Educating Myself


The blog has been dormant for too long. My job has grown considerably busier and more complex over the last six months, thereby limiting my ability to bike commute. Weekday evenings are now dedicated to cooking and third graders’ homework. As a result, I’ve fallen a little out of shape because my weekends are predominantly occupied by the chores that used to get done during the work week. The weekends are also occupied by a new sport.

Since Father’s Day, I’ve taken a new recreational path: sporting clays or, as some refer to it, golf with a shotgun. Those who know me or have read the blog know that I’ve never mentioned guns and have never had any particular interest in them. Both of those statements have been true up until this past summer when a co-worker mentioned that I should “check out” sporting clays. And so I did.

My first encounter was during a lesson at Sandanona in upstate New York, one of the oldest shooting preserves in the country. The lesson began with a review of firearm safety and instruction on how to operate an over & under shotgun. I shot rifles in high school as part of an intramural squad and a I vaguely recall firing a shotgun at scout camp and, as such, I understood the basic rules of handling a gun. The instructor then taught me how to align the gun with my eye so I’d be shooting where I was looking and, voila, I broke my first clay target (the orange discs in the picture above). The first time you break one you are hooked and want to keep doing it over and over!

From the lesson, we set out on the course. A sporting clays course is similar to a golf course but, instead of greens and holes, you have stands and traps. The picture at the top of this post is a stand and trap at an event I completed this morning. You stand in the wooden frame, call “Pull” and a clay launches off the trap into the air (or onto the ground), you point your gun at it and fire. You may do this several times at a station, shooting different presentations of the clays; sometimes one at a time, and other times in pairs. You move from station to station around the course until you’ve shot at 100 targets.

I practiced on my own for  several weekends before taking another lesson and eventually committing to regular participation in the sport. I’m on the proverbial journey of novice to expert. Each station is a complex and complicated physics problem that you have to solve almost instantaneously in order to break the clay. On stations with pairs, that means two different sets of physics problems. Part of the allure of the sport, to me at least, is just that: It’s a problem that requires deliberate practice in order to solve. You may break a clay every now and then by sheer luck but you must work hard to break them consistently. When you break them…..that’s joy and accomplishment.

I reached the stage–back in September or October– that practicing on my own was not good enough. If you want to educate yourself at anything worthwhile you need help. You need a coach and you need to hang around people who are better than you. I contacted a not-so-local club and asked to join them as a guest but an early winter storm ruined that plan. So I did the next best thing and registered for a competition. I figured I’d be assured of meeting people better than me at a competition and could pick up a few pointers while also getting some experience “in the box.”

This morning I completed that first competition at an exceptional course in New Jersey, M&M Hunting Preserve and Sporting Clays.  The facility is owned by a national champion shooter, and he runs monthly competitions that attract sportspeople from the entire country. I had the extremely good fortune to squad with two shooters from Maine, and they were gracious enough to offer some pointers. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was shooting better by the end of the course as a result of meeting Kim and Earle.

Make no mistake, my score was awful and that’s to be expected at this stage of learning. But at least I did not earn lowest score!

The experience of traveling to a world class facility to compete with others who are further along the learning curve was very rewarding and empowering. I’m hooked more than ever and understand what my next steps should be toward improving.

Lessons Learned (it’s not learning if you don’t reflect afterward)

  1. Get to the course early. I did. Get to the course early enough to practice. That I didn’t do.
  2. Don’t leave your gloves and hearing protection in the car overnight. They’ll freeze.
  3. Poly-pro fleece underwear and insulated shoes are essential gear in January.
  4. Find pleasant people and ask if you can join them.
  5. Listen carefully to advice but also understand that some of it might be wrong. Vet the advice based on what you already know and the person’s performance.
  6. Practice requires a competent coach. Find one who specializes in your sport/discipline and set up a coaching plan.

Needless to say, I’ll be shopping for a coach who is an expert in sporting clays and thinking more deeply about how I practice. Educating yourself should be exciting and challenging. After today’s event I’m more excited than ever about getting better at this sport.

