.

Upon waking I showered and geared up, and made it out to the starting area. I was a little early and arrived as they were just beginning to set things out. I anxiously awaited the bagels, and coffee, I had been looking forward to. Here is where I met Jared and Joe, 2 friendly riders fairly new to the sport, from Connecticut. Both had hopes of completing the 100 mile route, and were also excited to hit the road. I asked if they would mind if I rode with them a little, and they said they would be happy if I did. As they were both lighter than I, and riding road bikes, I knew I would not be able to stick with them for too long, especially if I stop for panoramic pictures, and properly pace myself.

Breakfast at the starting line for The Farm Ride.

Now on the road, following Jared and Joe, I could tell that conditions were not going to be ideal. The air was like hot soup, slowly simmering my flushed skin and panting body, and making every effort feel twice as laborious. I knew from prior experience that I tend to cramp more often when it is humid so I tried to eat potassium rich foods (bananas, dried apricots), hydrate often, and most importantly, pace myself.

Jared pulled away first, and I followed closer to Joe for awhile, and when I came upon my first panoramic opportunity I pulled over and watched as he wound away down the road.

Starting out on The Farm Ride, following Joe, a rider from Connecticut.

Following Jared, a Farm Ride participant from Connecticut.

A "look back shot" during a rapid descent.

Rapid descent, signaling to pedestrians that bikes are coming, signalling o cyclists to slow for abrupt approach to concrete barriers.

A bench sits overlooking a scenic field and farm house.

Misty mountains in the distance, stopping to take panoramic pictures, and then resuming the route.

Now riding alone I continued along the route keeping a watchful eye out for the bright pink spray painted turn symbols which mark the 100 mile route. Passing the many fields of food, and flowers, I was taken with the unspoiled and idyllic scenery, waving at farmers who apparently know nothing about taking Saturday's off. All of this a special treat for a guy who mainly rides in the 5 boroughs of New York City, and had only rode by sparse farm land on Long Island, and some wilderness when riding in Westchester, and points North.

Lush green field with mountains in backdrop.

At about the 22 mile mark I reached the first rest area in Historic Deerfield. I fed myself, and filled my water bladder, all the while drinking cups of sports drink for electrolytes. Here I spoke with Brian for the first time, a friendly and knowledgeable ride Marshall from New Jersey.

The homes in this section of Deerfield are beautifully preserved historic sites featuring old family homes interspersed with houses containing museum exhibits as an example of how life was in a bygone age. Thoroughly enjoying the sites, sounds, and smells, of rural Massachusetts I rode further along the route looking forward to more of the same.

A small waterfall before approaching a scenic riverside overlook where I stopped to take panoramic pictures.

Passing the lush fields and beautiful farm houses. Waving to "farmer Joe", he waves back.

More beautiful farmland and a small bridge.

A couple asks me to film them, and I oblige.

Beautiful old red barn.

Somewhere near the 30 mile mark we reached an old bridge spanning a river surrounded by thick canopy. Stopping to shoot pictures I left my video camera recording as a rider passes commenting on the beauty I say, "It's Gorgeous.".

When I was ready to leave I found myself riding with 2 road bike riders, one of which had mentioned that he thought he had seen my 5 Boro Bike Tour footage. I was able to pace them on the flats, but soon they pulled away from me up the first hill we came upon.

Entering the MUP trails that lead to a gorgeous old bridge. Stopping to take pictures a fellow rider remarks on the beauty of the scene and I reply.

Riding from the bridge I part ways with 2 cyclists whom inquired about my blog, and then grind my way up the next hills.

The picturesque vistas continued to roll out as my feet unwound the route beneath me. Nary a hill too long (though a few short but steep hills I walked up as the humidity was severely inhibiting my abilities), the ride proved to be mostly flat, as advertised. Passing old antiques shops and even more historical homes; the lush fields seemed endless, farm stands, farm trade, diligent workers harvesting, feed stores and the like, just as one might expect.

