Monday, February 16, 2009

150-5=145: The Three Musketeers Ride

Athos (Ben Kraft) and Porthos (Juan Salazar) left Ithaca on their wheeled steeds to meet up with their inseparable friend Aramis (Bill Fischer) in Watkins Glen. It was a cloudy and chilly morning, the thermometer marked 22F. At 7:20am Ben and Juan started their climb out of Ithaca on SR79. Up, up and away! It was not long before both were panting, and suddenly the cold did not matter anymore. The two musketeers continued their treacherous path over the endless rollers until they reached Burdett. The friendly bike shop, with its unique mailbox, was duly noted. They were running a bit late, and Bill was in no mood for late arrivals. Juan led the way, descending like an arrow into Watkins Glen. Ben followed.

As Ben and Juan approached the marina, Bill was waiting for them at a street corner. After brief greeting they were off on their mission. 100 miles of paved roads would be ridden before they would return to Watkins Glen, or at least so it was planned. A steep climb awaited them, just one among many to come. On this climb Juan dashed ahead because he wanted to take pictures of his friends, but Ben thought this was a challenge and kept pace with him. Finally Juan said "I just want to take a picture of both of you". Ben eased on the pedals and Juan was able to take great pictures of his friends on that climb. As the three reached the summit they noticed the blue sky, with only a few clouds in sight, if any. A perfect day for a ride. Several times during this ride the comment "What a beautiful day!" was made.

Juan, the photographer of the ride, made a quick stop at the cemetery on Townsend Road. Ben also stopped, but for a bite. Soon they were rolling again. Bill had turned onto CR-16, Ben and Juan quickly caught up to him. The Three Musketeers discussed many things, such as the Tour de California, bicycle frames and Aldo's Pic of the Day website, a treasure of a long forgone era. Juan and Bill noticed that their friend Ben was hurting. This became apparent on the climb of CORT 22. Ben usually likes to reach the summit first, but this time he was lagging behind. Juan took pictures of Lamoka and Waneta lakes and warned the others of the crazy dog he had encountered on a previous ride on that same road. Ben had a bite of his sandwich. It was time to descend. Juan again tucked into his aero position and soon reached 48mph. "Yeeeee-huuuu!!" could be heard somewhere along that descent. Unlike other descents, this one had a long flat section before it was interrupted by a stop sign. Juan waited for his friends. It is amazing how one can open a gap on a descent.

It was time for Lamoka Lake. The Three Musketeers rode along the frozen lake and Bill spotted people ice fishing. He then wondered how that could be so amusing to some. At the same time the ice fishers noticed some odd looking people riding bicycles. They commented among themselves "What kind of pleasure is there in that?". The view of Lamoka was one to treasure. As the riders left Lamoka behind and turned onto CR23 and then Westlake Road, Ben solicited a stop and inquired about detours to shorten the ride. He was not feeling good. His friends encouraged him to drink and eat, and pedal at a more moderate pace. Bill proposed a short cut to reach Hammondsport, but he got confused and soon realized they should not have turned onto Westlake if the shortcut were to be. It was now too far to turn back, so the friends continued, now alongside a southern finger of Lamoka lake, much less impressive than what they had contemplated before.

On the Birdseye Hollow Road climb, gradual but long, Juan left his friends behind and decided to wait for them at the next turn. A couple of minutes thereafter he was joined by Ben and Bill. They then continued and soon were on the descent of Hammondsport-wayne Road, into Hammondsport. Juan again led the way downhill as fast as he could go. Keuka lake was visible, the sky vivid blue. An unbelievable sight. Hammondsport was a much needed stop. Ben was able to rest and refuel with zucchini's he had brought on the ride. Juan and Bill decided for the more standard sub and wrap, respectively. This was the first time Juan was able to show off his new Rapha cycling cap, black with a white stripe, a classic. The Musketeers discussed detour alternatives to shorten the ride. The decision was left for the next stop in Branchport.

They left Hammondsport, a treasure on Keuka, and began a steep climb on Pulteney Street. This climb, unlike others, offers an incredible view of Keuka, and it gets better as the climb steepens. An efficient way to keep the cyclist's mind off the climb. Juan crested first and took pictures of his friends as they reached the top. As the friends strolled by the scenic overlook, Juan stopped for pictures, and his friends continued. "Time to catch up!" thought Juan. During this stretch it became blatent that Ben was hurting. Bill was off and Juan stayed with Ben, who now complained about neck soreness, something that would plague him for the rest of the ride. The stops would need to be more frequent. Bill had noticed the absence of his friends and stopped to talk with a lady on a horse, a beautiful horse. As Juan and Ben spotted what looked like Bill, but then again not, they were confused. Is Bill talking to a horse? Not quite, it is the lady on the horse. Juan had always loved to ride horses and he was contemplating swapping his bike for a ride on the horse. He did not think the idea would fly and proceeded to pet the horse. The lady gave Juan a piece of carrot to feed the horse too. After a bit of small talk they were once again off. Not long thereafter the riders reached Branchport, at the bottom of yet another awesome descent.

