In the Rabbit’s Head

When it comes to looking out for myself, I often think I would do well to think like a rabbit.  I’m specifically thinking about my bicycle trips to and from work.

Yesterday was “bike to work day”.  I had planned to bike to work, but with the rain coming down, I figured I’d skip it.  Then, while eating breakfast early in the morning, I checked my email.  An email from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia notified me that, rain or shine, they would have stations set up in Philadelphia with La Colombe coffee, snacks and other support for the thousands of cyclists that would be biking to work that day.  There would be a special group ride (I assume for people with unfixed work hours) starting at 8:30, and a press conference at 9:00 with civic leaders about making Philadelphia more bike friendly.  My commute is in South Jersey, so no chance of grabbing that cup of coffee, but this gave me the impetus to go ahead and ride, and not worry about the rain.

While I enjoy biking to work, it is far more dangerous than driving.  Adding rain to the ride makes it that much more of a challenge.  We have a few rabbits living in our backyard.  They munch on our grass, look longingly at our fenced-in vegetable garden, but are always on critical alert.  Their long ears stand up, and turn to face the sound of the gate opening.  Their eyes are ever open, and they are ready to move, or bolt, when they sense danger.  I think of the rabbits often as I ride to work.  I’ve gotten to know the route very well.  I know every grate, pot hole, rough spot, crack, traffic light, narrow spot, entering roadway, curve and even where deer sometimes come running across the roadway.  If I leave for work at 6:00 AM, I get passed by only about 20 cars and pickups on my ride, which is about 25 minutes.  If I leave at 6:30, that number about quadruples.  If I leave at 7:00, there is a constant stream of traffic all the way.  I like to imagine that the drivers at 6:00 are less likely to be talking on their cellphones, since there would be fewer people awake with whom to talk.  Most days, I need to be at work by 6:30, so the decision is made, but even when I’m not due in until 8:00, I will leave early to make the ride safer.

I think having a rabbit-like sense of danger is healthy for bike commuters, for we are the small, vulnerable animal on the road.  Keen hearing, sharp eyes, and an ever-present sense of danger are critical elements of the ride.  Why do it, then?  I will list several reasons.

It is a way to work in some physical activities into my day which I would otherwise not be able to do.  Twenty five minutes of riding twice a day adds up when done regularly.  While I can only ride three days a week, I definitely benefit from the exercise.  Not driving the car means less products of combustion ascending skyward.  Less oil consumption.  Granted, it is an infinitesimal subtraction from the total emissions of the day if one looks globally.  But, this brings up a question I’ve considered while riding, which is, what about my CO2 output and my energy consumption.  Is there no consequence of increasing one’s metabolism to ride to work, burning calories and producing CO2?  As it happens, a study has been done.  According to a study done by the European Cycling Commission, the CO2 produced by a cyclist is about 21 gm per kilometer.  For a driver in an efficient car, that amount is 271 gm and for a passenger on a bus, the average is 101 gm.   What about the cost of the fuel to ride my bike?  By that, I mean, the cost of the food I need to eat to cover the energy expenditure of my ride.  One could calculate this in many ways.  But, if I burn about 750 kcals total for the round trip, one can put that in food costs.  If I were to replace that with a muffin from Starbucks, about 380 kcals for a blueberry muffin at about $2.25 each, I would need to eat two to get my calorie needs met.  By eating some rice and beans, the cost would be far less.  Your choice.

I enjoy the sense of freedom I get riding my bike.  Maybe this hearkens back to childhood, when one’s bike was a ticket to adventure.  I also like the camaraderie with fellow cyclists on the road, who, at 6:00 AM, are frequently commuting to work.  On the way to work, the cars pass me.  But, on the way home, with traffic tie-ups, I can frequently breeze by a long line of cars waiting at a traffic light.  Ultimately, they catch and pass me, but it may be several miles down the road.

Yet, the danger is there.  Rain adds another dimension, of slippery roads, decreased visibility both for car drivers and for me, and reckless motorists who don’t think physics applies to them, with decreased tire friction, longer stopping distances, and so on.  I dress in bright yellows and reds, and have my blinking tail light and headlight on.  I put my mind in the head of the rabbit, knowing that those beasts of steel and glass are eying me as a target, keep my ears tuned and eyes open, look for the cues that tell me someone is about to do something evil, keep my hands on the brake levers, have an escape plan, and hopefully, get to work in one piece, refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.

DSC_1253a

Set to ride on a cool morning.

The Aging Carrot

Process

Process

As I  was digging up our carrots from our garden, having left them to grow the whole summer, I was pleasantly surprised to find the above carrot couplet you see on your left.  Why, it looked like an adoring couple, snuggling together, spooning.  I was quite taken by this natural representation of love, so I set the carrots on our counter in the kitchen.  There they stayed for some time.  When I again discovered them, hiding out behind other stuff that got piled around them, they had changed.  Yes, they were still in that loving, gentle embrace, but they lost their hair.  They became shriveled.  Their bright orange color was gone.  The embrace had lost some vital turgor.  In a matter of a few weeks, they went from being youthful and attractive, to stereotypes of the aged.

I am feeling this way, struck by the evil vicissitudes of my aging body.  It seems to have come on rather suddenly, as if a switch was turned.  I was still able to manage a decent marathon in 2015.  But this past year, my times for various races rose like hot air balloons.  What happened to the speed?  Also, I’m feeling pains I used to only feel the day after the marathon.  Now, when I wake in the morning and head downstairs to make coffee, I find myself relying on the banister, as my thigh muscles put out little protest yelps of pain.

I suspect some of this has come about due to my daily schedule and obligations leaving less time for training.  I know, people say, “you have to make the time.”  “There’s no excuse.”  But long work days and, during the winter months, short daylight hours, make challenges to getting out there and maintaining the fitness.  The other aspect, though, is what to expect as we get older.  Listening to the broadcasts of the Australian Open tennis tournament, the announcers stated over and over how shocking it was that the finalists, men and women, were all older than 30(!), and some over 35 (shocking!).  One can only imagine the losses in strength and ability to recover when one is over 60.  One estimate I read is that one loses about 0.6% of one’s overall strength and fitness for each year over 30.  I think that percentage applies to the previous year’s fitness, so that the 0.6% is subtracted not from the level at 30 each year, but from the last year’s level.