Historic Deerfield Massachusetts, a field full of cows.

A long stretch, a woman asks to be filmed.

Catching up to the friendly cyclist who requested to be filmed followed by rapid descent leading to an old barn.

A long clip of many beautiful fields, barns, and homes, in Massachusetts. Stopping to shoot a few panoramic pictures, Brian the friendly ride Marshall confirms that all is well.

More and more the humidity rose, and it felt as if it was squeezing the life out of me. My legs which were already starting to show the early signs of cramping were quickly becoming less cooperative. I kept ratcheting down the speed using gearing as best I could to stay within my comfort zone. Unfortunately it didn't seem to do me any good and real cramping was setting in.

As I make a descent, eventually passing a pack of riders, the first rain drops of the approaching deluge begin to fall, calling a halt to my filming efforts.

After walking one of those steep hills mentioned earlier, I felt my legs hovering on the verge of full cramp meltdown, this was all directly concurrent to the slow relentless climb in humidity that was boiling my chubby self internally. At the top of this hill I put my bike to the side, and stretch in the grass in an effort to allow my legs to recuperate. It was at this time that the raindrops got heavier, and I unplugged my camera and wrapped it along with other sensitive electronics in the heavy plastic bag inside my backpack.

Now the rain was becoming steady, and with the thankful break in air humidity came the ultimate in environmental humidity, a relentless, thunderous, pounding, torrential downpour! In short order I'm completely soaked, riding through puddles nearly 6 inches deep, head down, squinting for the pink route markers. I stopped briefly under some shelter to try to gauge if there might be a break in the rain on the horizon, but it only seemed to come down harder.

I resigned myself to pedaling to the next rest area knowing full well there would likely be a group of other riders there either hold up waiting out the rain, or waiting for a support truck to pick up there bikes, and a van to pick take them to our dorms. Sure enough about a dozen other riders were in the small school lobby where the 50+ mile mark rest area was, mostly waiting for a pick up for themselves, and their bikes. In about 45mins time we were in the van heading back marveling at the stalwart people who refused to give in to the elements and continued to ride regardless of the flood warnings blowing up our phones, advertising dangerous conditions for hours to come.

The mood in the van was positive, and soon I was back to my dorm and taking a warm shower. After which, I met up with a small group of other riders near the deluxe dorms where we called a cab to get to the after ride meal at the Sugar Shack.

The food throughout this entire event is top notch, and the sugar shack was no exception. Classic BBQ was on offer, with delicious salads, plenty of beverages, beer, pie, and ice cream too. Engaging in a variety of good conversation while stuffing myself to the gills, the rain never let up the whole time. Still people were seen completing their rides, and were greeted with applause from the revelers.

After I was fully sated, I hopped into a van back to the dorms once more. I now relaxed in my room, watching television on my phone planning to partake in booze and the theme parties in the suites. Fully rested I walked over to the dorms where the parties would be. There was a Tiki party with tropical cocktails and tater tots, "Farmi Gras" with the classic hurricane drinks, an Olympics party which encouraged patriotic "games", a Whiskey room which had... whiskey, with pizza and Margarita machines in the command center area.

Drinks flowed freely, people enjoyed themselves thoroughly, and I tried to flow room to room and meet and talk to as many people as I could. Cyclists are such a wonderfully diverse group of good natured people, I like to think the Endorphins from exercise, and a healthy dose of outdoor activity make them generally more positive people.

After a few drinks and snacks I walked back to my room a little before midnight, calling my girlfriend for an evening chat before crashing for the night.

Breakfast was served in the lobby of the dorm the next morning, and a number of people planned to ride the scheduled 9A.M. 40 mile ride regardless of more rain on the horizon (which began to fall before noon). All of my gear was still sopping wet, and I had not thought to use the laundry in the dorms as other more thoughtful people had so I opted to not ride the Sunday ride. I had heard that there was going to be an early departure option so I signed up for the noon option rather than waiting for 3P.M. to roll around.

Our bikes were loaded into a truck, and we piled into 3 separate vans now heading back to New York. Many of us dozed as we made our way back. We stopped only once shortly before finishing our trip into the heart of Manhattan. For once the conditions were in my favor and the rain let up at almost the exact time that we arrived where we would unload.

I quickly said goodbye to some folks, and hopped on my bike to ride the 6+ miles home through midtown, and over the 59th Street Bridge, for my usual route through Long Island City, and finally back home to Astoria contemplating my experience during my first Farm Ride with Bicycle Shows U.S.. Though I had not completed the century route, I did not feel too badly about it as I had finished the 108.9 mile route to Montauk the month prior, and will have more than a few more chances to ride centuries before the cycling season ends.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Astoria to the Palisades (31.9 miles)

June was a record high mileage month for me, and I paid the price. After returning from the Clarence Fahnestock Park I was forced to take a few weeks off from riding to heal a saddle sore, and as luck would have it I came down with a terrible Summer cold that insured that I would be laying low and avoiding strenuous activity in this heat wave that NYC is experiencing.

Listening carefully to my body and the weather forecast, I saw that yesterday (July 21st) would be just over 80 degrees, which was the lowest temperature in over 2 weeks. My sore had almost fully healed, and I was antsy to get back in the saddle. I decided to ride to the Palisades over the George Washington Bridge as it had been some months since I had done this scenic ride. Considering that it had been a few weeks since I rode I felt I should not try to push myself too far and decided to ride about 30 miles to begin ramping up my endurance once more.

I set out around 11am and made way through the mild morning sun towards the Triboro Bridge and Randalls Island where I now have my choice of bridges to cross the East River (103rd st bridge is open once more). I decided that I would like to shoot a longer clip from the Triboro, and let my camera roll until I reached 122nd Street in Harlem.

Riding from the Triboro Bridge to 125th Street Harlem.

I rode through Harlem using my usual route connecting St. Nicholas Avenue with Fort Washington Avenue to reach the bridge entrance near 177th Street. Many cyclist flowed in either direction as the ride to Peirmont is chock full of hills, and is a very popular training destination for cyclists.

A block in Harlem that was closed off to traffic and each building adorned with balloons.

Riding from 177th Street over the George Washington Bridge to the entrance of Palisades Park.

The Henry Hudson Drive is a long North/South road also often incorrectly referred to as River Road that includes many steep hills for grinding begrudgingly up and sailing happily down.

From the entrance to Palisades Park to under the George Washington Bridge. A training ride to the Palisades.

After a couple of miles the road leads to a riverside park and public boat launch that has an outdoor cafe. After shooting some panoramic pictures at the far end of the marina I stopped at the cafe for a BLT, a gatorade, and to fill up my water bottle before pointing myself back north.

The view from the end of the marina on Henry Hudson Drive.

As I neared the 15 mile mark I realized that if I was to go much further today I would likely be pushing myself too hard, and promised myself that I would turn around after I crested the next tall hill. Upon reaching the top of the hill I found large chunks of fallen rocks blocking the road in an almost ominous reminder of the steep terrain who's gravity threatens anyone passing through.

Fallen Rock Zone

Turning around I rode back to the entrance of the park, and made my way toward the George Washington Bridge. Here I stopped to shoot some panoramic pictures and soak in the stunning views of the city.

Views from the George Washington Bridge

Passing through Harlem once again I kept my eyes peeled for a shaved ice cart and upon locating one purchased a fruit punch flavored treat which I ate as I carefully approached the 125th Street bridge.

In short order I was climbing slowly up the Triboro Bridge on the Randalls Island side and rolling down into Astoria once more to complete the trip home. When I arrived home I found I was unusually exhausted from the ride. I attributed this to 3 weeks off the bike, my recent illness, and the fact that the temperatures were still on the warm side.

All in all it was really great to get back on the bike, and I'm very much looking forward to my next cycling event and century ride which is The Farm Ride, July 27-29.