The stop at Branchport was much welcome. Ben had the opportunity to rest and refuel. He ate peanuts and tomato juice. Juan savored his favorite drink, chocolate milk, and Bill ate cherry pie, 600 calories for 75 cents. The highest calorie to cent ratio found in modern times. The detour was decided. Instead of continuing along the original route, the friends would follow 54A to Penn Yan, and then take 14A back to Watkins Glen. Bill led the paceline most of the way between Branchport and Penn Yann. Upon arrival at Penn Yann, Juan then took front at the paceline and found himself in a sweet rythm that he did not want to interrupt. There was a gradual climb for about 8 miles followed by a 5 mile descent. Over that stretch Juan was able to maintain nearly 20mph on the climb and over 30mph on the descent. He then waited for his friends at Dundee, enjoying a Clif Bar and energy drink. After Ben and Bill arrived, Juan proposed a detour, Dundee-Glenora Road, that would bring them back to the original route on 14. The others agreed.

The stretch on 14 was unpleasant, but short. A right followed by a left turn brought the three Musketeers on Reading Road, the last climb before descending into Watkins Glen. The climb was not very steep, but long enough to annoy many. It was time to descend! Juan spotted the scent in descent and shifted progressively to his largest gear, legs spinning faster and faster, lowered torso, and reached for his favorite spot on the handlebar. It was now time to enjoy shear speed. The bliss was interrupted by a stop sign. Time to raise your body and brake! Juan made it just in time, so I was told.

The riders met in Watkins, the final stop for Bill. Ben saw a bench and immediately sat down to rest. He was having trouble holding his neck up. Bill said goodbye, he was off to pick up his daughter in Elmira. Juan and Ben decided to go someplace warmer. During the day the temperature had risen to nearly 30F, but it was the sun that provided for gratification. Now it was again 22F, but without the radiative warmth of the sun. The intent was to go to the Walmart, but they saw a much more welcoming Natural Grocery and soon were inside. Juan really needed to go to the bathroom, and quick! In this grocery lies the tiniest bathroom ever. The sink almost meets the toilet. It is colorful and offers plenty of entertainment while you are seated or standing, facing the toilet or the sink. It was a bit tricky for Juan to take off all his gear in that confined space, but he did manage. After using the bathroom he inquired if pictures could be taken, to which the attendant gave permission. In the meantime, Ben was enjoying some sort of cookie. Juan decided to experiment, drinking Kombucha for the first time. He was sold by the label, promising reinvigorating bacteria. At this time Juan told Ben stories of how PBP riders often encountered similar neck problems, a condition called Shermer's neck, and mentioned their creative solutions. These included water bottles strapped below the chin, duct tape, spare tubles wrapped around the back and attached to the helmet, among many others. Michael Shermer was a RAAM rider in 1983 when he suffered from this problem. He managed to finish under excrutiating pain by cradling his chin in the palm of one hand with his elbow on the padding of his aerobars. Some images can be found here and here. Ben was not in such a severe state. Juan speculated whether his neck pain might have to do with the amount of riding Ben does in his drops. The lower your torso is, the more you have to keep your head at an angle in order to see the road. A topic for debate perhaps?

Ben decided he would ride back to Ithaca, but did not want to take CR79 and its endless rollers. Instead he suggested a detour on SR 227 to Trumasburg taking SR 96 back to Ithaca. Juan did not want to leave his friend alone on the way back and agreed. This would add miles to the ride that were previously cut with the detour taken at Branchport. It was now pitch black outside and Juan was very happy to have his Supernova E3. Ben's Lumotec IQ-Fly was no less impressive.

The climb out of Watkins Glen was difficult, a two mile climb with gradients in excess of 10%. Juan crested first and had time to change a contact lens he had lost during the climb before Ben reached him. The replacement fell on the ground but there was still enough liquid in the case to wash the lens and put it on the eye. After a couple of blinks all seemed well. The route to Trumansburg was pleasant, with little traffic on a Sunday night. Away from city lights, the sky was filled with stars. Juan spent most of this part of the ride looking into the sky. Ben could not appreciate the beauty because of his neck problem, but they stopped a couple of times so that Ben could stretch. At the stops Ben was also able to gaze at the stars. The riders commented on the glow apparent on the horizon and agreed that they had the goal in sight, Ithaca was there.

The sight of Ithaca changed Ben's mood. He was now humorous and seemed happy. That is often the case on long rides. The mood swings are inevitable. Learning how to cope with the difficult moments is essential. Particularly in randonneuring, the type of cycling Juan likes, where detours or shortcuts are generally not allowed. It was not long before the riders made a quick stop at Trumansburg. It would be another ten miles or so before the last descent of the day for both cyclists, one that Juan enjoyed thoroughly.

As Juan reached Ithaca he waited a bit for Ben and as if on a victory ride both of them went up Green street at a leisurely pace. Ben was happy to make it home in spite of the discomfort with his neck and issues with food as well. He was looking forward to a pot of beans. Juan still had one more climb ahead, two miles until he reached his home on East Hill. Straight to the shower it was.

All told, nearly 14 hours on the saddle, 145 miles (only 5 less than originally planned), 11,200 feet of climbing and tales for posterity.

Sunday was a day for the three musketeers, "one for all, all for one".

See Juan's pictures below


bmike said...

good fun!

GeekGuyAndy said...

I thought about it, but figured I couldn't handle both hills and that distance! Sounds like a long but fun day.

I did get in 80 miles over the weekend, and my pace is definitely improving. I'd be up for some long rides in the near future, although I'm gone this coming weekend.


Juan PLC Salazar said...

Hi Andy,

Indeed, it was a lot of fun. The Keuka 5 Lakes and a Steak ride is one of my favorites. When you get the chance, don't let it pass.

I'll certainly post any longer rides on the FLCC list. I'm also open to suggestions.