Sunday, September 13, 2009

FLCC Halsey Valley-Waverly-Spencer Ride

After my plan to take part in the epic Highlander on Saturday went down the drain because of the relatively high fee and iffy weather, I was looking forward to the FLCC ride. This was my first time on the Halsey Valley-Waverly-Spencer ride, which only had 5 cues, all right turns. Hard to make a mistake, right? I did!

Ben, Olivia and I decided to ride out of Ithaca instead of starting in Spencer. A 8am start would allow for plenty of time to reach Spencer for the official 10am start. Maybe because I have done so many brevets this year, I have become somewhat of a cue-sheet anarchist and haven't taken them on many of the recent club rides. It adds a little adventure to the ride. Besides, with only 5 cues it shouldn't be that hard to remember the route.

Ben had proposed a route that would take us along some very nice back roads on the way to Spencer. The morning was cool and sunny, perfect weather for cycling. Time went by quickly and conversation was very pleasant, interrupted by the occasional downhill. Ben and Olivia make a great tandem team. It was nearly impossible for me to keep up whenever the front of our bikes was pointing down. Uphill the story wasn't too different either. Along the way we stopped to pick some pears and take pictures of a few farm animals. Fall foliage is starting to appear and that was duly noted. It was about 9:30am when we arrived in Spencer. But, where is the start after all?

None of us knew. I somehow had the name "Lake Rd" in my head. We rode around a bit, but no Lake Rd was seen. Fortunately Olivia was able to use her iphone to access the calendar on the FLCC website. The name of the road we wanted to find was Water St. I entered a cafe and got the directions. Once we arrived at the rendezvous point FLCCers Mike Richter, Steve Powell and new addition Mike, a graduate student in the Applied Economics masters program at Cornell, were getting ready to ride. It would be six of us. Steve proposed to make a small detour to Sayre, PA to enjoy a meal at the Banana Curve Diner. I smiled. After applying a generous amount of sunscreen we left shortly after 10am.

The first 13 miles of the ride were very pleasant. Halsey Valley Rd is gently rolling with not much traffic. I noticed a sign that read "Change by Obama" on one side and on the other it cited unemployment rates from July and August, showing an increase of 0.3%. I am not sure the objective was to point out the difference between the two months (since we are speaking of change) or the elevated unemployment rate overall. I checked the numbers with those issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and they are correct. It seems that the intention of whoever put the sign up is to single out Obama. Very misleading... But after a week during which a congressman called the president a liar while he was addressing the house and senate and so much turmoil was created around a speech to children, this does not surprise me. Back to cycling...

The tandem was surely responsible for lifting the pace by a few mph and I was pretty concerned to see 24-25mph on my odometer more often then not. We were moving pretty quickly. But now it was time to turn onto 17C, a busy road with not much to offer in terms of scenery. This road was familiar somehow. It then occurred to me that I had ridden the same road on the second day of the PA 1000K in late June. My suspicions were confirmed when I spotted "Bare Facts," a strip club on the opposite side of the road. Like the day I rode by the first time, it was closed.

Shortly after we passed "Bare Facts," it was time to split. Steve, Ben, Olivia, the new Mike and I were interested in the diner stop. Sam and the old Mike had commitments in the afternoon and needed to return to Ithaca.

The Banana Curve diner reminded me of a function that is often used to test optimization algorithms, the Rosenbrock function: f(x, y) = (1-x)^2 + 100(y-x^2)^2, also known as the banana function because of the shape it resembles. Somehow I think it is unlikely that optimization or the Rosenbrock function was an inspiration for the diner. In any case, most customers at the Banana Curve diner were suspicious of our presence. It was a very conservative setting, with a flare of flags and plaques reminding us of God and slightly xenophobic statements. I was interested in the food, and it wasn't all that great. But this opinion is somewhat influenced by the setting.

Upon leaving the diner we resumed our ride on SR 34 heading north. Within the first mile a driver yelled something offensive at me. Initially I thought he was calling my name, but everyone else was pretty sure he was not. Coincidence or not, this was the same spot where an FLCCer (Don) was almost run over less than a month ago.

Out of no apparent reason, the tandem accelerated. The new Mike jumped on the wheel. I wasn't in the mood for intense efforts while my cheese & broccoli omelet was still sitting in my stomach. Steve and I rode together for a while. But now I could no longer see the tandem. OK, I guess I should chase. Since there wasn't much around worthy of looking at and the wind was blowing pretty fiercely, I put my head down and raised the tempo. After a while I passed Mike and eventually caught up to Ben and Olivia. Then we kept taking turns in the wind, missing our right turn. A couple of miles down the road we realized the turn was taking longer than expected to appear. So we backtracked and noticed that the road was labeled "Dean Creek" and we were expecting "Dean Hill." Close enough.

It took us a while to catch up with Steve and Mike. Both of them were surprised to see us behind them. The morning blue sky had been replaced by thick cloud cover. Rain seemed likely. We rode together for a few miles before arriving in Spencer, the end of the ride for Steve and Mike. Ben, Olivia and I started our last leg to Ithaca. Ben once again had picked out some nice dirt roads on the way back.

We started with East Hill Rd, where we saw a few alpacas and a horse as well. This was followed by Hart Rd, on which we experienced a high speed descent on gravel. Nothing that our tires couldn't handle. After turning onto Danby Rd we began to discuss which road would be best for our last leg. Ben was inclined to take Durfee Hill Rd, but Olivia seemed a bit reluctant. I was neutral. In the end Ben threw in some household choirs in the negotiation. Olivia was convinced.

Durfee Hill initially seems innocuous. But soon the road becomes narrower, more technical and very steep. The climb lasts for quite a while and a misshift to a higher gear in the steepest section complicated things a bit. We made it to the top together, enjoying the remaining miles on our way back to Ithaca with an enhanced sense of accomplishment. I like Durfee.

Ben and I felt this route could be improved by including more back roads, avoiding long stretches on 17C and 34. This will likely add some hills, but on the other hand we spent most of the time on the flat busy roads battling the wind.

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