By Paul Ruchlin
I know Team Halfway There is dedicated to Adventure Racing, and well they should be. Kyrie Irving All Shoes They are a talented, committed and very successful group of uber-athletes, not to mention a great bunch of fantastic people. But for me, as the warmth and inevitable Mid-Atlantic humidity start to settle in, it’s road biking season. I will still make the occasional foray to the single-track now and then, but far more often I’m off on the highways and byways of Virginia, or Maryland, or West Virginia, or Pennsylvania…….or in this case New Jersey and New York.
I am, by virtue of birth and the better part of my first 21 years on this planet, a New Jersey native. My parents and two of my three siblings still reside in what I know most of you do not believe is, The Garden State. asics tiger pas cher If you ever get there and manage to make it off the Garden State Parkway (there’s a reason it’s called that) or the NJ Turnpike, you’ll quickly discover why. By the way, Trenton, Camden and Atlantic City don’t count. Women Air Jordan 5 Anyway, because it took me home, offered me a chance to ride where I’ve never ridden before and presented a very challenging course, I rode in the Campagnolo Gran Fondo NY on May 18th. Gran Fondos (or is that Fondi? The only Italian I speak is related to food and wine) are becoming more and more popular in the US. They’ve been the staple for European riders for decades, but now you are likely to find as many a Gran Fondo around the country as Century Rides and they are turning out to be the perfect combination. air max chaussures Although technically a “competitive race” they are also designed for the noncompetitive riders. Just like Centuries, they have multiple courses of varying lengths. The premier length is, of course, the Gran Fondo, which is the 100-ish mile course, which means somewhere between 95 and 105 miles. There will also be a Medio, or 60-ish mile course and a Piccolo, or 30-ish mile course. The main difference is that some portion, or perhaps the entire course, is timed for those wishing to be competitive. I have seen Fondos where the entire course is timed, but more frequently there will be two or three challenging climb sections that are timed, with the lowest combined time determining the winner. Of course, this is only important if you’re in it to compete. As I am not of that caliber I do these for my pure love of the riding and so, while it is fun and motivating to record and review my times for my own enjoyment, I hold no pretense to actually be a competitive.
And rest assured that is fine for all participants. When I did my first Gran Fondo about a year ago, I was concerned that it would be very road-racer intensive. Yes, you do encounter those folk, but they are not the majority by far and other than having a timing chip on you or your bike, and a mass or rolling start at a specified time, as opposed to a “show and go” start, you might never know the difference between a Century Ride and a Gran Fondo.
So, off I headed late last week to my boyhood stomping grounds. I grew up about an hour due west of NYC. This race starts right on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge, running between Fort Lee, NJ and the Bronx in New York City, runs up the Hudson River to the top of Bear Mountain and back again. Beautiful and very hilly, the Gran Fondo route covers just under 99 miles with more than 8800 ft of climb, including the 4.5 mile, 1300 foot climb to the summit of Bear Mountain.
Friday morning I headed in to Manhattan, to the 69th Regiment Armory on 26th Street and Lexington Ave where the NY Bike Expo and packet pick-up was taking place. Although not the most impressive bike expo I’ve been to, in terms of size, the quality of the vendors was higher than normal and I picked up some info packets for some very cool trips and products. And I do have to give a special shout out for the swag bag from this event. You get the GFNY Jersey, which is mandatory for all riders on the day of the race; a quality GFNY water bottle; wool gloves; cold weather bike shoe covers (entire shoe, not just toe covers) and a very decent bottle of wine from a local NY winery. Really, a classy bag of goodies especially considering the entry price for the race was only about $100.
The race is good and early on Sunday and considering I had about an hour to drive, then park and ride a few miles to the start, 0400 came WAY early. As you can imagine, shutting down the GW Bridge is something of a logistics coup, Gov Christie fiasco notwithstanding, and given the extreme urban environment of both Fort Lee and the Bronx, there is just no way for the race to provide parking very close to the start. I parked in Fort Lee, rode across the upper level of the bridge just as the sun was rising, spectacularly, over downtown and made my way the 3 miles to the on ramp for the bridge’s lower level. With a quick “pit stop” at the base of the bridge (literally, I peed on the bridge stanchion, just moments before NY’s finest came through and yelled at all the other guys for, well….peeing on the bridge stanchion instead of the porta-potties) I then headed up the ramp on to the bridge. The process was slow here and it took about 25 minutes to walk my way to my starting corral for numbers 2000-2500. My number was 2147, out of over 5000 riders. Then it was the long 30 minute wait for the start.
I’m very glad the organizers put in the info packet that no matter the weather, it will be windy and much cooler on the bridge. Temp was in the low 50’s and with a slight but building breeze out of the north, even in the sea of black, white and lime green humanity it was rather chilly waiting for the 7:00 am gun to go off. But off it went and off we went as well.