When I was 48 I got a book by Joel Friel, called “Cycling Past 50”.  While published in 1998, I think it has a lot of excellent information and advice which can be used in any sport, and certainly beyond 50.  He starts with some graphs showing how our bodies lose muscle, strength, and aerobic capacity as we grow older.  He also shows, in graph form, what happens if one allows extra body fat to accumulate, and it is not a pretty picture.   V̇O2max drops much more by the age of 70 if the percent body fat is 30% as opposed to 15%.  He addresses “task creep”, which he states refers to accumulating more work and responsibility as one hits the peak of one’s professional years in the 50-65 age group.  Beyond cycling specific information, he addresses recovery, nutrition and injury avoidance, all taking on greater importance as we get older but still wish to train and compete.  I also just ordered “Running Until You’re 100”, by Jeff Galloway.  That’s the way to take the long view….

While I feel like that carrot on the right in the top photo, I believe I can persevere and even get a few good races in, in the coming years.  At the same time, I want to continue to enjoy the benefits of aging, such as more freedom to travel, offspring who have become successful in their own lives, and an appreciation for life in general.  Anyway, see you out on the road.

 

The Proper Way to Ride a Bike

VermontTour1

Vermont Challenge, 2012

I came across a cycling article in the newspaper The Guardian, which was titled “No more hippies and explorers: a lament for the changed world of cycling.”  I think it’s worth a read, because the author, one Tom Marriage, writes about how he perceives cycling to have changed.  He sees it as being taken over by Lycra-clad highly competitive sorts, who have ruined cycling for ordinary people.  Here’s how he put it:  Now it’s different. Road cycling has become the orthodoxy. Tedious, competitive, sports cycling has taken over. Cycling has become the new golf. It’s what men of a certain age, men with money and power, chat about after meetings.  He continues with a few other points, how cyclists were once considered a bit quirky and fun loving, adventuresome types, but are now causing the general population to hate cyclists because of their image in their tight clothing, and their behavior on the road.

I think this is on one hand, setting up a paper tiger, and on the other, stating what has been going on for generations.  People go through different stages with their bikes.  Often, a bike is the first mode of transportation allowing a child, too young to drive, a means of traveling far from home without help.  I will never forget my first bike experience, being helped to get started by a neighbor, amazed at how fast I could go, then finally tipping the bike over in the grass not having mastered the art of braking at that point.  I also recall my son’s first successful solo ride.  He was so thrilled, that at the age of six, he started singing out loud James Brown’s song, I Feel Good! while zooming down the street (check out the linked version, a surreal blast).

Cyclists come in all shapes, sizes and goals:

cyclistclass

Here’s a simplified picture of the variety of cyclists

They vary from the plainly absurd:

IMG_0207

Canadians?  I see a maple leaf there.

To the serious professional competitive athlete:

RvF2004a

Tour of Flanders, 2004 (George Hincapie in USPS kit)

In places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, bicycling is part of the culture, and they have separate traffic lanes and traffic lights for cyclists.  Men and women of all ages bike to work, often in inclement weather.  The Danes are particularly conscious of their cycling image as in the blog Cycle Chic.

AmsterdamBikes

Bikes parked on a side street in Amsterdam

I’ve always been a cycling enthusiast, from that first ride and spill into the grass to today.  As a kid in the suburbs of Houston, I rode my 24 inch bike to school and to the swim club, and used it to explore my neighborhood, with interesting destinations including trails along the Brays Bayou.  In high school in San Diego, I was given my first ten-speed bike for my birthday, and enjoyed riding it to school and to wherever I wanted to go.  This was in spite of the fact I had my driver’s license and could have driven.  That bike, an Astra Tour de France, carried me through college at UCSD and beyond.  Today, that same bike is used by my son who lives in South Philly and commutes to work on it.

IMG_0331

Astra Tour de France, made in 1970.  The Peugot fork I put on in college because the original was causing a shimmy when I got up to speed on the downhills.

I have gotten into the road riding and road racing scene.  It started innocently enough.  My friend Dan T. and I started riding together for exercise in the mid 1990’s.  He was on his Nishiki and I on my Trek 200, a heavy steel beast with downtube shifters and a basket on the handlebars which could fit a six pack of beer.  A long ride for us at that time was 15 or 20 miles.  One day, Dan felt the need to upgrade, and bought a Cannondale 300, made of aluminum, and quite a bit faster than my Trek.  That wouldn’t do.  Soon, I bought a Trek 2300, which at that time was part carbon, part steel.  We were back in equilibrium again.  Our rides were getting longer, and faster, too.  It was not unusual to go out on a Saturday or Sunday for a 60 mile ride, sometimes in cold or wet weather.  We had adopted the look of the road cyclist, too, with appropriate shorts, jerseys with various European pro teams names on them, gloves, and of course, click in pedals.  Dan upped the mechanicals again, this time going for a very nice higher-end Colnago, a fine Italian maker of racing bikes used in the Tour de France and other major road races.  The game was on.  In 2001, I ordered a beautiful Pinarello Opera frame through a bike shop in Rome, called Romeo Cycles.  I had it fitted with Campagnolo Record components, a Deda stem and handle bars, and Mavic hand-built wheels at my local bike shop, Bicycle Therapy, in Philly.  Dan T. and I wanted a real cycling adventure, though, and so we found a company in Italy that sounded perfect.  In the summer of 2002, we traveled by way of Paris to Venice, accompanied by another friend, Dan B., and went to the Italian Cycling Center.  Run by a curmudgeonly but wise fellow, George Pohl, located in the Veneto about an hour’s drive north of Venice, we were introduced to northern Italian cycling culture.  Daily, we gathered at breakfast and found out what the ride for the day was.  We would then head out, with the faster, stronger cyclists tackling the big climbs, and the others usually heading for some interesting archeological dig or a museum.

passosanbaldo1

Passo San Baldo, a long hard climb in the mountains.

ICC2

Preparing to climb Passo S. Baldo.  The Italian gentleman on the right in front on the red bike, was 72 years old, and kept with me the whole way up.

