Best Weekend Ever

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This was the best weekend ever.

The kids woke this morning and asked to have the training wheels removed from their bikes. This came as a complete surprise because they really haven’t shown any interest in the bikes since last summer, preferring instead to cruise around on their scooters. We’ve tried to get the training wheels off with little success but this morning they both wanted to  ride without the outriggers.

Within a few very short minutes, they were riding up and down our street with little or no assistance. It was as if they decided “today is the day I’m going to ride a bike like a grown up,” much like toddlers decide they’re going to be potty trained. It has to be their idea.

After lunch, we set out for a park with a long, paved multi-use trail for them to practice on. Sammy needed some assistance to get going, but Rob took off and was instantly at the head of the pack.

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Once going, Sam did very well, too, considering it was her first outing without the training wheels. What a joy having them ride beside me.

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Rob seems to have some natural talent. He’s very relaxed on the bike and has already figured out how to absorb bumps by lifting his butt off the saddle. He had a ball riding in the grass, and even got out of the saddle to tackle a little hill.

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I was amazed to see him ride in tight figure-eights to show off his ability to turn the bike by leaning. I wonder if all the rides on the Burley Piccolo have contributed to a sense of comfort leaning over.

We rode in the park for about two hours, ending on a nice stretch of gravel which they handled without batting an eye.

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I’m so proud and shocked by the rapid progress they made. It’s as if someone updated their “cycling firmware” overnight and gave them instantaneous skills. Their ability to ride opens up a host of vacation possibilities.

Last night, I spent my first night in my new Tarptent Moment, which I bought for bike packing. At just a hair over two pounds, it sleeps one and sets up in about 2 minutes. It’s easily the fastest pitching tent I’ve ever owned or been in. It is ventilated extremely well. I slept in a 40 degree down bag with a cap on my head in the low 40’s last night with both doors open and did not experience a drop of condensation. And I was plenty warm. I can’t wait to strap it to a bike and head into the woods.

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And finally, Friday wasn’t bad either. I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation. It took Way longer than it should have to get to this point, but I made it. I made it with a lot of support, encouragement and love from many special people in my life. Thank you.

Now I can finally plan a vacation without school work hanging over my head and making me feel guilty and nauseated about not having finished. Somehow I think the vacation will involve some form of cycling now that everyone can ride independently.

 

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In Search Of

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I’ve wanted to try bikepacking for quite some time now. I first heard of the combination of cycling and backpacking probably four years ago, inspired by such adventurous blogs as Lacemine 29, Republic of Doom, and Pedaling in Place.  The basic premise of bikepacking is simple: load your bike with the lightweight essentials and head out on a camping trip traveling by bicycle. Whereas traditional cycle touring involves road biking, racks and panniers, bikepacking usually involves off-road routes and bags fitted to the frame of the bike. One look at the blogs listed above and you’ll realize that those guys have access to some pretty incredible places. Me, not so much.

This winter I decided to stop procrastinating and actually try to do a trip. I have a couple of bins filled with camping supplies from when I used to backpack and climb and, as such, the gear isn’t holding me back. I have enough common sense to know not to try a trip like this into someplace “nice” like upstate NY without first taking a dry run locally to make sure I have the bike packed properly and assess what my mileage capabilities would be with a loaded bike.  With that in mind, I wanted to plot a route that could be navigated after work, either riding or driving to the trail head, with a camping spot within 90 to 120 minutes from the start. What is holding me back is a place to camp locally.

In my part of New York, wild or stealth camping is not allowed.  It’s called trespassing. In the county I live in, there are exactly two authorized campgrounds. One is at the beach (I’m not a beach person) and the other…..well that’s what this post is about.

This morning I set out in search of the public campground to be used in my trial bikepacking run. It wasn’t really a search as searches go since I knew where it was located, but I had never ridden there on a bike. I set out from a popular trailhead in Woodbury, NY and rode on rooty singletrack trails that parallel the Long Island Greenbelt Trail.

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The trail gets a lot of use by local mountain bikers and at times it crosses a paved multi-use trail maintained by Nassau County, hence the trail kiosk pictured above. I’m not a big fan of roots. I’d rather be riding a dried up river bed like some of the posts in the blogs mentioned above. You’ll notice that I did not pack any of my camping gear. Something told me to take a run to scope out the campground before committing to carrying the gear. It turned out to be a good decision.

