A Saving Rain

We had 70 miles of rolling terrain and a couple of smallish towns to ride through on the last day to get back to Hudson, NY.  Temperatures were in the upper 90s with humidity to match.  We agreed to start early, ride slowly, and stop at as many stores along the way as necessary to safely finish.

Still we worried about a stretch in the afternoon that Laurent was calling the “Sahara” because we wouldn’t see a store for 15 to 20 miles.  During the morning we navigated our way through the towns and then stopped for a leisurely lunch at a bar in a very small town just on the edge of the desert.  After eating, resting, and watching part of a US Women’s Soccer match, we set off.  The bar tender had been nice enough to give us two pitchers of ice to fill water bottles and ice socks, so we were fine for a while.

Persistent rollers in this section, however, had us stopping every few miles in shade to lower our body temps.  Time dragged on; the air was stifling.  At the top of yet another hill, we pulled off again in the shade.  At this point, we had only warm water and soggy useless ice socks.  And we thought we still had about six or seven miles long miles to the next store.  Dark clouds thickened overhead and thunder sounded in the distance.  Our moods were not improved by the thought of being caught out in a thunder storm.  We set off again.

Suddenly, a warm rain started and quickly became a downpour.  For just two minutes maybe.  We got thoroughly soaked and it felt wonderful.  Then the rain stopped and the sun came out.

A few minutes later, we reached the store at the other end of “the Sahara.”

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Lakes, Rivers, Heat and Humidity

Laurent and I completed our five-day road trip in waves of heat and humidity that forced us to ride slower and pay careful attention to how our bodies were reacting to the conditions.  Given the energy-sapping weather and the sporadic availability of the internet (neither the Alp Horn Motel nor the Sunshine Inn provided internet access), I didn’t write as many posts from the road as I had hoped.

Days one and two were warm enough, and we certainly felt the heat on day one with all of the climbing involved, but on Wednesday, the wind shifted so that it was blowing from the south just as our route turned south.  For part of Wednesday and all of Thursday and Friday, we rode into a hot and humid wind.  After Laurent had what luckily turned out to be a minor heat-related episode on Wednesday, we agreed to a modified version of our planned route for Thursday and Friday, avoiding some of the more remote back roads in favor of more “major” roads that provided frequent access to Stewarts’ stores and other gas station travel stops.  Frequent breaks in air conditioned spaces and many, many bags of ice stuffed into our ice socks and water bottles made Thursday and Friday do-able.

Laurent is known for his design of routes that use scenic back-country lanes, and his route for day two was a real pleasure to experience.  For more than thirty miles on the second morning, we rode along the banks of Lake Sacandaga, passing a few campgrounds and lots of fabulous houses with lake views.  During the afternoon, the route had us following streams at various points, and the only ridiculous climb came near the end of the day.  We had been enjoying a day that was light in climbing so the hill near the end  was a shock to the system.

We spent the second night at The Alp Horn Motel which does not have internet, but the proprietor does have a roadside craft beer stand (housed in a small trailer)  that he opens on weekends, and he was quite happy to sell us beers that we drank at one of his picnic tables in park-like surroundings.  His chickens seemed to think we might have treats for them but I wasn’t sharing my beer.  Nope, no way. And right next to the Alp Horn is O.P. Frederick’s Restaurant that serves quite a good dinner.

Wednesday morning we rode to Pottersville where we had breakfast at the Black Bear diner with the local early morning risers and then rode on to and through Schroon Lake.  Pretty town that showed promise as a good place to hang out.   Lots more lake views on this day, including the crossing of Lake Champlain into Vermont.

This trip confirmed for me that I like riding in New York and Vermont.  The north east is so green in the summer, something that I still don’t take for granted after living on the west coast for so many years.  I also realized how much I like open spaces so the time spent riding along lake shores was a real joy–large open expanses of water, picturesque cozy beaches, sometimes with small boats snuggled up near the shore, and the smell of slightly warm pine sap.

We had to modify our plans for the last two days to safely finish the ride, and paying attention to being safe consumed a lot of our attention for the end of the ride.  For the first three days, however, we mostly had the luxury of riding as if into and through a great movie in the making.  The scenery opened up in front of us and we simply had to keep pedaling to enjoy it.


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Notes From Away

We rode a hilly eighty miles on scenic back roads between Hudson, NY, and Amsterdam, NY.  The route avoided big towns and, as it turned out, many stores and restaurants in the villages we passed through were closed because it was Monday. So we stopped at a car repair garage to ask for water. We asked a store manager if we could use the restroom despite the big sign on the front door saying they did not have public restrooms. Putting ourselves on the road with just our bikes and whatever we can carry forces us to interact with and ask for help from strangers, something I would not normally do.  It’s a valuable experience…to see how generous and kind people can be. It’s so easy to be cynical. My skepticism and easy suspicion were replaced with deep gratitude for the small kindnesses offered. I hope some of this positive energy will remain when we return to real life.