That was in 2002.  Since then, I have had many other adventures on my bike.  Since my trip to Italy, I have gone cycling with Ride Noho, a camp modeled after the Italian Cycling Center, located in Northampton Massachusetts, and run by a very congenial (the opposite of a curmudgeon) fellow, Aldo, and his wife Elaine.  The concept is to stay in one place and go out on a different route each day.  I have managed to talk a number of my friends into joining me on these annual trips.  I would say our favorite climb is up Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.

IMG_1105a

Preparing for the Mount Greylock adventure

IMG_0726a

At the Greylock Summit

As you can see, Elaine, in the center of the photo, is the only woman in a group of men cyclists.  Why is that?  Do women just generally not enjoy cycling?  Elaine is light, strong, and very tough, and can hold her own in a group of men.  Is that what it takes, or are there other factors involved?  Back to The Guardian again, and an article written by Terry Slavin last year, “If there aren’t as many women cycling as men…you need better infrastructure.”  In it, she points out that cycling, particularly in cities without the infrastructure to protect cyclists from trucks, buses and cars, is dangerous.  As she puts it:  If we have a street environment that’s hostile, that has no facilities, that has fast traffic with heavy lorries thundering past, we will get low numbers of courageous people, mainly men, on racing bikes and pretty well no one else. The article is very well written and researched and I recommend it to anyone interested in the role of cycling in cities.

I’m a cycling commuter.  When conditions allow, I can usually ride my bike three days a week to work from mid March through mid October.  I kind of stand out in this regard, an older guy (one of our “seniors”, as President Bush would say), Surgeon, with a need to get to work sometimes by 6:30.  It takes a real desire to want to do this before any of the other considerations like clothing management, flat tire potential, and traffic.  Our roads are decidedly not bike friendly.  I live in a town in New Jersey with the history of being the first town in New Jersey to ban bicycles (since overruled) a century and a half ago.  Today, one gets ignored, cursed, mocked, and threatened on the road.  Our local bicycle advocacy organization, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, has been at work for years pushing local, regional and federal government to support cycling for all the great advantages it has for the citizens.  Their work has not been in vain.  An accounting of their victories shows that much can be done to encourage cycling.  This is a very political issue.  Money spent on cycling interests is seen as money taken away from other interests.  If the need for more road capacity, or more buses is decreased due to more cyclists on the road, it means fewer jobs in those sectors.  But, if it leads to a more vibrant city in which people enjoy living, the health of the city and the economy grow.

DSC_1253a

Preparing to ride to work on a chilly morning in April, 2016.

Back to the start, about the changed world of cycling.  There have been some major changes, but many are not the kind mentioned in the article.  Pro cycling has had its reputation dashed on the rocks because of all the drug enhancement and doping by all the big names in the sport, the most famous of whom is Lance Armstrong.  Bicycles have gotten better over the last several decades, with handle bar index shifting, lighter materials, and many other technological advances.  Helmets have improved.  More bike lanes and more dedicated bike paths have been built.  A huge impact has been bikes for rent, in big cities like Paris, New York and now, Philadelphia.  In fact, Philadelphia was the 74th community in the USA to start a program, and it has been a big success.  Still, from my personal perspective, the prevailing attitude among my fellow Americans is one of dislike, strong dislike, or downright hatred of cyclists on the road.  The reasons are many, but I feel if there is more accommodation to cyclists, and more separation of cyclists from busy roadways, both cyclists and motorists benefit.  It would go far in tempering the legitimate antipathy motorists can have about cyclists and their habits on the road.  Many of my non-cyclist friends get very aggravated by cyclists not stopping at traffic lights, or blocking the flow of traffic.  This, to me, is not a new problem.  I have seen that often, over the decades I have been riding, that cyclists can be arrogant and unwilling to follow the rules of the highway.  As a cyclist, it is not always a simple matter of waiting for the light.  When the drivers hit the gas, it is better not to be clustering in front of them. In several European cities, cyclists are allowed to go through red lights on roads where the speed limit is 30 km/hr, so to keep traffic flowing more smoothly.  The rationale is that injuries to cyclists would decrease, and drivers would be less impeded. As to the Lycra and close-fitting clothing, it is what works for cyclists.  I don’t feel a need to explain wearing the appropriate gear.  For city commuting, though, most any clothes can be, and are worn, and work perfectly well.  Working with cyclists to provide a safe place to keep one’s bike while at work and providing a facility to make quick repairs, or pump up a tire, are ways companies can encourage bike commuting.  And about that quirky, offbeat style of cycling:

IMG_1303

Craziest bike I’ve seen yet.

IMG_0504

Heading up to Northampton, to Ride Noho

IMG_0692

Men and their bikes.

Three Times the Fun

NFL news today is not about the game, but about lawsuits, contracts and other off-season minutia. Baseball is now mid-season, and in the hot days of summer, it really is a pastime. NHL hockey is done for the year, after the LA Kings won the Stanley Cup. Los Angeles is a real natural for a top hockey team, with its long tradition of ice sports. The NBA finished its season last month with the San Antonio Spurs taking the top spot, another city known as a hot spot for development of its winning team’s future players.

If like me, you are not a big fan of these big sports, this may be your weekend. We have the quarter finals of World Cup Soccer (or football), the finals of Wimbledon, and the start of the Tour de France. For me, its an opportunity to spend some serious couch potato time glued to the set, ignoring the lawn, and watching my favorite professional athletes battle it out.

World Cup play began Thursday, June 12, when Brazil took on Croatia, beating them 3-1 in a game that showed the Brazilian team’s typical style of play, non-linear, dance-like and taking advantage of their ability to confuse the other team.  The World Cup has exceeded all expectations so far.  The threats of protests melted as play got under way, and the matches got under the locals’ skin.  The venues, while some had Amazonian jungle conditions, were all in good shape and seemingly prepared for the crowds.  The fans have come from around the globe to cheer on their teams, and it appears that Brazil has played excellent host to the visitors.  My USA team rose to the challenges facing them and managed to win one, tie one and lose one in the first round, making out to the knockout round.  There, they got knocked out by an organized and efficient Belgian squad, but they performed admirably, gave us some thrilling moments, and showed that the USA team can play soccer in the world’s stadium.  Other matches of the first round have been equally exciting, with strong showings by such teams as Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria, and Greece.  I love the fact that World Cup Football brings together such widely placed teams from around the globe, along with their cheering fans, in the same stadium.  No other sport does this, and its a great boost for mankind.