You can see the darndest things while out on a bike. I was cruising along minding my own business when I came upon thirty people in street clothes in the middle of the woods.

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They were walking exactly 1.4 mph. One of them eventually realized I was following and they all pulled off the trail and cheered me on as if I were the one out-of-place in the woods.

A few minutes later I arrived at my destination, Battle Row Campground in lovely Bethpage. It derives its name, no doubt, from the obvious fact that it looks like it has been to hell and back! As you approach on the road leading into the park, you encounter all manner of trash and debris. And you get to see this

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The park is sandwiched between a semi-abandoned quarry, a fire academy and a landfill. Good times.

I pedaled into the park to check out the advertised tent sites. One look and I realized that tent campers are not the intended clientele. The park predominantly caters to RVers and, the best I can tell, it’s mostly a storage yard for RVs or people who live in their RV year round. The campsites looked pretty sad.

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I went in search of a campground and I found one, but not one I’d actually sleep in.  I suppose it would be worth the effort to load the bike with the camping gear and make a round trip to and from the campground just for the experience of riding the loaded bike, but I was looking forward to camping.

This trial run was not successful, although I suppose an afternoon on the mountain bike is nothing to complain about. I learned that the campground I pinned my hopes on is a mess. I learned that I may have to look elsewhere-perhaps Westchester–for a suitable camping spot for my first bikepacking trip. If you know of anywhere within an hour’s drive from Nassau County that has public camping not next to a landfill please let me know in the comments section.

 

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Still Disappointing After All These Years

It has been  3 years since I wrote the original post outlining my dissatisfaction with Garmin products and not much has changed in my experience. My biggest gripe remains the software interfaces that should work seamlessly at this point but do not. For example, why is it that you cannot clear old routes and favorites off your device from Garmin Sync (or Express or whatever they are calling it this month) or Basecamp? Sometimes it works; other times, you have to go to the device and do it manually. Either way Garmin, make a choice: either enable that capability or remove it but it shouldn’t be “sometimes it works.” Same thing with transferring routes and a host of other functions.

I’ve noticed over the past few months that even my otherwise reliable Zumo is acting strangely. It takes me wherever the hell it wants, regardless of my routing preferences. For example, a 25 minute straight line route becomes a wandering 45 minute exploration of backroads notwithstanding how I set the route preferences. I now more or less rely on Google Maps on my iPhone unless it’s a trip that I’ve pre-programmed a bunch of POIs into. I know, I could do a factory reset to see if it fixes the problem, but the point is you shouldn’t have to keep reseting a device to get it to work properly.

I’ve given up on buying map sets. I have a lifetime set for my Zumo, but stopped updating it for my other devices. OSM (Open Street Maps) is the way to go. Current & free! Basecamp looks nice but hasn’t lived up to its potential. Even with a current map set installed, it is lacking critical POIs and destinations such as hotels and attractions. Last fall I visited Fort Levenworth, Kansas. It’s a major military installation with public attractions on the base and nearby off-base. But most of those attractions were not on Basecamp, which meant I had to toggle back and forth between Google Maps and Basecamp to get addresses and GPS coordinates to input into Basecamp. Once I had all the POIs selected, I selected “Send to Device” and, of course the information was not on my device despite a dialog box telling me the transfer was complete.  Sometimes I think it would be easier to go back to using a Hagstrom map book.

I’ve given up planning cycling routes on Basecamp. About 50% of the time the route transfers to my 800 but the turn-by-turn instructions do not work. Yes, I know you have to turn that feature on in the 800’s settings page for each route. I now do all my route planning directly on RidewithGPS and upload routes from there directly to my 800. It works every time.

On 3 occasions, I’ve come close to buying a Fenix but cannot bring myself to do it. The message boards are littered with unhappy customers complaining of freezes, lost tracks etc. Assuming that half of those dissatisfied people just like to complain, there’s still too many people voicing dissatisfaction to warrant shelling out $500 for a device that Garmin will no doubt “update” by the time I finish typing this sentence. Instead of updating everything, how about picking one product and making it work flawlessly?