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I Crossed the Rip Van Winkle Bridge Today

Jazz coming through the window of my room at the St. Charles Hotel in Hudson, NY.  Tomorrow Laurent and I begin our five-day tour. I’m looking at the pannier I borrowed from Chris. It’s sitting on the desk looking not so big, but I know I’m going to feel its heft tomorrow once I attach it to the bike.

For today though, it’s time to relax, and maybe a little like Rip Van Winkle, dream about the fun we’re going to have.  If we’re lucky, when we return to Hudson in five days, we will feel like we’ve been away a long time, on an adventure somewhere far and away.  We will cross the bridge again on the way home and return to regular life with new memories, lighter panniers, and perhaps just the tiniest itch to discover the next adventure.

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Humility and Grace


Laurent has always complimented me on my  time management skills, never more in evidence than last Saturday on the NJ 300K pre-ride.

My friend Chris Newman, to create a bit of a challenge for herself for the day, rode her fixed-gear bike on this route with 11,000 feet of climbing.  It helped a little, but to provide an example of how much stronger she is: she stopped half way up Jenny Jump to take photos, walked two very steep sections, stopped at the port-a-potty, and still beat me to the top.  A humbling experience.

I’ve never been fast, but I’ve begun to worry about my ability to get around courses in time with two bad knees.  I get uncomfortable out there, but it’s still true that time spent on the bike is better than, well….many things.

Jon Levitt, Chris and I gathered outside the Westin and started at 4am.  We rode quietly through the pre-dawn hours, arriving at the bagel shop in Whitehouse just after light.  Coffee and food was definitely required, and it was early so we were quickly served.  After having a brief meltdown about my aching knees (with only 30 miles done…and hardly any of the climbing), I got back on my bike and headed it in the right direction.  A short time later, Jon pushed ahead, leaving Chris and me to our slow but steady pace up hills and down hills, along streams, past farms, through tiny towns, with splashes of color everywhere since trees, bushes, and flowers are now in full bloom.  The picturesque scene was completed by regular sightings of chickens, goats, cows and horses.  This route is incredibly scenic.

We never left a control with more than 10, 15 or 20 minutes in hand, but we managed to keep ourselves well-fed and hydrated all day.  It’s important on this route…all of the climbing requires  extra energy.  I paid careful attention to how my body was performing and ate as soon as I found myself feeling like I wasn’t going to make it up the next hill.  In the past few years, I’ve done a much better job of knowing when I need to eat to keep my pace up to what is normal for me.  Fortunately for us, Jayne had sent me off with a bag of oatmeal, cranberry, chocolate chip cookies, and they were perfect at two or three points during the day.

The iconic climb at Jenny Jump is followed soon enough by the 6-mile gradual climb on Penwell which gets you to the Schooley Mountain General Store (not a control but a great place to stop).  There we bought sandwiches, eating half and saving half for Hacklebarney since we were riding unsupported.  I hear there is going to be quite the reception for riders this coming Saturday so no need to carry sandwiches from Schooley Mountain.

I always feel a little relief when I get to Hacklebarney because I know a big downhill and a pretty good flat section follows that control.  A bonus was riding Black River Rd in light…something I’ve never done before.  Not only were we better able to see the potholes in the rough sections, we also got to see the river all along the way.  I guess this event is scheduled later than usual and daylight savings is earlier…so even slow riders get to do most of this ride in light.  Soon enough you’re back in Whitehouse with only 30 miles to go.


We opted not to stop in Whitehouse but kept going to the Wawa which is about 10 miles further along (only 20 miles from the finish).  A quick hot coffee and one more snack and we were fueled for the last miles.  We were still running at the edge of the time limit but steady pedaling got the job done.  Gently rolling hills for a while, and then it’s almost flat for the last 10 or 15 miles.  No heroic efforts required, just a steady pace and  the patience to keep going.

I often enjoy the last part of a ride that ends at night.  Everything is quiet again, and you can only see in front of you and maybe the silhouette(s) of the friend(s) you’re riding with.  In NJ, the orange glow from nearby cities usually lights up the horizon, and the red tail lights of planes track across the dark sky.  Sometimes we talk quietly to make the miles pass by faster, but sometimes we just ride.


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Crumbs of Intelligence…Until the Stories Are Told

The challenges of a night start on top of a lack of sleep and jet lag can take their toll….

Nigel G. wrote that he had to take several short naps to keep going the first night.  That didn’t seem like an auspicious beginning but I know Nigel was determined to give this ride everything, and he did, finishing in under 89 hours.

Katie R. and Jon L. had a good first night but then a rough morning.  Still, they reached Carhaix ahead of their planned arrival.  A photo of them on the iconic bridge outside Brest posted to FB proved that they had made it half way…still smiling.  Wednesday night I received texts from Katie saying she didn’t know when they were going to finish, saying they were going to DNF in Dreux, saying that they had simply been too slow, and that she was having her first cafe while Jon took a short nap.  Then, a few hours later, Rich R. responded to my text about their ETA at the finish sent the previous day; he said they planned to finish just before noon.  Huh?  Apparently they just made it at the Dreux control, and they then managed an official finish with about 20 minutes to spare.  That happens on PBP…things seem to be going well, or badly, and then they change.  I’m so proud of them for keeping going especially when the final result was uncertain.