At the same time, Wimbledon started play Monday, June 23, and we are now in the last two days.  While the women’s singles play is finished as I write this, the men’s singles will be tomorrow, and should be a real classic battle.  Roger Federer, who has been struggling lately, and did not make it out of the second round at Wimbledon last year, will take on Novak Djokovic.  Federer first played Wimbledon 15 years ago, and has taken the top prize seven times.  He has mastered every aspect of singles tennis, can prevail on any surface, and has a style of play that is efficient and surprising, when he whips out a passing shot that does something that seems physically impossible.  His opponent in the finals tomorrow, Djokavic, is also an all-around player, currently rated number one in the world.  He is younger (32 vs 27) and possibly fitter than Federer, and he has proven himself able to beat Federer.  The record favors Federer, though, with Federer leading 18-16 in head-to-head matches with Djokavic.  The match starts at 9:00 AM EDT, and should be very exciting to watch.

The third of the three big sports this weekend is cycling, and the opening stage of the Tour de France.  While one might expect this race to take place in France, and mostly it does, it starts this year in Leeds, England with the riders doing a 45 minute slow paced tour through the town before heading out to the countryside as they race to Harrogate.  Usually, the tour starts the first day with a short time trial, but this year the race starts with a 190.5 km stage made for the sprinters.  As I write, the finish is unfolding with the teams of the sprinters driving the race at unreal speeds, with the pace line of the teams straining to carry their sprinter to the line first.  Heart in throat I watch, seeing if the riders can hold their lines, go through turns fearlessly, not touch the brakes or the wheel of the rider in front.   As it happened, Mark Cavendish was not able to hold things together and wound up hitting the pavement in a high speed crash, denying him the thrill of winning this stage in his hometown in front of the royal family.  Instead, the honor went to German Marcel Kittel of team Giant-Shimano.  In the odd world of cycling teams, this team is a Dutch team sponsored by Giant bicycles, a Chinese company which does have a manufacturing facility in the Netherlands, and Shimano, a Japanese maker of bicycle components.  The race will continue two more days in England before moving across the English Channel to the French mainland.  Watching the tour can be rewarding even if you are not a cycling fan, since the coverage from the helicopters and motorcycles shows the amazing and beautiful scenery of the route.

So, it’s time for me to go watch Argentina take on Belgium.  Maybe Messi will show us some of his brilliant moves and score a goal.  Happy watching, sports fans.

Wheeling around Western Mass.

Picturesque New England farm in western Massachusetts

Picturesque New England farm in western Massachusetts

I’ve discovered that running is not bad training for cycling, but cycling does not really cross train one for running. Nevertheless, it is a decent break in the marathon training schedule to take a few days off from running. What better way to maintain some cardiovascular fitness than to spend four days cycling in the hills of Western Massachusetts?
I have been heading up to Northampton, “Noho”, every summer for the last ten years to spend time road cycling with an outfit called Ride Noho. My discovery of this cycling camp experience started with a trip to Italy in 2002, to spend a week cycling at the Italian Cycling Center. This is a cycling camp created by the curmudgeonly George Pohl, who, it was said, knows a whole lot about cycling, but won’t tell you all you need to know. The idea of the camp was to have a home base in one place and take rides in different directions each day. It is based in the tiny town called Borso del Grappa, or “pocket” of (Mount) Grappa, which is at the edge of the Veneto, and at the foothills of the Dolomites. I spent a challenging week there with two of my friends, going on rides up switchback roads into alpine highlands above Valdobbiadene, through narrow paved streets of towns like Asiago, and plummeting back down the mountains to neighboring Basano. Our fellow riders were accomplished road cyclists, most of whom spent some time in amateur racing. George kept the challenge going in the evening during prosecco hour, when we had gathered at the outdoor patio to enjoy a glass of the area’s signature sparkling wine.  George read the menu choices only once, and stared disapprovingly, and silently, at anyone who dared ask him to repeat an option.
Looking for a similar experience of challenging cycling without the expense of traveling to Italy, I discovered Ride Noho. It turns out the creator of this outfit, Aldo Tiboni, had also been to the Italian Cycling Center. Instead of looking for a similar experience, he created one, although, as he points out, without the grumpy attitude. Aldo wanted the same approach, i.e., have a home base and take off on different rides each day.  For a very reasonable daily fee, one is provided overnight stay in a hotel or motel in Northampton, a delicious breakfast at Sylvester’s restaurant, a ride fitted to the abilities of the cyclists, and lunch at another Northampton restaurant.  Dinner is not provided, but Northampton and the surrounding areas, including Amherst, have an overabundance of excellent choices for dinner.

Aldo Tiboni, of Ride Noho

Aldo Tiboni, of Ride Noho

Aldo, the creator of Ride Noho, is a remarkably nice person.  He’s also one mean cyclist.  He seems to live for the ride, at least in summer, when he goes out almost daily with groups of varying skill, taking them on rides through the undulating countryside of the northern and western parts of Massachusetts.  Accompanying him, and providing inspiration for anyone who feels sex or small size is an inhibiting factor, is Elaine, his beautiful and athletically gifted wife.  Elaine is a dynamo disguised in the sweetest demeanor.  She can hang with all but the fastest cyclists, climb as if she’s dancing on the pedals, and keeps a mother hen’s eye on everyone to keep them safe.

Eileen, being the center of attention, deservedly so.

Elaine, being the center of attention, deservedly so. (photo from 2011 trip)

Over the last ten years I’ve had many great rides with Aldo and Elaine.  We’ve done the Cosby ride, the backwards Cosby, the ride out to Shelburne Falls, out past Amherst, and taken a few climbs up the short but steep climb to Sugarloaf Mountain, in Deerfield.  We have done a one hundred mile ride into Vermont and back.  The most memorable rides, though, have been our climbs to the peak of Mount Greylock.

