Day 1: 4 July 2012
The RAGBRAI handbook suggests that a great way to prepare for riding across the State of Iowa with 10,000 of your closest friends during the last week in July is, after months of your usual high mileage preparation, to get in several days of long rides back-to-back over the 4th of July weekend. So, feeling woefully behind in my training after the regrettable gap in my cycling due to three weeks of international meetings and flights through four continents, I decided to get my butt back on the bike and grind out four days of tough riding to try and recapture my conditioning. Honestly, after a full winter of riding and spin classes, spending a week riding in Death Valley in March and a week pedaling from New York City to Washington DC in May, I had the base (and not much had gone away), but I didn’t have the confidence. It’s now back, in spades after these four days of tough riding.
Sometimes the weather just isn’t on your schedule. Such was the situation when I took off in the rain on Wednesday, 4 July, across town to pick up the Number 1 subway from Columbus Circle to the end of the line on the margins of Van Cortlandt park, near where the 50-mile long (except for one tiny gap in between East Irvington and White Plains) bike path starts and ambles north to Carmel. What I do not like while cycling is water vapor rising up off the pavement, since that means it is both hot and wet, two unattractive factors while working hard on two wheels. While the rain stopped, the humidity lingered and the temperatures continued to rise from 21 to 38 late in the day. The heat index (temperature and humidity) was way into the “extreme caution” zone.
Here is the ride on Strava, my new discovery (thanks, Evan!) as a great social cycling site.
With the late start, heat and humidity, I was in deep shit around 3:00 pm, both exhausted and overheated and with twenty km left to ride. I’d actually pulled into a Stewart’s gas station and food mart on State Highway 376, near Dogwood Knolls Country Club in Hopewell Junction to cool down and asked the woman at the counter if she knew a taxi service I could call for a ride into Poughkeepsie. She didn’t, so shaking and well into heat exhaustion, I got back on my bike to ride the final stretch towards my usual stop, the Riverstation Bar and Restaurant near the Hudson River and the MetroNorth station.
After about a mile riding along the shoulder, I saw the most amazing site… there was cycling fly-over bridge, where the Dutchess Rail Trail crossed the highway. This meant that there was a shaded, flat straight shot into Poughkeepsie. I almost wept with joy!
When I arrived at the Riverstation, I was about as spent as I had ever been in a sporting event… dehydrated (inevitable in that heat, since you just can’t keep up while pushing fluids), flushed, shaking and unable to speak. I ordered a few pints of Bass Pale Ale (water with benefits!) and recovered at the bar, while Cindy Lou, the bartender, fretted over my condition until I slowly came back to normal. However, even after almost ninety minutes I still was so shaken and exhausted I didn’t have an appetite. Finally, “Lou” called me a cab and I checked into the Atlas Hotel across the Hudson River in Highland. After a shower, I felt myself and found a Subway sandwich shop and some more beer before crashing in the air conditioning until it was time to catch the fireworks.
The irony was lost on the police officers later that night who kept us from walking on to the Poughkeepsie-Highland pedestrian walkway above the Hudson River, where they had sold US$10 tickets to see the fireworks. The cops couldn’t understand why I thought it was funny that they kicked us off the bridge, where we had gone to see a lightshow in the sky, that they would boot us off due to lightening.
Day 2: 5 July 2012
Thursday’s ride was a bit more tame, with a much earlier start, although the temperatures were still high as NY State was locked in a heat wave.
On the way from Rosendale to High Falls, I stopped at the entrance to the Rosendale caves, where the air comes up out of the ground at a constant 12 degrees C. You can stand on the side of the road, right at the fence, and cool down on a hot day.
After crossing the Ashokan Reservoir dam, I stopped at Winchell’s pizza in Shokan and rehydrated with several pints of beer and a couple of slices:
On Thursday and Friday evenings, I stayed at Simon Strauss’ home, up in the hills above Shokan. On Thursday evening we roared up the road to the Peekamoose Restaurant and Tap Room, one of the finest restaurants in the region http://www.peekamooserestaurant.com/index.html . After cycling for many hours each day, one of the great pleasures is to stumble on a perfect place to replace all those calories. I particularly enjoyed the carmelized vidalia onion tart as a starter and treated myself to the most delicious slow braised beef short ribs. All of this was washed down with more than a few pints of draft Wolavers beer from Vermont.
Day 3: 6 July 2012
On Friday, I rode a long loop, from Shokan counter-clockwise up through Woodstock and Palenville, then up to just short of Hunter and over the mountain and down to Phonecia before the long flat descent towards Ashokan Reservoir. Unfortunately, I think I missed the better route up Platte Clove Rd, which might have been a better route than the busy Highway 234 that climbs along Kaaterskill Creek.
After another round of pizza and beers at Winchell’s pizza parlor I spent a second night at Simon’s. It was great to have climbed all day without carrying the small cycling fanny-pack with my street clothes, electronics and toiletries, which I had left behind as I looped through the Catskills.
Day 4: 7 July 2012
On Saturday morning I took off early and rode back to Poughkeepsie, tired from three days of hard riding the previous days. Rather than head up and over the Shawangunks, past Mohonk, I dodged the hills riding through Rosendale again.
On the ride into Poughkeepsie, I compared my “estimated time of arrival” at the train station on my Garmin GPS and my very cool “Right Track” Android app that gives me updated information on the departure schedule for MetroNorth trains. If (and only “if”) I pushed my pace, I could make the express train that ran non-stop from Peekskill all the way into NYC. So, although it may not have been good manners on the bike path going up to and over the pedestrian/cycling bridge across the Hudson, I hammered my way into town and then sped sharply down to the train station and up to the ticket machine and down the stairs to the train, arriving just about a minute before the doors closed and the train pulled out for Manhattan.
These four days of hard riding were my last long tough preparation rides for the RAGBRAI, which begins on 22 July. The plan now is to get in a few days of hill intervals in Central Park before handing my bike off to Conrad’s Bike Shop for cleaning and packing for the Fedex ride to Iowa.