Last year the Tour de Shunk was scheduled the day after the STAP Ride for Life in Ithaca, during which I crashed for the first time, face first on the pavement. I managed to finish the century, probably hurt my chances in an interview for McKinsey with a chin oozing fluids, but got back to riding in a week or so. This year I had my sights on the Shunk for a while and I was not disappointed. The company was great, the weather was nearly perfect and food was awesome. As far as the route goes, certainly not as tough as D2R2, but a good challenge for most people.
Ben Kraft and Olivia Diamond (aka mean Bilenky tandem team) and I got a ride with Steve Powell. The tandem fit nicely in his SUV and the other bikes went on a rack. We left Ithaca shortly after 6am, arriving at Rocky's Bicycle Shop at about 7:50am. The cold was felt immediately, as the temperatures were hovering 40F. I failed to follow my own advice and did not bring arm warmers or tights along. Luckily I did bring a regular street jacket. Ben had an extra bungee and my bike was equipped with a front rack. So my troubles were solved. I would ride in the jacket till it got warm enough, then I would strap the jacket to the rack with the bungee. Of us all, Olivia was the one suffering the most with the cold. We were all eager to start moving.
Registration went smoothly, only $30 on the day of the event. For that amount we were fed at the 25, 45 and 70 mile marks and served a spaghetti dinner at the end of the ride. In addition, we could sign-up for a massage. The coveted massage lasted about 15 min and was administered by two massage therapists. Upon completing registration, we meet several other FLCCers, including John Dennis, Dan Barbasch, Gary Hodges and Stewart Wolsh. Ithaca was the city with most participants, 12 of the 203 cyclists.
Steve, Ben, Olivia and I decided to leave before the official start scheduled for 9am. The first 13 miles or so, with a total of 19 rollers (I am told), were familiar to me from the PA "Endless Mountains" 1000K. I made sure to notice the skunks painted on the pavement, indicating turns for the ride, and to be on the lookout for horses. Visibility was severly limited by the ubiquitous fog. We rode together at a moderate pace and passed a few other cyclists along the way. Picking the right speed was tricky. Ride too fast and the wind chill would make your fingers really get cold. Ride too slow and you didn't warm up at all.
As if by spell the fog started to disappear and patches of blue were seen in the sky. It would be a beautiful day. I remembered the song "Blue Skies" written by Irving Berlin, in particular as sung by Ella Fitzgerald. I could recall the tune, but not the lyrics, as is always the case with me. So I proceeded to hum along.
At the beginning of the first extended climb we were passed by a large group of cyclists in a paceline. I had stopped to take off the jacket, which was now strapped to my front rack. At this point Ben, Olivia and I separated from Steve. I was told sometime ago that tandems were fast on flats and slow on climbs. Not true for the tandem captained by Ben. I was happy to follow the pace. Along the way up the hill we passed a few cyclists. On the descent I tucked in behind the tandem and took advantage of all the draft I could get, making sure no other rider sneaked in front of me, robbing me of the awesome downhill advantage.
We had reached the 25 mile mark and the first snack stop. I still had plenty of water in my Camelbak, so I just drank some Gatorade and ate a couple of oatmeal raisin cookies. They were bite-size and delicious. At the stop we met up with Stewart along with a few Big Horn Velo riders out of Elmira. We left together just as Steve arrived at the stop.
The next 25 miles were a blur. We were moving swiftly on a downhill section followed by a flat stretch. I did not see much. Before I knew it we hit the 45 mile mark. Ben, Olivia and I decided to split from the rest of the group to enjoy more of the scenery. Riding in the paceline required attention that could not be devoted to the surroundings.
We allowed ourselves plenty of time to eat and relax in the sun. At this stop we saw several of our cycling friends come and go. Among them Blaine Chamberlain, Dan Barbasch, John Dennis and Jim Millar. I even enamored the idea of taking a nap. We left shortly after Steve caught up to us.
For a few miles after the stop we did not encounter a single cyclist. A rider behind us came close and then disappeared. I began to worry that we may have missed a turn. I looked desperately for the painted skunks and to my relief one was seen at a sharp right turn that led to a long ramp of a climb. Just as we turned a large group of cyclists encroached upon us. Our competitive side began to surface! At first I kept my pace and that was sufficient to distance myself from most of the riders that had started the climb at a higher pace than they could sustain. But a few of those riders were now climbing with us. Ben and Olivia were just ahead of me. Then a rider passed us, huffing and puffing as if in distress. I couldn't resist. It was a joy to accelerate on my steel frame with fenders and rack, passing the nice carbon frame next to me and watching it get farther away in my helmet-mounted rear-view mirror as I approached the summit. In the name of fenders!
One of the cyclists joined us for the downhill and ensuing rather flat section until the 70 mile mark. Along the way we passed many more painted skunks on the road and followed a creek for a few miles as well. I was getting a little hungry, so the stop was welcome. I drank some soda and had a few cookies along with a banana. At this point I had the spaghetti dinner in my thoughts, so I did not want to eat too much. This stop, as well as the others, was run by volunteers. Because of their continued dedication over the years, the ride has been very successful. In its current running, the 200 rider mark was surpassed and $6,200 was raised for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Perhaps the most unpleasant part of the ride was between miles 70 and 85. It was mostly on a rather busy road with high speed traffic. Both the tandem and I were eager to get off the busy road, so we worked together and moved efficiently along, passing several riders before we made a right turn that lead us towards the initial section of rollers where we began our ride.
The tandem, smelling the barn, imposed a furious pace. I followed with some difficulty and took advantage of draft whenever possible. We raced up the rollers before plunging down the other side. Other cyclists seemed to be immobile as we zipped by them. On the final turn we caught up with a large group that had stopped alongside the road. A few moments later I noticed we were being chased. I told Ben to go for the sprint and we successfully avoided the catch. Of course this was no race, but we did amuse ourselves.
I made the entrance into Rocky's with a hiss coming from my rear wheel. A piece of glass was stuck in my tire. Even the flat was perfectly timed. No need for a repair until the next ride.
After taking our bikes to the car we enjoyed the homemade spaghetti and sauce, along with two types of salad. Delicious. I didn't get my massage, but we topped the day off with a stop at Purity in Ithaca for ice cream.