Mount Greylock in the distance

View from afar of Mount Greylock

Mount Greylock, the origin of the name is a bit obscure, sits in the upper western part of Massachusetts, in Adams, near Williamstown.  It is the highest mountain in Massachusetts, and has an impressive view from the top extending more than 100 miles.  While it is possible to make a long cycling trip starting in Northampton and finishing at Mount Greylock, or even doing a 100-plus mile round trip, our usual approach is to drive to the ranger station on the southern route up the mountain and start our ride from there.  This past August we did just that.  My friend from college, Keith, who lives near Boston, and I were the only two guests of Aldo and Elaine this week.  We started out early from Northampton with our bikes secure in the rack atop Aldo’s van.  We stopped along the way at the marvelously named “BreadEuphoria” bakery in Haydenville for some coffee and a pastry.  About an hour later we arrived at the ranger station.  Meeting us there was Bob, friend of Aldo and Elaine, and co-leader on many of their rides.  Bob is in his 60’s, eats vegan, and lives an idyllic life in the hills of western Massachusetts, doing what he likes, which is cycling.  On the off chance Aldo has attracted some hammer heads who can really move or climb, Bob is there to work them until they are exhausted, and have gotten their money’s worth.  To Bob, it seems like a walk in the park.

Bob and Aldo

Bob and Aldo, getting their bikes ready for Mount Greylock.

Since neither Keith nor I are in the category of “hammer head”, Bob also serves another function, which is to be absolutely entertaining with his knowledge of the history of the area, his wry sense of humor, and general good nature.

The ride starts from the parking lot of the ranger station with a fast descent down Rockwell Road.  We then do a long route around the base of Mount Greylock, taking on a few hill climbs to get the legs ready, and stopping for a quick restroom break at Williams College in Williamstown.  Each time I have done this ride I have been reminded by my companions what a great art museum Williams College has.  One of these days, I will need to go check it out.  Williamstown is also the staging town for the start of the Long Trail in Vermont, which starts a few miles northeast at the end of Pine Cobble Road.  That’s another of my desires, to someday hike the Long Trail in Vermont.  Leaving Williamstown, we continue on to Notch Road, and the start of the ascent.  From this, the northern approach the elevation starts at about 1200 feet.  The route to the top is about 8 miles, and the summit is at 3491 feet.  The climbing starts quickly and sections of the climb reach the upper teens in percent grade.  One does get a little break from time to time where the road almost levels, but then the climbing starts again.  At around 3200 feet there is a mile of flattish rolling road which is a nice respite before the final climb to the summit.  While not the longest or most difficult climb I’ve done, this ranks up there in the top ten, and has certain characteristics which make it stand out.  It is a particularly scenic climb through natural forest.  The road surface, while pretty good most of the time, does have ruts, ice heaves and warning bumps where hiking trails cross.  Car traffic is light, thankfully.  And the view from the top is very impressive.

We all started together although Bob quickly went off the front, presumably to make sure no earthquakes had taken out sections of the road.  Aldo was behind him, but not by far.  Keith, Elaine and I started together, but I stopped along the way to snap a photo of an odd looking building.

Odd structure along Notch Road, up Mount Greylock.

Odd structure along Notch Road, up Mount Greylock.

Keith and Elaine kept going, while I tooled along, keeping a steady climbing pattern going.  In the saddle at my lowest gear, out of the saddle a couple of sprockets up, then back to sitting kept my climbing going.  Close to the top, I caught up with Keith and Elaine.  While Elaine was just being her protective self, she could very easily have shot up the mountain faster, Keith and I were dragging a bit as we crested the summit.

Near the summit of Mount Greylock.

Near the summit of Mount Greylock.

By reaching the summit, one joins a list of accomplished adventurers and naturists who have climbed the peak before.  This list includes Timothy Dwight IV, president of Yale University in 1799, the writers Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry David Thoreau, and the physician and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.  In 1929, a segment of the Appalachian Trail was cut to crest the mountain, and since then a multitude of backpackers have visited the peak.  Intrepid skiers of the 1930’s cut a ski run on the mountain called the Thunderbolt Ski Run.  It almost faded to overgrown obscurity until the late 1990’s when it was cleared of trees and brush.  Now, it is a challenging, steep run taken by skiers and borders who hike up, then descend the ungroomed, unlit, and unpatrolled fast and steep run.

Bob, Frank, Elaine, Aldo and Keith at the summit of Greylock, with the Veterans War Memorial in the background.

Bob, Frank, Elaine, Aldo and Keith at the summit of Greylock, with the Veterans War Memorial in the background.

College friends Keith and Frank at the Greylock summit.

College friends Keith and Frank at the Greylock summit.

View looking east from the summit of Mount Greylock (2010 photo).

View looking east from the summit of Mount Greylock (2010 photo).

The weather at the summit can change quickly.  As we arrived, it was nice and sunny, with a great view.  Moments later we were enshrouded in a fine, chilly mist.  That was our signal to head back down.  The descent is not as screamingly fast as one would like, taking the southern route.  In fact, there’s a bit of a climb half way down, but eventually we made it back to the ranger station.  We cleaned up in the restroom, got the bikes back in the racks on top of the van, said adieu to Bob, and drove back to Northampton.

The last two days of our stay this year in Northampton we had two other rides through the bucolic surrounding countryside, including one through Amherst and past the home of Emily Dickinson, famous poet and recluse.  Her house is now a museum dedicated to her life and her works. Again, this is a worthwhile destination for exploring, like the art museum at Williams College, but one for another trip.  Not having read much of her poetry, but being familiar with it, I searched online for a collection of her works.  What I found astounded me, a 3000 plus page collection, only to find that almost all of it was published after her death.

Emily Dickenson House

Emily Dickinson House, Amherst, Massachusetts

The last night in town Keith and I ate at Northampton’s Argentine steakhouse, Caminito, reminiscing about old college days, rides we’d taken, and keeping each other up to date on what career paths our kids, now in their twenties, are taking.

Aldo and Elaine provide an excellent cycling experience with Ride Noho, for all levels of riders.  But my trip to Noho is just as much about getting together with an old friend (or several, when we have a larger group), and unhitching from the stress of daily work.  As for my upcoming marathon, well, we’ll just have to see how it goes.  I’m feeling pretty decent with my training, and I don’t think taking off the four days from the running schedule will seriously impact my performance.

