Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Montauk (metric) Century

Sunday, May 16 I did the 5BBC's Montauk (metric) Century. The length of this entry is appropriate for the size of the ride, but might not hold your attention. Writing about it has helped me preserve the memory.

I got through its 68 fairly flat miles by brute force. This was the longest ride I have taken so far, almost twice as long as the Five Borough Bike Tour on May 2. I guess I need to keep working on conditioning, doing hour-long rides several times a week instead of these every-so-often killer rides.

I woke up at 5:30 and had oatmeal and a banana for breakfast, for fuel. Check-in for the ride was at the Babylon train station, where the 140-milers from NYC paused and the 100-milers started. For us 65 milers our bikes were trucked to Mastic and we rode the 8:30am train.

I joined an escorted "beginner" group which dispersed quickly - I saw few of them for the rest of the ride, probably because they were faster than me.

The weather was perfect, and I remembered my sunscreen this time. We inconvenienced several drivers as we monopolized the shoulder. One poor lady honked and shouted so I let her make a right turn in front of me. She was still fussing as I waved and shouted, "Have a NICE day" and the people behind me laughed.

I recall seeing two parachutes glide down as we passed Spadaro Airport. Skydiving might have been a less strenuous activity but I think I'll stick to biking for now.

Not long after a "Golf Crossing" sign (WHAT's crossing??) we arrived at the first rest stop in Westhampton Beach, where I ate a little and rested a little. I tried to rejoin the group but most had gone ahead already, so I just kept going alone. In a few minutes I was on the famous, not-always-passable Dune Road. I was on Dune Road forever. I was tanking already, and I swear it was uphill the whole time! That was an illusion that I endured several times during the ride.

At the end of Dune Road (finally!) I hardly even tried to ride up the Ponquogue Bridge - I walked up, and even that took my breath. Beautiful vista at the top, and a pleasant glide down the other side.

I remember passing the sign for Stony Brook University at Southhampton, and the Welcome to Southhampton sign, both indications of serious progress, but it's all a blur - I just kept cranking my pedals. I recall thinking, "Hey, you just rode a marathon!" at the 26 mile mark. My pleasure was tempered by the fact that I was less than halfway there. The glass was half-empty, I guess.

Somewhere in here I got the hang of following the painted road signs on the asphalt, which is a good thing because for several minutes at a time there was nobody ahead or behind to guide me. Many turns past beautiful mansions on smooth, quiet roads, and I arrived at the Watermill rest stop in Bridgehampton. Jason texted, "Still got legs?" and I replied, "So far, yes, 29 miles to go." More fuel and about a 20-minute rest, then off I went.

On this last segment I remember cussing at my legs and wondering why I was doing this, but I kept going, resting my butt by standing and coasting whenever I could go downhill. I watched the 50-mile mark tick off on my odometer, and kept plugging away. There were many swallows and shore birds, and I saw a killdeer browsing a lawn as I passed. I even saw a field filled with cows, some of whom seemed as interested in me as I was in them. Somewhere in there I crossed the little bridge for which Bridgehampton was named, according to the sign.

Where the back roads led us up to Montauk Highway I stopped for five minutes and refueled. By this time my butt was pretty sore, but standing and walking around was all I needed.

We were on Montauk Point State Highway, well, forever. It got hilly, one last test for the already-weary. I took one long hill in about 5 chunks, and one short, steep hill in about 5 more. One person asked if I was OK as she passed; I replied, "Yep, just catching my breath." No lie, it's just an indication that I have conditioning work to do. Then I looked at my bike computer and realized that I had just "ridden my age" - 58 miles. It was at that point that I knew I would finish, even if I had to stop once a minute. Which is what I proceeded to do until I got up that hill.

I finally got to sail downhill towards the end, as we arrived in Montauk proper. It was only a couple of miles through town to arrive at the train station and the end. If I had rushed, I could have caught the 5:28pm train back to Babylon, but I decided to relax and enjoy the triumph of having completed the ride. They had hot showers (boy, that was nice!) and veggie burgers, salad and pasta. They called it lunch but for me it was dinner.

I got off the bike and delivered it to the truck carrying everyone's bikes back to Babylon. Then I turned around and walked towards the celebrating crowd, the food and the biking jersey I had ordered and needed to pick up - my self-styled reward for finishing. I cried, wishing Ronni could have joined me, or at least given me a congratulatory hug.