The only nice thing I have to offer about Garmin is that they swiftly sold me a refurbished 800 after I destroyed mine trying to change the battery. Customer service in that instance was polite and efficient and they helped me get back on the road in under a week or so.

I’ve given up hope that Garmin will stop pooping out new devices that do not work properly in favor of completely fixing all of its existing issues. They’re probably not reading this blog or their customer support message boards. As such, I’m going to imagine what a company might look like if all it did was make awesome cycling computers. Anyone with enough capital to make this company a reality may feel free to do so. Please send me a million dollars if you succeed.

The company should:

  • have a mission, vision and values to focus on making one product line and making it the best cycling GPS known to man.
  • design products with feature sets chosen by cyclists. Some riders don’t care about maps but like the GPS for mileage tracking. Great. Make it so you can turn off the map feature. Same with all the other features. By the way, some of the crap in current devices is unsafe and probably a liability; for example, routing emails and texts to the unit is an uneccesary distraction and would be illegal in a car in many states.
  • NOT release products until they have been tested by real cyclists in the real world. Pick random people off RidewithGPS, bike clubs etc and let them trounce the the thing for six months before you sell it to the public.
  • support the products once they are released. If users have issues, address the issues promptly and not let them fester.
  • make the devices with interoperability in mind. They should work with RidewithGPS, Strava etc etc. Make it so you can pair it, if you want, to your cell phone.
  • not release a new product or update the current product unless it legitimately needs a replacement. Don’t release a computer on Jan 1 and then offer the same thing on March 1 with the addition of a night vision goggle feature.
  • charge a premium if it works as designed. People will pay $$$ for their gadgets but they have to work properly!
  • primarily be in the hardware business. Leave maps and software to other companies. OSM maps are free, so use them as a standard. Make a simple interface for updating firmware and leave it at that.
  • be humble and honest. Computers develop issues, just like people. If there’s an issue: acknowledge it, apologize and get to work fixing it.Don’t alienate your customer base by ignoring complaints because you’re too busy working on the next best thing.

So far the closest I’ve come to finding my dream device, is my smart phone running Google Maps or the RidewithGPS app. I know I’ve mentioned RidewithGPS a number of times. It’s what I have experience with. I’m not a social media promoter or anything like that. I’m sure there are other apps that work fine. I tend to find something that works for me and stick with it.

The downside, for me, of using my iPhone as a navigation device is two fold. First is battery life. Running a mapping app rapidly depletes battery life, even if you cache the map into memory because you’re still using the phone’s GPS. This is the only place, that I can think of, that the Garmin devices “win:” they have very good battery life for what they accomplish. I do not like the idea of running down the battery of my phone navigating and then not having a working phone in case I need to make a phone call.

The second downside of using the phone as a navigation device is that it’s the phone. I ride my bike to escape email, texts and phone calls. Having the phone sitting in front of me is a potential invitation to “check in” during a ride. I’ve ridden with people who take phone calls and exchange texts while pedaling. It’s obnoxious and unsafe. I don’t want to be tempted.

I think what I’m looking for in my dream device is a Garmin 8xx or 1xxx made and supported by an entirely different corporation that only focuses on cycling and not driving, golf, fishing, running, flying, swimming, shuffleboard and bo-taoshi.

Someone please make this happen. PM me on where to send the $1million.

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Stripped

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A ride that is more difficult than anticipated is like paint remover.

That realization came to me yesterday while out on a 102k RUSA Permanent. Several months ago–4 to be exact– I set for myself the goal of completing the RUSA P-12. The P-12 is basically a competition with one’s self, a work of personal achievement. A rider completes a RUSA Permanent of at least 100 kilometers every month for 12 consecutive months.

A Permanent is nothing more than a fixed route “owned” by a RUSA member. You tell the owner when you want to ride, complete some paperwork and ride. During the ride, you have to prove that you completed the route as planned and within certain time parameters. To do that, you collect information or receipts with time stamps at control points along the route. At the completion of the ride, you send your proof to the owner and he or she credits your results page on the RUSA site.

I’ve been doing these rides since August. At first they were meant to prepare me for a 200k brevet before the end of 2015, but that plan fell through due to work and family obligations and the fact that no one runs brevets much after September in the NY area. Then I realized that riding a 100+k per month was a good way to stay in shape over the winter. Most of the rides have been relatively flat as I worked on building my endurance for longer days and, ultimately, rides of 200k and longer.