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First S24O


I completed my first Sub 24 Overnight (S240) this week after years of procrastination. The purpose of an S24O is to get outside for a short camping trip using the bicycle as the vehicle for fun and exploration. The concept was popularized by the folks at Rivendell Bicycle Works,  who suggested that a quick overnight into the woods is just as enjoyable as a multi-day loaded tour and, in many cases, more attainable by people who work Monday through Friday. In it simplest form, you leave work Friday, ride to the campsite, camp, and return home Saturday morning. As such, the entire adventure is completed within 24 hours. Depending on the campsite location, public transit or a car might be used to get within reasonable riding distance of the campsite.

I heard about S24O’s before I learned about bike packing, probably about 3 or 4 years ago. The S24O was attractive to me because I like cycling and enjoy camping, although I haven’t done any serious camping in many years, but I don’t have the time to undertake a multi-day loaded tour. Heaven knows I planned to do a big tour many years ago; I have the over-built CoMotion Americano as a result of my lofty touring goals. But life got in the way as they say and I never took that long tour. The S24O, on the other hand, is intended to be quick, easy and not require special equipment beyond basic camping gear for sleeping and eating. Many people, by the way, skip the cooking gear altogether and eat on the way to and from the campsite.

I never got my act together to actually do the S24O, predominantly out of guilt over having an incomplete doctoral dissertation hanging over my head. When you’ve wasted so much time not doing your academic work, it’s hard to justify riding into the woods on your bike and sleeping in a tent. That burden was lifted this month when I finally completed my doctoral degree. Time to have guilt-free fun!


I chose to mash together two concepts: the S24O and bike packing for my first outing. Bike packing is basically off-road bike touring with frame mounted bags instead of racks and panniers. I just didn’t want to ride on the road for my first trip, I wanted to be in the woods. It took me awhile to find a suitable location to do this because there are no nice public campgrounds near my work and home. Eventually, someone suggested the Taconic-Hereford Multiple Use Area, also known as the “909” to locals in the Catskills.  The 909 has everything you need for a simple S24O. It is accessible by car, is well mapped, has designated campsites (public camping in NY State is limited to certain designated areas) and a mix of riding surfaces. I made a recon trip to the 909 a month prior to my S24O to scope out the trails and campsites, and communicated by message board with the locals to make sure the campsites are not used for drinking parties at night.

After years of procrastination and delay, the trip came together very quickly. I monitored the weather forecast early in the week and decided on a Wednesday to “go for it.” I packed all my gear on Thursday evening and pre-loaded it into my car. I brought my gear and bike to work with me Friday so I could drive to the park entrance after work. At the appointed hour, I stripped off my business clothes, put on my riding shorts and shoes and drove the 90 minutes from Long Island to the 909.

I was on the trail by 5:45 pm. I started off on the jeep tracks, just to get the hang of riding a loaded mountain bike. I patrolled around to see who else was in the park and scope out the camp sites. One site had some empty beer bottles, suggesting it was a popular party spot, so I eliminated it from my list of places to camp. Another site had a mattress in it. Odd thing to see in the middle of the woods, so I scratched that site, too. I then decided to try my luck on one of the single track trails, just for the sake of putting on some miles before setting up camp.


The trail I chose was at times too technical for my first loaded bike packing trip. It started out nice enough but soon turned very rocky with several roller coaster ups and downs. On an unloaded bike it would be a fun trail but with a giant dry bag strapped to the bars it was a bit nerve racking. If I had to do my first ride again, I would not go on technical single track and would stick to the jeep and snow mobile trails. Live and learn.