I followed Lois S. who seemed to be able to move steadily along, not real fast but steadily, steadily.  She finished officially as well, but not without a story to tell.  According to a FB post, she fell in the rain about 35 miles from the finish.  She either sprained or broke something in a wrist that was already wonky.  However, her 7th PBP is in the books.  What determination. Amazing.

I saw Joe K., Chris N. and Paul S. start at 5:30 on Monday morning and then watched them make good progress along the course, steadily closing the gap between themselves and the people who started the night before.  At Carhaix on the return they took a good sleep stop, their first I think.  Then I received a text from Chris’s wife Eileen that she was riding alone.  Huh?  Apparently Joe was having issues, trying to complete the ride on a fixie, and Chris was riding her own pace so that she would be able to sleep again.  Then near the end, it appears that Paul caught up with Chris and that they finished together in just over 80 hours.  They’ve become such strong riders in the last couple of years.  Joe’s willingness to make the ride a real challenge may not have given him the result he wanted, but what spirit and courage to challenge himself in this manner.

I didn’t hear much about Dawn E.’s journey as it unfolded, but a great photo of her at the end is posted in FB, so congrats to her as well.  I know she trained hard, focusing particularly on hill climbing in the last weeks before PBP to be strong enough for the bumps between Paris and Brest.

I can’t wait to hear the full story from each of these and other friends and acquaintances.

Congratulations to all new and repeat ancien(ne)s.

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PBP 2015 Begins

The waiting is finally over.  Riders pump their tires once more, stuff their jersey pockets with PB&J sandwiches, and perhaps apply a liberal dose of butt balm.  760 miles is a long way.

Most of the riders begin their journey on Sunday evening, with starts scheduled at 15-minute intervals from late afternoon through the early part of the evening.  There is much fanfare on Sunday, while for the 84-hour starters at 5 am on Monday morning, there is only a handful of stalwarts to see them off, and no speeches, no music.

5am is early...too early to get a clear photo.

5am is early…too early to get a clear photo.

On Sunday, I glimpsed Jan Heine from Seattle riding into the velodrome toward the control, a big grin on his face.  I know he’s a strong rider so was not surprised to see him looking so excited for the 80-hour start.  Many riders arrived in groups, obviously friends who had trained together, encouraging each other now, reviewing their ride plans, checking lights, attaching numbers, doing last minute tasks, some essential but many just ways of burning off nervous energy.  I saw lone riders obviously dealing with nerves, talking themselves closer to the start line.  They knew they would feel better once the ride started.

Hundreds of spectators lined the start area on Sunday to cheer their family and friends out of the velodrome.  Riders touched by this show of support grinned and waved, and some fought off the tears.

The special bikes roll out.

The special bikes roll out.

Traveling with tandem team Raschdorf/Levitt, we watched the first few waves start.  The 80-hour starters disappeared quickly.  They would need to keep up a strong pace to complete the hilly course in time.  The next to start were the special machines which included velomobiles, elliptigos, classic bikes, trikes, and tandems.  This group started more slowly…some of the special vehicles took a little longer to get up to full speed.  Finally we saw Katie and Jonathan pass by, looking happy, looking excited.  It seemed a good start for them.  We were there for a little bit after they left, but then we needed to return to our lives.

Our friends would be in our thoughts for the next four days, but we would have to carry on doing what we needed to do.  On Sunday evening, we needed to help Rich get the motor home out of the tight space in which it was parked, then we needed to return to our hotel and have dinner before the restaurant closed.  On Monday morning, while our friends were making their way through the first couple of PBP controls, we needed to pack, check out of the hotel and move on to the next part of our trip.

For the 90 hours of PBP, I would feel as if I were living two lives.  Part of me was always imagining what my friends were doing and how they were coping.  Were they managing the hills?  Were they eating enough?  Were they getting any sleep?  Another part of me was enjoying Paris, coffee in the afternoon, good wine with dinner, a comfy bed at night.

A lot of living takes place in 90 hours.  For nearly four days, I wished for my friends to be strong in order to finish their epic adventure.  They had done so much to get here; it would be good for them to finish if they could.  Also during that time, Jayne and I visited the Picasso Museum and the Rodin Museum, rode the #69 city bus around many of Paris’s tourist sites, took the Metro up to Sacre Coeur, and spent time contemplating the various playful sculptures in the Stravinsky Fountain.  We had the best fallafel sandwiches ever at L’As du Falafel and drank several glasses of excellent red wine.  I also had the worst beer ever.  I ordered a Monaco, thinking it was a local beer, only to discover that the bright red drink I was served was partly beer and partly syrup.  Awful, really awful.

Most of my friends did finish PBP, and I’ll write more about this when I’ve had the opportunity to hear their stories.  I hope they will have time to rest today.  In a few hours we will be on a flight home and will return to work on Monday.

PBP 2015 has ended, but the memories will last, and the dreams of the next one have no doubt already begun.

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