I lay down on a nearby rise after munching, and rested for a deeply soothing half-hour. Jason had left a text message after I told him I had 29 miles to go: "I just wanted to tell you from the bottom of my heart... YOU'RE NUTS!!! :) " Got a good laugh from that.

Then it was time to board the train. I setup my iPod to listen to random music, but as I thought about Ronni again, I was moved to listen to David Broza songs. Ronni and I had gone to his Christmas Eve performances at the 92nd St. Y for something like seven years in a row - it was a pleasant escape from the Christmas noise. The first winter after she died I skipped it, but then last year I went, alone. It turned out the seat next to me was empty. I knew I was not alone.

So here on the train I listened to Broza, cried, thought about the injustice of what happened to her, and looked out the train window. I saw the long bike ride unwind before me: the route was near the LIRR tracks, so I saw again many of the landmarks I had seen on the way out. There was a stunning sunset on display in the windows across the train aisle. Eventually the light faded, and I dozed.

I met my trusty bike below the Babylon LIRR station, and made it home just after 10pm, about 15 hours after I left the house this morning. Except for a few snippets of conversation here and there, I had been alone the entire trip. It would have been a different voyage had I not been alone - but would I have completed it?

  • I hate port-a-potties. Especially when you have to do #2.
  • Having done my homework about nutrition and hydration seems to have helped me survive the ordeal. Getting in better shape will make it less of an ordeal. And putting on sunscreen repeatedly is critical, though I need aerosol because the hand pump doesn't work upside down.
  • I guess I can always find something else to buy. I ordered a multi-purpose GPS on sale at Costco - it can route auto, hiking and bike rides. I'll have to order a bike mount separately after I see it. I also think I should change panniers to something that can handle water bottles and sandwiches without crowding.
  • I thought about next steps. There's a "Bloomin' Century" in Connecticut next weekend: no freakin' way, nothing but easy local rides for the next few weeks. I'll consider the other Montauk Century for mid-June. Next steps are Jon's graduation and opening the pool.
  • Bicycling and playing freecell are two ways that I numb the psychic pain that I still feel. I need to spend more time on the bike and less with freecell. The pain will ease, I hope.
If you managed to get this far, you're very patient. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Five Boro Bike Tour 2010

Here's a blow-by-blow description of my Sunday on the Five Boro Bike Tour, in which 32,000 people ride the streets of New York in a simultaneous "happening" and test of endurance.

Saturday I treated myself to a new multi-tool for the bike, and some chain lube, in case I ran into problems on Sunday. And I treated myself to a fairly lazy day, or rather, a lazy three days before this event. I wasn't all that sure I would finish.

I woke up at 4:15 for the Five Boro Bike Tour as planned and left at 4:55, a little late. Right until the BQE exit I wasn't sure I was going to park in Staten Island or Manhattan. I was following an SUV toting bikes and figured he was headed to the tour, and he went on the BQE so followed him. I think he took one of the bridges into Manhattan but I kept going until I got to the Verrazzano, then parked near the ferry. In chatting with some folks later, as we waited to get started, I think that was the right decision. The only think I'd do differently is take the Bike New York brochure's advice and park south of the Verrazzano, so that leaving the festival would have been easier. It wasn't really a problem until I got lost in Staten Island on the way home, stuck in traffic in Bayonne and Manhattan. Geez, all I had to do was pull out a map, but NOOOOO.

Thanks to the SUV bomb in Times Square, we got off to an hour-late start: we didn't start until 9am instead of the usual 8. [Edit: my late start was more likely due to my far-back start location in front of Trinity Church.] Thanks to the crowds, the "Tour" was also a "Walk" and a "Stand" at times. The late start was the first "Stand" part of the event. I got some pictures of Cousin Brucie as we passed the gate, and made a quick stop at the first toilet. Riding and sipping, I didn't need to stop again until the next-to-last stop, which was in Brooklyn.

In Central Park we met up with other riders who apparently joined the tour late. [Edit: not true, we split from them before entering the park, and merged in the park.] As a result, about 1/3 of Central Park was spent walking because it was so crowded. The hills were OK, though. I think I could enjoy a trip around Manhattan and through the park one quiet Sunday.

