Monday, March 2, 2009

The Mud Trap 125

Jamie Gartenberg and I set out on a ride that should have been 120 miles long. At mile 48 we encountered a mud trap that would delay us for more than an hour and add almost 5 miles to the original ride. At the end, by all accounts, it was another memorable day on the saddle.

This time around we started promptly at 9am from East Hill Plaza. It would be a two person affair. Jamie's last long ride had been a 200km brevet in Pennsylvania three weeks ago. However, he has been going trainer crazy over the same period, riding a minimum of 1.5 hours on the trainer, 6 days a week. I was happy to have his company again. After all, he introduced me to randonneuring.

The ride started with a nice descent into Ithaca. The cold was immediately felt and it would remain so throughout the day. At this point it was 13F and the maximum would be 18F. There is nothing better than a nice steep climb to get the blood flowing. The climb of choice was up R79 towards Watkins Glen, 1000 feet over five miles. Jamie is a great climber, but he soon felt that the trainer does not quite get it right when emulating climbs. I crested, followed by Jamie, and we continued on the endless rollers.

We stopped twice before reaching Watkins Glen. I noticed a yard giveaway with interesting items: fish bowls, a diving mask and other unidentified objects. Nothing really useful to me. I wondered what I would do if there was a classic steel frame. Carry it along? Cancel the ride? I guess it would depend on the state of the frame. The other stop was at Burdett, home of the Main Street Bike Shop. Near the bike shop there is a nice cafe that has a friendly "Feed Zone" sign for cyclists. The place was closed, but a picture was in demand.

At about 25 miles into the ride, following an awesome descent into Watkins Glen, we decided to stop at the Natural Grocery. Two weeks ago I stopped at the same place with Ben. At the time we were heading back to Ithaca and needed to warm up. The Natural Grocery has a great variety of organic products, many of which are not typically found in the bigger stores. We spoke with a very friendly attendant, who told us about how he enjoyed the outdoors and would not live anywhere else than the Finger Lakes region. Jamie was having issues with circulation in his hands and got a chance to warm up. I also went to the tiniest bathroom in the world, pictures of which were featured in a previous post. The next food stop would be Geneva, on the northern end of Seneca Lake, 45 miles away.

The climb out of Watkins was exactly what was needed to get warm. I made a quick stop on the climb to get a picture of Jamie working his way up the hill. I had hoped for a sunny day, but so far things looked rather gloomy. It was cold and gray clouds covered the sky. In addition we were now heading into the 12mph wind. Having a little more power in my legs than Jamie, I took the lead and pushed on. Often I noticed that Jamie had drifted back, so I would strategically stop to take a picture or spin easy for a while. Finally we caught a glimpse of Seneca Lake. I always treasure the sight of water. On another occasion I saw an Amish carriage parked and decided to take a picture. Jamie then joined me and noticed the several bikes that were also there. It is curious how initially I did not see them. We passed several red barns with cows huddled to stay warm. I had thoughts of tri-tip, sirloin and strip steak. I am openly carnivore.

According to our cue-sheet we still had about 20 miles before we would reach Geneva and my bladder was about to explode. We took a nature break and just as I was walking around the bush I spotted an Amish carriage pulled by a huge black horse with the most beautiful trot. I was quick enough to take a picture.

On Lakemont Himrod Rd I was able to see a glimpse of blue on the horizon. Indeed, the wind blowing from the north was clearing up the skies! I remember precisely the moment when we crossed the shadow into the sun, on Hazard Road. It was a well defined line, perpendicular to our path, extending miles right and left. Not long thereafter we again saw Seneca Lake, now blue as the sky above us.