To many this may seem like “what’s the big deal about getting to 200, that’s not so hard.” But I am a product of circumstances, like many of you out there. I work all day, 5 days a week. On the weekends I may have one of the two days to ride, and the second is for domestic affairs. My ride options on that one day consist of:

  1. Go solo. I’m usually not inclined to ride around my own environs for 4+ hours alone. Boring!
  2. Go out with the club. That brings its own baggage, not the least of which is that most of the rides end around 45-50 miles and traverse the same damn roads year after year.
  3. Pack up and go somewhere completely different; for example, a RUSA permanent in another region

Hitting 200 requires some planning and adjustment of schedules. I know enough not to just go for 200 without easing into it, hence the RUSA Permanent rides.

Yesterday’s route was the closest to my home yet, a mere 30 minute drive to Yonkers which, for those not familiar with NY, is just across the border from the Bronx. It also showed the most elevation gain compared to the other routes I’ve ridden although I never quite trust the elevation declarations on the RUSA site or RidewithGPS. My plan was to ride light and fast on my Seven, leaving the heavier fender-equipped bike at home. One look out the window, however, convinced me that the heavy bike would be making the trip. It was dreary, chilly and drizzling; therefore, having fenders and a place to carry a rain jacket and spare gloves would be valuable.

Approximately 45% of the route followed county multi-use trails (MUT) through lower Westchester. Some may scoff at riding on a MUT, but when it’s foggy and the roads are slippery I’d rather be out of the way of the automobiles. I made good progress up to Kitchawan, then crossed this picturesque MUT bridge.

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Immediately after the bridge, I began a dastardly (to me) climb up to the first control in Yorktown Heights. When you haven’t been doing a lot of climbing, a 2.2 mile climb at a noticeable grade really gets your heart and lungs going. I have no idea, by the way, how to assess grade percentage either with my eyes or a GPS route. Maybe I’m better off!

Most of the 3350 ft of climbing were in the back half of the route. A fair amount of climbing out of low points, like the Croton Aqueduct building pictured above. And the route finished with two steep climbs up streets in Dobbs Ferry and Yonkers. It was definitely more climbing than I was prepared for in terms of fitness and preparation.

At some point I stopped to take a breather and munch some candy and realized that I had completely shut out the outside world. I wasn’t thinking about work, family, bills, the next bike I want, the new stove we need……nothing. I was completely focused on riding, turning the pedals, paying attention to the road and traffic. Focused on the next turn, how many miles back to the start, will I need to put on the rain jacket for the last 6 miles.

It occurred to me then that a ride that is more difficult than anticipated is like paint remover. It strips away everything. All you can do is focus on turning the pedals and the road in front of you. Nothing else matters for that time.

It’s a good feeling.

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Personal Risk Assessment

Do you perform a personal risk assessment before engaging in your favorite sporting activity?

I watch the video above on a regular basis. Partly because I like the setting and story, and partly because my work involves helping healthcare teams identify and manage risk. I think there are a lot of parallels between managing risk in the outdoors and managing risk in a hospital during emergencies. When I watch the video, I also reflect on how I manage my own risk when cycling.

For me, risk on a bike boils down to three things. I can get hurt by the actions of others. I can get hurt because of my own actions (or inactions). I can get hurt by unforeseeable things such as a tree branch falling on me or sinkhole opening in the roadway. I can only control a couple of these potential failure points and I do so by performing a risk assessment before each ride and making good choices during the ride that are consistent with my risk management plan. Here are my assessment points:

  1. Me: I’m the only person I have complete control over out on the road. So I have to be “ready” for the ride. Ready means rested, healthy and in the right state of mind. A fair amount of risk management (making good decisions in critical situations) relies on having a clear head that allows focus and critical decision-making. You cannot do this if you’re exhausted, sick or distracted by other life issues. If you are sick and on a load of cold medicines, for example, you should consider yourself impaired and ask how that will impact your riding and decision-making. I make it a rule to never ride sick because sickness itself is a distraction. As a general rule, if I roll out of bed saying, “I really don’t feel like riding today,” I don’t rush out to ride. I allow myself to wake up and if the mood changes, then I ride. The “Me” category also includes nutrition and hydration; therefore, I assess what I expect to need during the ride and pack accordingly. For a longer ride, I’ll try to anticipate where along the route I can find real food.
  2. The Environment: I assess the weather conditions the day before and morning of a routine ride. I start assessing further out for a major ride that involves a long drive to the start. I look at conditions such as temperature, predicted rainfall, potential for lightning, icing conditions, sunrise & sunset. My first decision point is, “Do I want to ride in this weather?” followed by “What clothing will I need to complete the ride?”  Some of this is about personal comfort. I’m not likely to start a ride in a downpour because I don’t like starting a ride feeling miserable. Ice on the road is almost always a “no go” because of the skidding hazard it adds for automobiles. Remember, I can control my bike, but not the car sliding toward me! Snow on the road, at least in New York, means the shoulders of the road will be missing after the roads are plowed, which means riding in the main traffic lane. If it’s a low traffic weekend, I might still ride but probably not on a commuter weekday. The sunrise/sunset times inform my decision whether to bring lights, reflective vest and ankle straps.
  3. Equipment: I keep my bikes in proper working order, much like the alpinists in the video maintain their ropes and racks of gear. The bikes get a once over each week to make sure the brakes are working, chain lubed, tires at correct pressure, etc. If I’m commuting to work, I lay out all my gear the night before and load what I can onto the bike, double checking tire pressures and making sure any electronics are charged. In all the years I’ve commuted by bike, I’ve had maybe 3 flats and one mechanical (a crank arm snapping off), which is pretty good. Take care of your equipment and it will take care of you. In addition to making sure the equipment works, I  assess whether it’s the appropriate equipment for the task. If it’s raining or snowing, I’m likely to be on the bike with fenders. Equipment also includes my clothing; wearing the correct outfit for the conditions and anticipating what might be needed during the ride. Better to have it and not need it than to be miserable because you left something–like a wind vest–at home.
  4. The Route: Here’s the point I ask, “Where am I going?” I rarely roll without having some idea where I’m going, even if it’s for a one-hour ride around my own neighborhood. For club rides, rando rides or big mass events, I’ll make sure I have the route cue sheet and a GPS file loaded into my Garmin. I’ll inspect the route at home to get an understanding of the course and see if there is anything notable; for example, the route requires a ferry ride and the ferry only runs hourly. If I have a cue sheet and GPS route, I’ll compare the two to make sure they are consistent. I put all my route papers, registration forms, brevet card etc in the same place in my duffle bag so I know where to find them. I recently switched to Open Street Maps (OSM) on my Garmin, which means having to download map segments into the Garmin. This is a failure point for me because I sometimes forget that I don’t have the entire United States on the Garmin anymore. I leave information as to where I’ll be with my family before I leave, in case of emergency. Part of my Route assessment involves thinking about who I’ll be riding with.  Am I riding with a partner, and are we matched in terms of ability? Am I riding with 6,000 strangers trying to kill me?
  5. The Rest of the World: I am mindful that I cannot control other’s behavior. I cannot control the soccer mom texting while driving, or the guy running late for a meeting who is trying to save time by driving on the right shoulder. I try to be aware of and anticipate human behavior and adjust my behavior accordingly. If I’ve done my job with items #1-5, this happens naturally for me because I’m rested, prepared and attentive. Rock drummer Neal Peart has written a lot about traveling by motorcycle across the US and Europe. His mantra is “It mustn’t be my fault,” meaning a mishap caused by another person’s actions is bad enough, but one caused by your own failure is unacceptable.
  6. Contingencies: At this point in my assessment, I’m asking “What If” questions. For example, “What if I have to abandon a ride, how will I get back to the start?” “Where will I eat a big meal after the ride?” “Is there a hospital in the area in case I have to help myself or someone else?”

Although it looks like a complicated process written out long form, this assessment only takes a few minutes. The more you do it, the quicker you become. The more you do it, the more aware you become about potential failure points and how to mitigate them. What I strive for is seamlessness of thought, that this happens automatically and naturally. I want my mind open and free during the ride, knowing that I did a proper risk assessment before starting the ride. During the ride, I’ll maintain situational awareness about what is happening, constantly checking my assessment against my intuition in an attempt to make good choices for myself and those riding with me. The funny thing about a risk assessment is that you don’t know whether you made the correct choices until after the activity is over.