Frank K.

Killington to Stratton

The last day of our four day tour of the Green Mountains was planned to take us back to our starting point, a bit of a round about route from Killington back to Stratton. We had started to enjoy life in the mountains, in nice condos, eating big dinners, drinking beer ad-lib from local breweries and having desert each night. The stars at night in the mountains are spectacular. The milky way shines through, and myriad stars one never sees fill in the sky among the more common constellations one can see in the backyard back home. We all slept well in our Trail Creek condo, even Keith, who had suffered the hard fall the day before and had to abandon the tour. Yes, he let out some odd groans whenever he turned in his sleep, but he managed to sleep through the night. For breakfast, we had bought the fast food favorite, sausage and cheese on english muffins, bagels, and coffee from the hotel convenience store next door the night before. Keith, who would be getting a ride directly to Stratton, had arranged for our bags to be brought back up to the hotel, where they would be picked up and brought to Stratton, too. The movement of luggage to each person’s hotel or condo each day cannot have been a simple task, and I commend the organizers for carrying this out flawlessly during the tour.

With the luggage taken care of, and Keith’s transport arranged, we got our bikes out and headed down the Killington access road to start our last day’s ride. Dan B. and I let gravity have it’s way as we sped down the hill we struggled up the night before. Dan T., not having the same lust for a fast downhill, laid on the brakes and took it more slowly. Dan B. and I arrived at the junction of route 4 well ahead of Dan T., and we crossed the highway to where the director of the tour, John Sohikian, was waiting with his van and tire pumps. We chatted with John, telling him how much we had enjoyed this four-day tour, and how well it was organized, as we topped off our tires for the last leg. Meanwhile, Dan T., having arrived at the bottom of the access road, missing the fact that we were waiting for him across the street, took off in a mad rush to catch us who were behind him. He spent the rest of the morning chasing us down, skipping the Magic Mountain rest stop, and beat us back to the finish line by a good margin. Dan B. and I, meanwhile, came back up to the intersection and realized that the other Dan had taken off solo. We headed out down route 100, enjoying the incredibly beautiful scenery, but also keeping a pretty fast pace as we headed towards Ludlow. Dan B. makes quite an engine. I was just barely able to hang in his slipstream as he paced me over the rolling route. Our first rest stop was at the Clocktower Center in Ludlow, where there once was a very comfortable and funky coffee shop called “A State of Bean”. It is now a snowboard shop, alas. The next segment of the ride took us to a rest stop at Magic Mountain. This is a smaller resort than the others we visited, and it was closed due to bankruptcy in the 1990’s. Apparently, it is now open again, but will still face the challenge of being surrounded by larger and more familiar resorts. It was at this point we could have opted for a bus ride back up to Stratton, avoiding the climb up the Stratton Mountain road. Many of the other riders were doing this, perhaps to get back earlier and start their drive home. But Dan B. and I, and we were certain, Dan T. as well, were not going to skip the last big climb of the trip. We mounted back up for the last leg of the day’s ride, down route 100, up route 30, and finally, all the way up the Stratton Mountain road to the base lodge. As it turned out, though a bit of a challenge compared to what we had already done, that last climb was not so bad, “only” reaching grades of around 10-12 %. As we rode up the last bit, our cell phones were going off, and we knew it was Dan T. wanting to know where we were. It turns out, he had missed the turn for the Magic Mountain rest stop and skipped it all together, just continuing on to the finish. Our ride that day was about 65 miles, and seemed short, done by noon.

We saw that our luggage was delivered and waiting for us. We went for lunch under a large tent set up in the area next to the gondola. Summer visitors were taking the gondola up to the top of Stratton to get in some hiking. John Sohikian was making rounds at all the tables, asking how we liked the tour, and gathering mental notes for next year. Keith had already been dropped off and he left us a note on our car, saying he would be up for another trip next summer. We changed out of our cycling clothes for the ride back home and got the bags and bikes back into and onto Dan B.’s hybrid SUV. We then drove off, leaving behind the beautiful Green Mountains, and heading back to our workaday lives.

This was an exciting and challenging tour. It had classic elements of man vs. man, man vs. nature, and even man vs. dog. It was at times sublimely relaxing, drinking beer with our feet up on the Lay-Z-Boy sectional sofa telling jokes, and at others, harrowing, requiring keen attention as we shot downhill, around mountain curves, avoiding road fissures and gravel while logging trucks and other vehicles passed us. Whether this will hurt my marathon training for October 7, I don’t know. I would say I kept up with the cardiac training, and my legs got an impressive workout, just not with the same action as running. Now to get back to the roadwork. We’ll be getting in more miles and longer runs in the next few weeks, as my training partners Steve, Brian and Tony did last Sunday, with their twenty miler. Good going, guys!

As a post-script, I heard from Keith that he got checked when he got home regarding his injuries. It turns out he cracked two ribs, had an A-C separation (acromio-clavicular), and a small pneumothorax. Tough guy, that Keith.