At mile 48 we would encounter a mud trap. The cue sheet had us on City Hill Rd, bearing right onto Henderson Rd. All was good so far. As we turned on Henderson the road was gravel and I recall hoping not to get a flat. It would be worse. After 0.3 miles on Henderson the road made a sharp bend to the left and our cue sheet said "remain right". However, the road ahead did not look much like a road and to make things more confusing there was sort of a road going right. I decided to follow Henderson and soon we were intercepting City Hill Rd again. I thought, this is odd. It did not seem to make sense, such a short detour on a gravel road. We decided to turn back and ride to the bend. There we pondered and Jamie insisted on taking the right onto the unlikely road past a barn, clearly private property. Instead of vehemently opposing, I followed. We were now going downhill along a path that was getting increasingly muddy. As we reached the bottom of the hill I decided to avoid the road and started riding on the field, as I observed Jamie try to push his way through the mud. As I saw the huge clump of mud that had accumulated on Jamie's front brake, I broke into laughter. I could not help it. The amount of mud was ridiculous. Like two irrational beings, we continued until the path we followed looped around a willow tree. There was no way out but to ride back up the hill. My bike had fenders on and the mud was accumulating between the fenders and my tires, making it difficult to pedal. However, I was trying to avoid the mud as much as possible by riding on the field, among the crops. Jamie did not have the same foresight and was complaining he could not move his wheels. Eventually we made it up the hill. As we crossed a section of snow and ice, Jamie fell to the ground, unable to unclip. After asserting everything was OK, I laughed again. This was amusing. What was not so amusing however, was that the mud, now exposed to the wind, was quickly turning solid. Jamie was not able to move his wheel and I had mud that was underneath my fenders and fork crown. It was ugly. I grabbed vegetation from the ground and started to use it to get the mud off. I also used sticks and even a small stone. Eventually I decided it was necessary to remove the wheels. That was the best decision I made. I was able, with some effort, to scrape of the mud from underneath my fenders and clear my brakes as well. All this time I heard Jamie complaining about how he could not clip into his pedals. At first I decided to ignore him because I needed to get my stuff done. After I had gotten rid of most of the mud I decided to look into his problem. It was obvious that there was mud and ice underneath his cleats. I used a screwdriver from his multi-tool to get it out. Voilla! Problem solved. It was nice to see Jamie happy again. He was almost ready to bail out. Our bikes were now functional but we still did not know where to go. We agreed to follow Henderson back to City Hill Rd and figure what we would do there. As we started to roll we saw a woman walking towards us. I inquired about Ridge Road, which would be our next destination. She then indicated that all we had to do was continue to City Hill and then make a right. Only if we had done that an hour ago! Oh well, c'est la vie.

Now that our mileage was off and we had not followed the cue sheet, once we got to Ridge Road I was not sure if we should turn left or right. After a glance in both directions, I decided right and rode away. Jamie followed. It turns out our detour in the mud trap had added five miles to our route. We were now looking for Earls Hill Rd, and I was growing weary at every intersection we encountered, no sign of Earls Hill. Finally we saw another pedestrian. To my dismay, it turned out I had made the right turn and we were on route! What relief.

The ride on Ridge Road was very pleasant. It seems we would reach Geneva after all. At one point a huge bird resting on a branch of a willow tree caught my attention. I snapped two pictures, but did not want to get closer to figure out what kind of bird it was. Not long thereafter we arrived in Geneva at the welcoming sight of 18F on the thermometer.

This was my first time in Geneva and I made several quick stops for pictures. There was the boat house on the lake, the church, pompous homes and the Geneva Bicycle Center, with very interesting bicycles on display. At this point Jamie and I badly needed to pee. Our first bet was Byrne Dairy. No luck. We then tried Mac's Philly Steaks. Home run. The place was crowded for a Sunday afternoon. There was a group interested in the basketball game shown on TV and another group of older men. I am not sure which group was more intimidating. Neither looked very friendly. I picked a table near the door while Jamie alleviated himself. I ordered a Chicken Cheese Hoagie with everything on it. Jamie had a grilled chicken on bread, nothing on it. It looked like torture to me. Why would somebody eat that? After the meal we refilled our water bottles a I mixed up some Spiz, my delicious source of calories. While on the bike I did not eat any solid food, just Spiz.

As we left Geneva alongside the lake there would be no hills to warm me up. Instead we found a nice tailwind, something I had been looking forward to. We soon were on East Lake Road for 13 miles of shear pleasure. With the lake, the sun setting on our right and a 20mph wind on our backs, this was bliss. I got into cruise control and was averaging 23-24mph on this nice flat section. There was an occasional lump here and there to disrupt my pace, but this would be as nice as it gets. Several stops were made for pictures of the sunset and other local attractions, including an Addams Family-like home and the Military Museum. While we were riding through the Sampson State Park it became dark enough for us to switch on our blinkies and for me to use my dynamo-powered headlight.

Our journey alongside Seneca Lake would end at what seemed like a prison to me. I later looked it up on the internet and apparently it is the Willard State Hospital, which was an asylum from 1869 through 1995. I found a wonderful web page about some of the patients that there resided. It is called the "Willard Suit Case Exhibit". When the hospital closed in 1995, workers discovered hundreds of suitcases in an attic of one of the buildings. These suitcases were brought by patients when they were admitted to the hospital, often decades earlier. The contents of the suit cases told the stories of these people, and often revealed what brought them there. According to the website, more than 50,000 patients were admitted to Willard during its 126-year history, and nearly half of those died there.