Having written a time or two about my experiences, it seems it’s only the things that go wrong that make for good stories. So, other than belching up a hunk of my bagel and whitefish salad I’d had for breakfast hours earlier, that I damn near choked on at mile 15, most of the ride was quite uneventful. The first 45 miles we headed north, up the Hudson River Valley and I was……….”In A New York State Of Mind”……………. Sorry. Hope I don’t have to pay royalties for that. There was a good and steady 10-15 mph of wind and there was clearly going to be no relief from this till we turned around at the top of Bear Mountain and headed back south. With the wind and the hills, I was very happy with my time as I progressed and was feeling great as I entered Bear Mountain State Park. I stopped quickly to text my family members who’d ventured out to see me along the way. The plan was to meet at the top of the mountain, but I quickly discovered they were not letting anyone up the mountain. And that mountain is a BEAR of a climb….Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!! There are at least 4 sections that hit 12-14% grade and although they aren’t too long, taken all together, it was a challenge. I just kept it slow and steady, spinning my lowest gear and managed to average about 6.5 mph up to the top, passing far more people than passed me. I grabbed some food and a quick photo at the top, texted my family again and headed back down. fjällräven kånken big NOW THAT WAS FUN. I may not climb very well, but I do LOVE to descend and I did get annoyed a bit at the riders who forced me to hit my brakes as they white-knuckled they’re way down. Now I understand that hesitation and I don’t disparage anyone for controlling their speed. Nike Air Max Dames Goedkoop But PLEASE, if you’re afraid to go fast, stay somewhat to the side and for all of our sake don’t weave all over the road. Give me the room to get around you and don’t force me across the yellow line and I promise I will keep well clear. nike air zoom schoenen I did hear that one person crossed the yellow line and there was a rider-rider head-on collision. I hope that wasn’t really true. That could have been VERY ugly. I came across my family at the bottom of the mountain and spent a few minutes with them before starting off again. As you can imagine, whatever trepidation I’d had for this race was based on climbing that mountain. Scarpe Adidas It was tough, but not soul-breaking and I was psyched to be feeling so good afterwards. That should have been bad sign number one. Little did I know that the next 20 miles of up and down would be far harder, mentally and physically. It was quite the slog with several sections of 12-17% climbs and not all that much downhill to rest in between. Keeping myself very well hydrated and fed with GU, Hammer Gel, Sport Legs, Skratch Hydration and food at the Rest Stops was critical in getting me through. At one point I did almost have a “bad moment” of my own. After the hardest of the climbs, through a really nice neighborhood with amazing homes I was screaming downhill. Ahead of me were two young girls, maybe 12-14, walking on the side of the street, one with headphones on. I mean those huge 1970’s full ear headphones with the antennae on top. As I’m rocketing towards them at about 35 mph, headphone girl suddenly and inexplicably decides it’s time to, without looking, cross to the other side of the street. “DON’T DO THAT” as loud as I could possibly scream! The good news is she heard me. Her head turned and I swear to god I would never have thought human eyes could get that big. The bad news is she now went in to the startled squirrel dance in the middle of the street. Yep, one of those, the entire world goes in to ultra-slow motion, moments. My eyes were probably as big as hers just then. I don’t think I missed her by more than 2 feet. I braked, but was still over 30 mph when I went by her. I heard a squeaky “Sorry” recede in to the distance as I turned the corner. That might have been where my heart rate maxed out that day. The last 30 miles really were uneventful. They included the longest relatively flat section of the entire course, with one last challenging climb crossing the NY/NJ border and some up and down in Palisades Park to the finish. I think the real soul crusher was finishing at a 7.5% upgrade, with nothing left in your legs. I think I rolled across the line at 4.5 mph. WooHoo!!! After crossing the timing finish, you have a couple of miles to ride to get down to the river where the “finish” and party are. The unfortunate part of that is…..as I mentioned at the start…….all the participants are parked either at the top of the Palisades in Fort Lee, or across the river, which entails climbing back up the Palisades and riding across the GW Bridge bike path in to NYC. A SIGNIFICANT climb, particularly after 100 miles, stopping, cooling down and perhaps imbibing a beverage or two. Really, a logistical failure on the race organizers part. They ran shuttles to Fort Lee and NYC, BUT, no bikes allowed on the shuttle. Yep, they are getting killed in race surveys on this point, I’m sure. They did from me. Overall, it was a FANTASTIC event, with the exception of that end part. I did find out this was the first year they ended in that location. I’m rather certain they will re-plan the finish for upcoming years. Assuming they do, I HIGHLY recommend this event. It’s hard, but well run, with great perks, and a great sense of satisfaction when you cross the line.