I rode around for nearly two hours to shake down my rig. I had a seat bag, Camelback, top tube bag and a giant dry bag strapped to the bars. I purposely did not invest in a frame bag or handlebar roll because I wanted to make sure I enjoyed this method of camping before buying specialty gear. You can get by with minimal gear, but the specialty gear no doubt makes things easier. Here’s a summary of my packing strategy:

Revelate Pika seat bag:

  • MSR pocket rocket stove, small pot with lid, cup, utensils
  • rain jacket
  • small pouches with toiletries and repair kit, head lamp, first aid kit
  • camp towel
  • food: freeze dried dinner, oatmeal and tea for breakfast

Revelate Gas Tank top tube bag:

  • snacks while riding
  • small camera

Camelbak pack:

  • first aid kit
  • toilet paper, hand sanitizer
  • pump
  • repair kit
  • phone and wallet
  • 70 ounces water
  • gorilla pod
  • more snacks

30 liter Eastern Mountain Sports Dry Bag

  • Tarptent Moment
  • 40 degree Marmot sleeping bag
  • Thermarest air mattress
  • sleep clothes, ski cap

Gear shot

I secured the dry bag to the handle bars using a pair of Rok Straps. The dry bag was the weak link in the system. It was too bulky and my rigging method was nothing short of craptastic! The bag sagged and rubbed against my suspension fork producing an irritating noise. I plan to replace it with a purpose-built harness. I managed to duplicate some items because they were already in my Camelbak. I brought more snacks than I needed and I never used the tripod. Interestingly, I used all my water (70 ounces in the pack plus two water bottles) both drinking and cooking. I usually don’t drink that much but it was warm and muggy.

I’m not a big fan of wearing the backpack. I don’t like the weight on my shoulders and I think it facilitates carrying stuff you don’t really need. I also feel that it makes me sweat more. Going forward, I  will try to ditch the backpack and shift the water and other items into a frame bag.


My gear worked fine. I was concerned that I’d forgotten how to camp because I’ve been dormant for many years but there were no serious issues. I should have paid more attention to the patch of ground I pitched the tent on. It was not flat and, as such, my pad kept sliding to one side during the night. The 40 degree bag was spot on for the weather Friday night. The night started at about 60 degrees and dipped to the upper 40s by about 2 am. I used the mummy bag as a top quilt; I’m done with zipping into mummy bags.


I awoke Saturday morning at 5 am, which is when all the birds in Pleasant Valley wake up and start chirping and signing. I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t so I packed up and rode to the trail head. I drove home with the goal of being back in time to cook breakfast for my family. I was back home by 8:15 only to find that the power was out and I was unable to cook. Ironic that I left the woods to go back home where the power was out.

One thing I learned from a visit to Army University last year was that every mission should have a Lessons Learned component. Here are mine from my first S24O:

  1. Wet Wipes for cleaning up before bed are great, provided they are actually wet. Check them before you leave home
  2. Don’t forget bug spray
  3. Don’t take your first S24O ride on technical singletrack
  4. Sweep your tent site for sticks etc and make sure it’s level. It might look level in the fading light but it probably isn’t
  5. Re-check all your gear when packing and eliminate duplication
  6. Have a water management plan

My first S24O was a success. I had a peaceful evening in the woods and got to shake down my gear. I got to get away and ride my bike and still be home in time to cook breakfast and spend the weekend with my family. If you are on the fence about whether to do an S24O, just do it. If I can, anyone can. It’s fun and does not require a ton of gear.

About the 909. It’s a New York State DEC multi-use area. It has trails for hiking, cycling and snow mobile use. I saw a couple of vehicles deep in the woods, so don’t assume you have the wider trails to yourself. There are two official campsites with fire rings and space that has been cleared for camping. As a general rule, you can camp anywhere on DEC land so long as you’re not on the trail, next to water or in an area marked “no camping.” In the 909, there aren’t many flat places to pitch a tent beyond the designated campsites. Bring your own water. The only water I saw was in giant puddles in low lying spaces. The 909 is sandwiched in between residential communities along a major two lane parkway. You’re probably not riding your bike to the 909; you’re arriving  in your car and then riding. The nearest food establishment is several miles away by car. Riders from the Fats in the Cats mountain bike club frequent the area and are very helpful with local beta. The area is patrolled by NYS DEC rangers.



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Best Weekend Ever


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

In Search of bike packing 2

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.

In Search of bike packing 1

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.

In Search of bike packing 3

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

In Search of bike packing 6

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.

In Search of bike packing 4

In Search of bike packing 5

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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Processed with VSCOcam with s3 preset

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with s3 preset

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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