Frank

Okemo to Killington

A century ride is unpredictable. Like a marathon, all sorts of things can happen in a long event like this. Weather changes, injuries, bonking and so on can all play a role. Our ride today took us from Okemo to Killington, not a very long trip if your purpose is just to go from one to the other, about 27.5 miles. But that’s not what we did. The route started at Jackson Gore in Okemo, the newest development of the Okemo Ski Resort. Again, breakfast was simple, granola, Greek yoghurt, pastries, coffee and orange juice. We then headed out, up route 100, which runs the length of the green mountains. At route 4, we turned to go past Killington access road, and started the first serious climb of the day, the Sherbourne Pass. It was a good warmup for the climbs to come. After cresting the top of the pass, we had a four mile drop down to Rutland. Racing down these long hills takes nerves, The road has two lanes going up, but only one coming down, making the combination of fast cars and trucks, and narrow, jagged ruts on the side of the road treacherous for the cyclist. Before getting in to Rutland, we turned north, for a loop that would ultimately take us to the major climb of the day, the Brandon Gap. My good friend from college, Keith, and I rode together here along with Dan T. Our other Dan (B.) had taken off at a faster pace and hooked up with a fast group from Connecticut. It turned out Connecticut supplied the most riders of any state for the Vermont Challenge. This seems in no small part due to the director being from Connecticut, with a house in Vermont, and convincing a large contingent of his cycling club to come up for the event. We were content going at a moderate pace, and we even stopped to take a few photos of the Vermont countryside. In this part of the state, there is almost no open or forest land. It’s all farms, some very well kept, some a bit bedraggled appearing. We also saw signs of the destruction from Hurricane Irene, with crumbled buildings and road-sides washed away. There were also many stretches of new pavement where, we were told, entire roads were destroyed. The Vermont Challenge is a fund raiser to help Vermont recover from the effects of Irene. Cycling along these farm roads, we had to stop every now and then to take photos of the picturesque rolling hills, with barns and silos, fields of corn, and the blue sky with cumulous clouds setting the tone. It was along one of these stretches, about a mile or so from the fifty mile rest stop, that we saw a golden retriever zip uncaringly across the road to where a few workers were harvesting hay. As we approached, with Dan T. having shot ahead of Keith and I, we saw a cat running across the road with a mouse in its mouth. The dog came bounding after, right in front of Keith, and he hit the dog. Keith went down hard. He wasn’t riding very fast, and didn’t slide, but instead came down with great force, and lay sideways on the ground making a terrifying noise and managing to say, “I can’t breathe.” I quickly got off my bike and rushed over to him. I helped him turn on his back as he started to come around and his breathing became more normal. The owner of the farm we were passing, who was not the owner of the dog, nor the hay field, came out to help. He moved his industrial sized pickup truck out to the road to block traffic. By then, Keith was starting to breathe more normally. His left shoulder was giving him intense pain, and at first glance, seemed to have a separation between the collar bone and the shoulder. On closer exam, it wasn’t separated, but it was badly bruised. He was sitting up and thinking more clearly. Finally, he was able to stand, and we took a look at his bike. The handle bars were about 90 degrees skewed, but the gears and wheels were intact. I was able to muscle the handlebars back into alignment. Since we were only a mile from the rest stop, we decided to ride there, and Keith could decide if he could continue. It was a very slow mile, particularly painful for Keith, who was cruelly jarred by every little bump in the road. By the time we arrived at the rest stop, Keith was in a lot of pain, and clearly could not go on. The provider of our rest stop snacks, BonkSupport.com, offered to give Keith and his bike a ride to the finish, at Killington Mountain. Keith quickly accepted, recognizing that his Vermont Challenge Tour had come to an abrupt end.

I continued on. Dan T. had already gone blithely ahead, not aware of the accident that felled our companion. The next twenty miles I rode solo, seeing no one from the ride ahead or behind me. This was supposed to be a loop of bucolic splendor, but it was tough not to think about Keith and how he was fairing.  The next stop, at 70 miles was a very brief one. I saw Dan T. heading up the hill as I arrived, but he was too far ahead to hear me, and I needed to get some water and have a gel before starting the main climb. I filled my water bottle from a faucet outside the store, downed a gel I had in my pocket, then started out on the five mile climb. The first four miles were not too severe. I kept a steady but slow pace except where the road occasionally dipped down, for a short break from the climb. At about the four mile mark, the road enters a national forest, and gets severely steep. It took every bit of strength I could muster from my legs to pedal up the last mile, reaching grades of fourteen percent, with no significant flat areas to take a break. As I struggled, going around four to five miles per hour, a young, slender woman rode past me, saying, “I’d say I was passing, but I’m too tired to say it”, when a mere “passing” would have been sufficient. As I approached the summit of the climb, I noticed signs for the Long Trail, the oldest established hiking trail in the United States, and which I plan to hike next summer. After a short stop at the top with a few other cyclists who came up shortly after me, and a round of congratulations, I headed down the four mile descent, taking care to avoid the fissures in the road as I sped around the curves. The last stretch of the ride was to the base of Killington Mountain, then up the Killington Mountain Road to Outback Pizza, about three miles up the road. With all the climbing we had done, I really didn’t want to climb any more. But I made it to the restaurant, where the two Dans were already perched on bar stools telling stories with the other intrepid cyclists, drinking beer courtesy of the Otter Creek brewery, and eating sandwiches provided us by the tour.

After two beers, yes, two, we got back on our bikes to climb the last mile up the road to our Condo, which Keith had already staked out for us. He got our bags delivered to our room, and made a reservation for us at a nearby restaurant. We were completely beat from riding 106 miles with 6875 feet of climbing, but managed to recover and had a very good meal at Ovations restaurant, at the Killington Grand Lodge. We headed back to the condo, and, floating high on our ride, but also on the wine and beer we drank, came up with an idea for a sitcom we plan to call “Four Guys”, about for cycling friends who get into all sorts of crazy predicaments. Then it was to bed, to rest up for the next day’s challenges.

Frank

Manchester to Okemo

Manchester doesn’t seem to have much in the way of early breakfast. Up For Breakfast, the breakfast place locals like, opens at 7, but we needed to get breakfast a bit earlier in order to get to the ride start on time. Dan B. walked down to the combo Mobile gas station and Maplefields minimart, and brought back a variety of egg and sausage sandwiches, donuts and coffee. Another champion’s breakfast. We gathered for the ride at the Dana Thompson Recreation Park. We were led out on a loop through town, although the expected cheering throngs of townies did not materialize, then headed out for day two. The first twenty miles were covered in well under one hour, since the road was relatively flat and we had a tail-wind. In spite of our speed, we still were able to appreciate the scenery, including dairy farms, meadows with wild flowers, and a large lake, along Route 30. The route got moderately hilly the second 20 miles, which slowed us down considerably, and we lost the tail wind. We stopped at a bakery at around 35 miles to refuel. As with most places in rural Vermont, it had a quaint look, and served home baked goodies that were very tasty. I was feeling a major bonk at this point, and I think my week on call the week before was catching up with me. The last 28 miles included some very long, but moderate grade climbing, long downhills, some highway riding, and it proved to be a great opportunity for 71 year old Dan T. to show what he can do. He really powered up the hills, keeping pace with Dan B., and outpacing Keith and me by a mile. The Lion of Haddonfield roared today! Our ride finished at the Outback Pizza in Ludlow, where very nice sandwiches and salads were waiting for us, and the Otter Creek brewery rep was providing our group free beer. Total miles about 68. Then, we had to mount back up and ride a mile back to the elegant Jackson Gore Lodge, where we checked in to our luxury suite (for real, we are in a premium 3 bedroom suite). Keith and I took advantage of the pool here for a casual swim. Dinner was a barbecue mix of pulled pork, cowboy beans and slaw, while listening to a local band. This was a regular event here, not specific for our group, so a lot of the locals turned out. Tomorrow is a major ride, 104 miles over steep climbs and fast downhills. Should be good.