There were half a dozen other places where everyone bunched up and had to walk: 135th street before the Bronx, 63rd St before the Queensborough Bridge, coming off the QB, climbing up from the Gowanus towards the last rest area at Cannonball Park. That's the ones I remember. The tour is a victim of its own popularity, and on a beautiful day like today, it's just too crowded to enjoy.

I think we were in the Bronx for about 8 minutes.

Unfortunately I was so intent on riding without crashing into anyone that I hardly looked up at the scenery. In less crowded years I bet that was a wonderful addition to the experience, but not this year, not for me.

On the way down the Harlem River and FDR Drives I briefly remembered other times I had been there, with Ronni to or from the hospital. The memories came back in several other places but I didn't dwell on them because I was dogging.

The Queensborough Bridge was quite a climb, and my lack of conditioning forced me to stop-and-go on the way up. I walked a bit, too. Once you start coasting down, it's easy to go too fast; marshalls were there with "slow down" signs and megaphones to keep us in check. At least the tour wasn't ALL pedaling.

I noticed that there was no option to head towards Astoria, probably because they closed the route at the usual time (whatever it is) despite the late start we all got. [Edit: more likely I was just too darned slow!] I guess only the fastest people got there. The vendors must have been pretty ticked.

Queens into Brooklyn is a blur. I know I was there, just don't remember a lot of it until we got to the Gowanus, where there's a very long, mostly slow incline on which I had to stop several times. That's a recurring theme - my legs and lungs still need work.

Somewhere in there I stopped at one of the rest stops, parked my bike unattended without fear of theft, and refueled with banana, yogurt, water. Too crowded to wait on line for anything good. I probably stayed a bit too long - have you ever exercised then stopped then started again and found that it hurt like hell to restart? Fortunately, the soreness faded.

Soon we were under the Verrazzano and close to the last rest stop (which I skipped). What I remember here is that we slowed to a walk, and that the crowd was booing some bikers who tried to cut the line on the way up the exit ramp (the marshalls sent them back in line). If we hadn't been walking I certainly would not have been able to ride without stopping.

Then there was the climb up to the closed lower deck of the Verrazzano itself, which I did as well as I could do in fits and starts. If I had "let go" over the top I would have been doing 30mph on the way down, but again it was too crowded. I noticed they put padding over the grates on the bridge (the gaps are probably too big for narrow bike tires) and I was grateful.

Finally at the festival, once again too crowded to enjoy - who wants to stand on line for a half hour for a drink after riding for 5 hours? But I did stand in line for about 45 minutes for a free photo of myself, because unless I got that photo nobody would believe me when I told them I completed this ride. Then I had to stand in line to leave the park, perhaps because there was a collision or someone collapsed from heat exhaustion - I only know there was an ambulance outside the exit, and nobody was allowed to ride away for awhile.

Once we got out, we rode 3 minutes and stopped again, for what reason I don't know. Eventually we got going and did the three mile ride to the ferry. I rode to my car while most of the others hopped on the ferry. I then proceeded to get lost in Staten Island and ended up in Bayonne, New Jersey and Manhattan, stuck in heavy traffic. Leave it to me to fail to stop and read the damned map. It's OK, I got in a little more sightseeing.

I am surprised that I don't feel too bad. Just wait till the ibuprophen wears off... and I didn't use enough sunscreen - I'll pay for that tonight!

I swear I spent two hours standing, between the start area, Central Park and the festival, and I spent another 45-60 minutes walking when it was too crowded. Finished near 5pm.

I really did at least 39 miles instead of 32 if you count the ride to and from my car. Would I do the Five Boro Bike Tour again? Yes, but not every year. Maybe it will rain next year and the crowd will thin - I should ask people about last year, because it poured. It sure was a hoot riding on those main roads with nothing to look out for except bikes. Maybe I can gear up for the Montauk ride - the 65 mile version sounds like a reasonable goal to shoot for.

I promised Ronni I would take care of myself, and I am. It's slowly becoming possible to enjoy things without missing her so intensely. I still wish she had been here to join me on the ride - I think I would have enjoyed that. But she was with me in spirit, and that will have to do.

A few pix: http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/sredir?uname=chris.ihm&target=ALBUM&id=5467473038224038929&authkey=Gv1sRgCPHjj42ngLfFygE&invite=CMH-_okL&feat=email