Allow me to illustrate the interaction between risk assessment and on-bike situational awareness and intuition. Two weeks ago, I attempted a RUSA Permanent Populaire, a sub-200k brevet course. This particular course was in the Hudson Valley, about 2 hours north of my home. I obtained and reviewed the route, noting that it crossed the Hudson twice on bridges, one of which is a dedicated pedestrian walkway that I’ve cycled across in the past. I completed my risk assessment and, on the day of the ride, I was feeling in tip-top shape.  In retrospect, there was one element of the assessment that I might not have assigned enough weight to: I was doing the course on a weekday, starting out at 08:30am.

I was riding strong and making good progress toward finishing ahead of schedule until I came to the first bridge. A tall, tall bridge with cars speeding across it because it was rush hour. The bike route utilized the right shoulder as the bike path. Within a few pedal strokes of passing the toll booth, my brain revolted against forward progress. The combination of high, arching roadway, speeding cars and low side railing triggered a panic attack and vertigo. I tried focusing on the ground in front of me, but my mind kept sending the message “You’re going to fall over the side!”

I dismounted and composed myself. I asked myself why I was feeling that way. I tried to remember that I’d pedaled over this river before without issue (on the pedestrian bridge). I tried to develop a strategy to not look up or down or sideways. But my intuition kept telling me not to continue, that continuing might mean a real problem in the middle of the span far from help.

So I retreated. And I abandoned the route and made my own 55 mile route back to the start. At the start, I rode across the pedestrian bridge, just to prove I could do it.

I was both disappointed and proud. Disappointed because I did not anticipate a problem that perhaps I should have (traffic on a high bridge may have removed a perceived safety margin). Disappointed that my primitive man brain prevented me from achieving a goal. Proud that I listened to my intuition, like the statement by the climbing guide in the video, and backed off thereby preventing a bigger problem from happening. At the end of the ride I knew two things: first, that I made good decisions because I prepared myself to make  good decisions; and second, that I have some work to do on bridge crossings.

Go back and watch the video again. Do you see the parallel between mountain craft and cycling, or mountain craft and other parts of your life?

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It Took Me Long Enough

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I’ve been a member of Randonneurs USA a couple of times in my cycling life.  Many years ago I joined out of sheer curiosity with no real intent to do anything about it. I let my membership expire. I joined again at the beginning of last season with the intent (hope) of doing a 200k brevet. I’m not particularly speedy and I think the longest ride I’ve ever done is about 110 miles- a century with some wrong turns-so this was a bit of a stretch goal. I even had the brevets picked out. But I didn’t really train and as each event approached I would promise myself to get in shape for the next. Procrastination: the story of my non-work life. I did exactly zero rides related to RUSA last year.

To be honest with myself, my interest was primarily generated by reading about other people completing brevets. Living vicariously via magazines and the internet. This spring came and went and I didn’t register for any rides; once again, it was because I hadn’t been training by doing longer rides.

Last week I was reading about people getting ready for Paris-Brest-Paris and I decided to get off my ass and find a Permanent to ride and actually ride it. A Permanent is a route maintained by a RUSA member that can be ridden at any time. Sort of a personal Brevet. A Permanent has all the sport of a traditional RUSA event (time deadline, controls, route to follow) but can be done anytime the route owner and rider agree on. I found a number of routes within reasonable driving distance on the RUSA website, and settled on the Otisville Populaire (108k) route pictured above. It’s an out and back route from New Paltz to Otisville, NY.

A couple of email exchanges later and I was set to ride the route, which I did earlier today. I’m really fond of the New Paltz region so the whole event was a treat. The views weren’t bad either.

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It was hot but luckily a lot of the route was shaded. I had to remind myself to keep pushing forward because the route has opening and closing times and I had to reach certain controls within certain time limits. This was a bit difficult because I’d broken my Garmin trying to do a battery replacement two nights earlier. As such, I had no idea how fast I was going. I haven’t ridden with just a cue sheet in quite a long time. Luckily my Garmin mount serves well as a cue sheet holder.