We left Willard and crossed to Cayuga Lake through Ovid, arriving at Wyers Point. We followed Wyers Point Rd alongside the lake to Sheldrake Point. We could not see much of the lake, but the sound of the waves hitting the shore remembered me of the calm bay waters of my native Florianopolis, Brazil, and for a moment I felt a bit homesick. Maybe it was because of the 17F temperature.

Jamie's water bottle had frozen again. He was annoyed by the fact that I was having a good slurp of my Accelerade. "How come yours did not freeze?". I thought to myself, that is a good question. We both have the same water bottle and the contents are the same. Then it came to me. "Did you leave your nozzle open?" The reply from Jamie was positive. Lesson to be learned. In subfreezing temperatures always close the nozzle if you want to prevent the contents from freezing.

I did not expect O'Malley's to be open, but it was. I could not resist and Jamie concurred. Inside we found the warmth of a gas-fired fireplace and a delicious bowl of seafood chowder. I also had a portion of french fries. After the meal I stood in front of the fireplace for several minutes, until my front and rear were almost roasted. If I felt at any point of the ride like quitting, this was it. It felt so good to stand in front of that fireplace. We still had 25 miles ahead. Oh, the fireplace.

I admit I must have had a bit too much at O'Malley's and was feeling heavy as we left. I slowed my pace down, hoping for some blood to get to my digestive tract and do it's magic. The slowing down did me good and after some time I was able to speed up. Occasionally I turned back to check if Jamie was still in sight. Eventually he was not, so I decided I would wait for him in Trumansburg.

I stopped in an empty parking space, near a bar that seemed to be "hopping". Lot's of people outside and inside. They were having a really good time. As I was observing them I could see Jamie's light approaching. We made a left on Cemetery Road, leaving T-burg behind and veering on a familiar route for the Thursday "slow" riders. After I descended Willow Creek Rd and made a left on Kraft Rd, followed by a quick right on Dubois Road, I turned around to see Jamie head straight down on Kraft Rd towards R89. I yelled at him, then I rode down to the corner of Dubois and Kraft. I saw his red taillight and continued yelling. No result. Soon his taillight was gone. I then called him on his cell phone. After trying many times he answered. I told him he missed the turn. He was now on 89. We agreed we would meet at my place.

I rode the last 10 miles alone, as fast as I could. I thoroughly enjoyed the descent on 96 into Ithaca. I did not even bother losing another contact lens on the way down. The climb up East Hill to my home did not annoy me, even after riding 123 miles. It would take me home! As I stopped in front of my house the sound of the last unclip of the day was joyful. I got in and took a nice warm shower and changed into comfy clothes, just in time to greet Jamie, who had arrived. His hands were freezing, so we aided them with some warm water and talked shortly about our epic ride. His wife and kids were waiting for him, so it was time to go. We both agreed that despite the subfreezing temperatures, the headwind for 45 miles and the mud trap, we had a great day. Pictures below.


GeekGuyAndy said...

Sounds a bit like my adventure near Stratton on the south end of Ithaca a few weeks ago. I think it was Brown Rd. There was a "road closed" sign, but it was either turn there and go 1/3 mile to Rt 13 or trace my route back up a snowy hill which wasn't too pleasant the first time. The closed road ended up being 2-3" gravel, 2ft deep ruts, and very steep downhill. I rolled slowly for a while, and walked a bit before reaching the pavement with a very muddy mess of a bike. The chain was making terrible noises, so I stopped on the side of the road and picked up an empty bottle to squirt some stream water onto the chain to clean out the bits of mud which helped a lot. I took a long time trying to actually clean the parts out when I got home.

Sounds like another great ride you had. I'd love to join when it gets a little warmer. I've been drawing the line at about 20 miles in 20F. At that point I either need to wear more layers than I can easily ride in, or I'm too freezing to keep up the pace.

Juan PLC Salazar said...

Hi Andy,

Your story indeed sounds a lot like what Jamie and I went through on Sunday. Actually, your situation was probably worse! My bike is staring at me right now, and it still has mud on it. Before I go to sleep I have to clean it.

I would very much enjoy your company on rides when it gets a bit warmer.