Frank

20120817-210926.jpg

20120817-211043.jpg

20120817-211053.jpg

Stratton to Manchester

Day one in my adventure in Vermont started on Stratton Mountain, a place with which I am ver familiar. I’ve been here dozens of times with my family for ski trips, but never in the summer. My group, Dan T., Dan B., Keith and I decided to stay in a condo In Stratton, and we wound up being assigned the very same unit my family stayed in back in February when we were here to ski. We were here for the inaugural edition of the Vermont Challenge, a four day point-to-point cycling tour in the Green Mountains. We got checked in to our condo easily enough. We then wandered the area of the Stratton Village, searching for signs of life and the registration area for the event. Finally, we located it in a building near the gondola. Looking up the mountain, the ski runs look very different, covered in green grass and surrounded by leafed-out trees. We signed in and were given a strap to be worn around our wrist the duration of the event, like the ones used at multi-day concerts. We got a large bag with a Vermont Challenge cycling jersey, very attractive, although Dan T. thought it was “hideous”. It also contained a bunch of Hammer gels, several tourist pamphlets, printed cue sheets, and a name badge. Upstairs in the bar, they had dinner waiting for us, buffet-style burgers, salad and brownies, plus we were given two tickets for beers from the bar. A live band of slightly past-their-prime rockers was playing, including one odd song “Take it like a man”. I wasn’t sure what kind of bar this was… Anyway, this was the send off party for the group, and we sat out on the deck, enjoyed the view of the mountain, and just relaxed. We got a speech by the director of the event, thanking all those who helped, naming all the sponsors, and giving instructions on how to proceed the next day.

The next morning we got up early, got our suitcases to the drop-off point, and got a barely adequate breakfast of raisin bran, yoghurt, bagels and coffee. After the obligatory speech, again thanking the sponsors, about fifty riders headed out for the first day’s ride. This number would grow with each day, as many more riders would be joining us for the three, two and one day options. The first part of the ride was a long, screaming downhill, part of which was through a road construction zone. The flag girl held traffic for us as our group rode through. Then the ride started into rolling hills, and a couple more long down hills before we got to the valley where Manchester is. This ride was a pretty benign ride, mostly down hill, with a long loop around Manchester, before winding up in a beautiful park outside of Manchester. The total miles for the day was 56. They had a catered lunch waiting for us under a large tent, music playing from speakers set up by our combination DJ and photographer, and we sat out enjoying the warm sun.

We checked into our inn, a very quaint old victorian house called Sutton’s Place, run by Frank Sutton for over thirty years. He’s a tall gent who lives with his wife in the inn, charges very reasonable rates, and is very accommodating. The inn is close to Northshire Bookstore, which I feel is the best independent bookstore in the country. We spent an hour browsing, and each of us buying a book or three. I bought “This is a book” by Demetri Martin. Very funny. After that, I had to get in a run. I did a five mile run out Barnumville Road 2.5 miles then back. I was able to manage an 8:50 average, with some significant hills in the run. I’m thinking of laying off the running the rest of the tour since the serious climbing is coming. Dinner was at “Ye Old Tavern” (for real) and it was delicious. Then it was back to the inn to get rested for the next day.

Frank

Vermont Challenge

Ed told me, “Frank, at some point you will need to decide between cycling and running in your training.” This was a few years ago when I was training for my first marathon, but still cycling a few days a week. Over the next year I made a big shift, devoting more time to running, and putting fewer miles on the Pinarello. Now, I still ride to work when I can, and get in the occasional longer ride. Ironically, the last longer ride I took was out to Valley Forge with Ed, Michelle, and a resident of mine named Mike. Ed’s knees don’t allow him to run like he used to, and he has become a cycling and swimming demon.

Today, I awoke at five AM, because that is my habit, but I’m in a condo on Stratton Mountain getting ready to ride the four-day Vermont Challenge. This is the inaugural year for this event, which, on paper, looks very daunting. It’s four days of cycling in the Green Mountains of central Vermont, going from point to point. We start from Stratton to Manchester, then Manchester to Okemo. The third day is Okemo to Killington, and the last day is Killington back to Stratton. Each day is around 60 miles, except for the third day which covers 104 miles and includes a long, hard climb in the middle of the route. Of course, this being the Green Mountains, it appears every day is all climbing and descending, since there is not much flat here.

Whether this will hurt my training for Steamtown, or be a good counterpoint, with a successful cross-training effect, I don’t know. I am up here with three friends, two Dans and a Keith, with whom I ride every year, and we are out to have four tough but fun days of cycling. I think I’ll be riding into shape during the event, and not hoping to shine the first day. I will try to write each day to let folks know how this respite from marathon training is going. I brought my running shoes with me in the fanciful belief I could get in a run or two. We’ll see if that happens…

Frank

partimetravelers

Full time dreamers, part time travelers, the World how we see it.

Uncorking Croatia

The Blog of WINES OF CROATIA

RunnersOnTheGo.com

To help enrich the lives of others, we developed RunnersOnTheGo.com to help runners save money on races, running stores, and much more. We also provide the specific local information that makes your travel for business, vacation, or racing as rewarding as possible.

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

getsetandgo

Travel Blog of a Budget Traveler on a look out for Vegetarian Food

Hemingway Run

From Couch Potato To Runner Bean!

Mid-Life, Mid-Level, Masters Running

Exploring ideas about running to contribute to a more enjoyable pursuit for the mid-level masters runner

therunningtherapist

"One foot in front of the other and one thought at a time"

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

retireediary

The Diary of a Retiree

%d bloggers like this: