Sunday, May 9, 2010

Spring Rides

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It's been an exciting time for me, riding in Ithaca again, finding my legs, and finding that it's a hell of a lot harder here in the hills. I've put in several rides since the last post: 27 miles, 24 miles, and 23 miles respectively. The first was supposed to be 35 miles but, not knowing my own limits, hitting a heat wave, and improper hydration shut my legs down riding up Yellow Barn Road off of Ferguson Rd. I'd gone south crossing Rte 13 onto Irish Settlement and gotten a bit lost. Ferguson seemed to be a road where all the upper-middle class folks live. I've rarely seen so many largish (but not quite McMansion largish) houses on one street. Ferguson, Spring Run, and lower Yellow Barn were all quite the same: Highly manicured lawns, kids playing in the street, long driveways, oversized get the picture. Why people want to mow that much grass is quite beyond me. This is one of the sad stories relating to farm land and beautiful scenery: Back home in Massachusetts I often was discouraged by all the folks from NYC and Connecticut who had so much disposable income they could buy up all our farm land and put god-awful eyesores that they live in for a couple of months at a time. If people want to know why the housing bubble burst they really don't have to look far. All those ugly houses and who can afford to heat them let alone buy them? Horrible investment.

It's not so bad on Ferguson, but that's a bit what it reminds me of. Moot point really. I had originally wanted to ride through Yellow Barn and Hammond Hill State Forest, but I found, riding up Yellow Barn, that my legs decided they had had enough and both locked up on me at the same time. I was amazed, in all honesty, that I didn't fall over. I realized what was happening just in time to pop my left foot out of the clip-in and stretch that leg out, allowing me to straighten the other after the bike tipped enough. I think I stood there for 10 minutes, different muscles in both legs cramped and locked, rubbing them and trying to get them to loosen up. It was rather painful and, although I wasn't thinking about it too much, I had about five miles left and was working out in my mind how to get home while coasting or pedaling lightly the rest of the way.

Eventually my legs loosened up. I drank more water and was thankful for the short rest I had in Freeville where I stopped at a local ice cream shop named Toad's Too (strange) and bought a slush puppy to help cool me off and hydrate a bit. I had gotten a late start to try and avoid the heat, but it was pushing 90 degrees F and was humid. The folks at Toad's were great and helped me get back on track as I was a bit lost at that point. But I digress.

I ended up getting back in reasonable shape, tired, but not beaten. The only casuality being my Cateye bicycle light: It originally strapped to the front of the handlebar, but the strap and lever mechanisim have become useless and the light just flopped down giving me little forward light.

Last year I did all my riding, at least initially, in Quebec. It was fine but it was quite flat. There was one very beautiful ride near Rimouski, Quebec that involved a lot of elevation change and a beautiful view of the St. Lawerence, and in New Brunswick the rides may have been flat, but they were almost always bordering the ocean. Now, in Ithaca, the world once again has a lot more vertical dimension and is a great challenge. I'm finding it exciting training for this Ride for Life while getting to know more of the local roads.

My 24 mile ride was more or less uneventful, but beautiful. And the attempted 27 mile ride that was more like 23 became so only because I was riding with a new friend, we didn't have great directions, and she crashed rather hard. Actually that's an understatement. She nearly killed herself rolling at a speed between 25 and 30mph. She sent me a picture of the bruise on her leg which I'll post shortly, but she had road-rash, cuts, scrapes, and gashes on most of her body. The fact that she rode another 7 miles home was a testament to her strength and durability. I hope she'll ride with me again, but she's off to the Phillipines first and then back for the summer.

Here is a link to the ride:
Finger Lakes Cycling Club

More to come! I'm going to start posting a gear section and a bit more about what type of bike I'm riding. It may not be real helpful, but to anyone starting out it might lend some insight.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ride for Life - Easter Training Ride

Welcome to my first "Ride for Life" blog. This is a bit of an experiment for me. I'm attempting to make this ride more "human" and less electronic. I hope to do this by sharing my rides and experiences over the next six months. This blog will also include insight gleaned as an Ithacan in New York. I'll express my observations over the changing of the seasons and of life.

The first planned ride ended up landing on Easter Day. I'm not Christian so I don't technically celebrate Easter, but I do celebrate the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. This ended up being a wonderful day. I went on a hike with several friends and then did a 40 mile ride in the Southern Tier between Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake.

It was actually a bit brutal. I don't consider myself a hard-core cyclist. I don't have the time or the training to be competitive. But I am stubborn and I like to climb hills at my own slow pace. Let me give you an idea of how I come up with a route: I pick a number of miles I want to ride...20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 usually. This gives me a starting point. Then I use Google Maps to sort out a trek. I just randomly click and drag in the Maps program until I'm close to the mileage I'm shooting for. Then I write down the info on flash cards, which are easier to pocket and look at while riding, and go for a ride. I'm always open to changing direction and finding alternate routes on a whim.

This route ended up having more hills then flats and, being my first longish ride of the year, put me nearly at my limit physically simply because of cramping and a lack of planning. I'll elaborate more on that later.

After getting out of the town of Ithaca I took a left onto Floral Ave coming from Seneca. Floral Ave is also called Rte 13A or Old Rte 13, and is much more pleasant to cycle than Rte 13 (running parallel), which is just an insane gaggle of road traffic. From here I took a right onto Bostwick Rd and...started a long press uphill. Bostwick is a bear but, Ithaca being in a valley at the end of a glacial lake means no matter what way you travel you have to go UP to get out and about. This also means there are several different levels of ridges, carved by glaciers about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, that you have to conquer if you desire more than a 10 mile ride.

The topography isn't as extreme as that of Vermont...if you've been there you'll know what I mean: The ridges are impressive and around the Rochester, VT area some of the steepest roads in the country exist...especially near Abraham Mountain. Serious cyclists in Vermont are in incredible shape; they have the perfect training grounds once the snow disappears. But it is still intimidating in and around the Finger Lakes Region. Bostwick Road turns into Harvey Hill and, while consistently steep for the first 2 miles, It ends up being about 8 miles of hard pedaling, for a guy like myself, if you go all the way to Buck Hill Road.

One thing I noticed were the Robins (American Robin). I hadn't seen any in the valley, but once out and on top of the ridges I started noticing them everywhere. The trees were not yet in bloom (except for the Magnolias in the City of Ithaca and some shrubs like the brilliant yellow Forsythia - Olive family), and the landscape was still rather brown, but hints of spring were in the air and on the ground. During the earlier hike I noted Spring Beauties (Claytonia) and Hepatica in the understory of the forest in Upper Buttermilk. Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) was also in bloom and quite happy. The ground was thawing and the smell was that of mud and decay... an aroma I have pleasant associations with: Sort of a rotting leaves/growing mushroom smell. I breathed it in quite hard as my lungs and heart pounded and strained up the hill. It was exhilarating. Cars flew past me at breakneck speeds up Bostwick, and I wondered at how sad it was that they would probably not experience the landscape as I was. In fact they would probably never know what they were missing.

From Bostwick I trekked toward Upper Treman (State Park) and beyond until I came to Trumbulls Corners Road. I'd never been up TCR and had no idea what to expect. It was pleasant, a gradual uphill, and it mirrored some of the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) crossing a lovely stream as I headed up. I turned onto Rumsey Hill Road, looked up, and Laughed. This hill reminds me of Vermont. I just geared down to my "granny gear" and pushed forward. At one point it felt so steep that I thought I'd just flip over backward if I pedaled too hard. The road was still covered with a thick layer of sand to help vehicles gain traction in the winter months. Now, dry and dusty, it was working against me as I pushed up to the top. My heart pounding I stopped and took a picture back...I'll have to shoot a picture up the next time...much more telling of the climb.

I had finally reached the plateau. There were some minor ups and downs but nothing like Bostwick and Rumsey. The rest of my ride was rather pleasant. I rode past a farm with peacocks, dodged potholes and chucks of pavement on winter ravaged "paved" roads, found a wonderful little artisan shop near one of the most unusual tombstones I've seen (picture below) and a small orchard, and avoided many a dog, especially on Grove Road. Grove connects to Black Road, which in turn connects to NY-79 W (coming from Ithaca and traveling toward Watkins Glen). Grove road is mostly "up" heading toward Searsburg. I'm always amazed at how people who live in some of the most beautiful areas also trash those areas the most. I spied trash lining the road near the adjacent stream (Called "Spring Brook" on Google Maps) and there were obvious signs of people dumping, mostly yard waste, but other waste as well. Apparently if it goes down to your neighbors yard it doesn't exist anymore. I've never understood that. I waved to a couple of kids adding fertilizer to a garden and was chased by a massive Bull Mastiff named "Sam" whose owner was nice enough to call off this dog that was nearly twice my size. I said "hello Sam" and was happy to still own my leg. He was pleasant enough however. Simply intimidating.

I ended up nearly missing Searsburg...not because of directions, but because it's so damn small. Once you get out of there, traveling East, there is some lovely farmland looking over what I call the Cayuga Valley. Heading toward Trumansburg the light was starting to dim and I was running out of water. Never a good sign especially on Easter when most shops are closed. I crossed the road and stopped at gimme! to see if I had made it...but it was past 7pm at this point and they were vacuuming up inside. I propped my bike up against the bench (picture below) and lay on the cement walkway to stretch out my back. I then ate another of my chocolate chip pancakes (or maybe two) and sucked down the last of my water.

It was cooling off at this point. The sun was going down, the twitter of the Robins strengthened as twilight rolled on, and riding from T-Berg to Ithaca I found myself running into pockets of warm and then cold air. With 5 miles left in my 40 mile ride my right biceps femoris or my semitendionosus muscle locked a wicked cramp. I got off my bike and walked a bit, found another 2 or 3 ounces of water at the bottom of my CamelBak, and slowly rode the rest of the way home.

All in all it was a fantastic first ride of the season, and one of the earliest and longest I've taken since getting back into bicycling since arriving in Ithaca.

I'm including a few pictures below for you to look at. If you can think of any suggestions to improve this blog, or would like to see some different material, please let me know. And please sponsor me this year in the Ride for Life.

More to come!
From left to right: A map of my trek, getting my gear ready, and looking at Ithaca Valley from the top of Bostwick.

From left to right: The top of Rumsey Hill, the strange tombstone, and gimme! coffee at T-Berg.

I'm obviously not great at manipulating pictures in this blog so if anyone has advice on how to make this more accessible or more person friendly please let me know!