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I arrived at the second control with time to spare, which made me feel good about the experience. The patrons of the mini mart control looked at me as if I had dropped out of the sky from Mars. The cash register clock was off by nearly 15 minutes ( the receipt from making a purchase is proof you reached the control on time), but the clerk didn’t understand what I wanted when I asked her to sign my brevet card. I was much quicker on the return trip, which was a good thing because I was getting a case of “hot foot” from pedaling non stop out of fear of arriving late at the controls.

It took me long enough, but I finally completed my first RUSA event. It was a lot of fun. I don’t know if I’m ready for 200k; probably but not in the baking sun of August.

Some lessons learned on this first outing:

  1. Prevent hot foot by unclipping and walking around occasionally. My route had almost no reason to unclip unit the last 15 miles when I had to stop at a traffic light. It felt so good! I should have pulled over earlier.
  2. I really dislike having stuff in my jersey pockets. I carry a lot of food and drink mix powder for any ride longer than about 40 miles. Having all that plus a wallet and phone in the pockets is not comfortable for me. The food items in my pockets turned to mush from my body heat. I was on my “fast” bike which is not equipped with rack or bag. I was glad to have a lighter (than 39 lb) bike but would have liked some more carrying capacity.
  3. Thicker tires rule. Especially when heading out on roads you don’t know. I appreciated having 32c tires and not having to worry about potholes and seams in the road.
  4. As soon as you’re finished riding, start eating and drinking to replace what you lost during the ride.
  5. Those industrial farm sprinklers you see watering giant fields…..they put out a lot of water. I had to ride through one in the last mile because it was aimed improperly and spraying the road. It was like riding through a hurricane.
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Snowy Winter

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It has been a snowy winter here in New York, with a couple of moderate sized storms dumping the white stuff on us within a couple of weeks. Not as bad as Boston, for sure, but it has put a damper on cycling. I haven’t commuted in several weeks and I’ve been feeling my fitness slipping away lately. The roads are a mess. Between the snow banks occupying the right lane and the endless potholes and craters, it just hasn’t made sense to venture out on the bike for more than a few miles.

I hate sitting around, though I do a lot of it. My kids are old enough now that I feel comfortable letting them run around in the woods, so a few weeks ago I bought them snow shoes and we’ve been getting out for hikes in the afternoon. I’ve had snow shoes for many years and enjoy winter hiking more than summer hiking. Fewer bugs to contend with. It’s been fun watching the kids find their “snow shoe legs,” learning how to not trip over themselves and navigates slopes.

About a month ago, I got it in my head that I could be out running instead of cycling. As a life-long non-runner, this is probably a stupid idea. I took a run last week in 0 degree night air and quickly realized that running is a lot tougher on the knees, hips and cardiovascular system than cycling. I ran about a mile (0.9 loop around my neighborhood), and did not die or break anything. I’ve subsequently learned that I’m doing it wrong by just opening the door and jogging; that I should be speed walking or doing some other activity to ease into running. Anyhow, after that first night run I realized I’d rather not run on the road. It’s boring and there are cars trying to run you over, just like cycling!

So my interest turned back to hiking with my eye on trying some trail running. Last weekend I tried jogging a bit in my snow shoes and found it a bit cumbersome. I tripped a few times and snow shoes are overkill when the path is already trampled down. Then I learned about Microspikes.

The Kahtoola Microspikes pictured above are like crampons for running or trail hiking when full-on crampons or snow shoes are not necessary. They consist of a rubber-ish (it might be silicone) band that wraps around the base of the shoe, with a set of chains and spikes underneath to provide traction. The spikes are pretty aggressive. I don’t think you’d want to use these on paved surfaces.

I hiked with them yesterday and they are terrific. Went on in twenty seconds and I didn’t know they were there except for the extra traction they provided. On a packed-down trail, they were much nicer than hiking in snow shoes because they allowed me to wear light trail shoes, and did not require the slightly wider stance needed when walking in snow shoes. And I didn’t get tripped by my kids when they inevitably step on the backs of my snow shoes!

I ran a few yards in them and can see their appeal to trail runners: good traction in a lightweight package. And the best part, when it was time to get in the car and go home, they came off in two seconds.

If you hike or run in the snow and ice, these are highly recommended particularly if your trip takes you onto a trail. For road running there are other solutions with less aggressive spikes.

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