My Cycle Mass Experience 2016

This past February I got a gift. It was for the seven day Cycle Mass Tour. Included in my gift was a Comfy Camper package which include, a single tent, air mattress, camp chair, fresh towels daily and the tent was set up and taken down during the tour by Comfy Campers personnel. The tour started on July 30, 2016 and ended on August 5, 2016. When I told a riding buddy that I was doing this ride, he looked at me and said good luck. He further stated he did the tour a few years earlier and thought that the tour went out of its way to find the worst roads to ride on. I can partially agree on that statement, because there were a couple of days where the roads were crappy.

On the afternoon of Friday July 29, I arrived at Nichols College. I picked up my registration packet and went over to Comfy Campers to find my tent and home for the next three nights. I was on my own for dinner. After returning, I read a little until it became too dark to read. I settled in for the night which was a very hot sleeping night. There was a church nearby and I heard it ring its bell every hour on the hour.

On Saturday at 6:30 a.m. the music started. One song that was played over and over through the tour every morning was “Istanbul/Constantinople”. I put on my kit and made my way to breakfast. After breakfast there was a riders meeting (there were riders meetings everyday usually after dinner). I along with two other riders I knew headed out on our own for the 62 mile ride. Saturday was hot but most of the ride was on shady roads with nice scenery. I thought it was a little too far for the first rest stop at approximately 25 miles but it was well stocked. The second rest stop was around 50 miles, but we decided to stop at a mini-mart/gas station and get some water and gatorade. We were about 8 or 9 miles from the next rest stop. I am glad we stopped because it was a very hot day. We climbed on to the last rest stop of the day. After the rest stop we had 12 more miles and 1,200 feet of climbing. The roads weren’t that great, some were busy with no shoulders. We survived. Cycle Mass provided a nice dinner and live entertainment. That evening rain came.

Sunday was day two. It rained during the night and was raining in the morning. At breakfast I tried to get a feel of who was doing what. Some people were going to wait until the rain had passed and do the real short ride. I decided to rid the moderate ride with someone I knew from my club. It was raining but I had a rain jacket and a cover for my helmet. Near the end of the ride the jacket and cover came off. I decided that northeast Connecticut was fairly scenic, especially down around Woodstock. After the ride, I showered, socialized with some beer and went to dinner. Back at the tent I got everything organized for the next day and packed my bags for the move for our next overnight stop.

On Monday it was off to Suffield, CT, just west of Enfield and east and slightly north of Bradley International Airport. The majority of the ride was scenic and uneventful with a couple of very steep rollers. The difficult and must screwed up part of the whole tour was the last part of this ride. We rode down past busy strip malls, center turn and right turn only lanes and lots of red lights. We were playing dodge-em. To add insult to injury, we had to deal riding through a four lane cloverleaf interchange with I-91. We then crossed the Conn. River on a multi-lane road and had to work to the left turn lane. Meanwhile, as I am enjoying the few of the Conn. River, I look and see a nice safe bike lane separated by traffic barriers. WTF!

Our stay in Suffield was okay, but no great shakes. Dinner was good and we ate in a nice air conditioned school. The breakfast really left something to be desired. All I can say is thank goodness Comfy Campers had their great coffee as usual. The caterer for the non Comfy Campers did have enough coffee nor had it ready in time.

Tuesday, off to Great Barrington. This was to be a killer day, hills and more hills. It rained overnight but was sunny when we departed. The ride was nice for a while. We also rode along a beautiful bike path, probably one of the best I have ridden. Then we turned on MA rt. 57. Rt. 57 was a steady climb until the first rest stop. The road had a lot of grit and sand along the side of the road. The road was still wet, so a lot of crap got attracted to drive-trains. From the rest stop at Granville, you could see the first of many walls that needed to be climbed, along with a road detail near the top of the first hill. These were brutal, after the first series you had a screaming downhill that plowed into a sharp left turn or a runaway truck ramp. This was in the town of New Boston, MA. After that it was a another steady climb to the next rest stop at Sandisfield, MA. After Sandisfield it was almost downhill all the way into Great Barrington, MA where we would spend two nights.

Our host for Tuesday and Wednesday nights was the Berkshire South Regional Community Center. This was the best place of the whole trip. We were walking distance to restaurants (including a brew pub), and other amenities. The caterer we had for all our meals here was outstanding. Since we were out in the country there was not any light pollution, so the stars were very bright at night. It also got cold at night and I was thankful that I paid attention and packed warm pajamas and had a warm sleeping bag. This was contrary to the first night in Dudley, where it was so hot that I slept on top of my sleeping bag, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

Wednesday was a dilemma on which of the three rides to hit. Two went into New York state and one stayed in Massachusetts. An 80+ and a 60+ mile ride went into New York and hit some nice scenic spots of the Hudson Valley. The ride in Massachusetts was called the Alice’s Restaurant Ride, it was about 50 miles, give or take and I chose this ride. If you ever heard the song Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie, this ride was named for it as it went past the Guthrie Center, which was the church referred to in the song and where the movie Alice’s Restaurant was filmed. There were other scenic highlights such as a covered bridge over the Housatonic River and historic markers documenting Shays’ Rebellion and the first official documented UFO sighting in the U.S. I was initially torn on which ride to take. I have never ridden my bike in New York, but the Alice’s Restaurant ride seemed more appealing. After the ride I got back took a nice shower, went over to the brew pub and met some other riders and had a nice time.

Thursday, pack up and go. Another day of climbing heading east over the Berkshires. We followed route 183, and 23 over the Berks. The climbing wasn’t too strenuous. It was steady climbing to the first rest stop. The distance between the first and second rest was not that far; the majority of the climbing was behind us, but there was still some more climbing to go including one climb of just over 1/2 mile with a grade going between eight and thirteen percent. It was 86 degrees with building humidity, so there were more than a few people walking parts of this climb. Once over the top we had a sweet four mile downhill where speeds hit almost 40 mph before the next rest stop. This rest stop was a country store that was run by some Mennonites. The facility sparkled and the food and ice cream was great and the hospitality was even better. We had more downhill before the rest of the day’s ride turned sketchy.

The sketchy part of Thursday began after the the downhill. Going through Westfield, MA was fine, it was a nice college town. We then hit West Springfield, dodging traffic on route 20. At least there was a farmer’s market to give us respite. Traffic got worse and the temperature was soaring as we crossed the Conn. River playing dodge’em cars on the route 5 rotary. Then down to the bike path, which do to construction dumped us onto a gravel railroad crossing of at least two tracks. (I wasn’t sure it was even a legal crossing.) We came out by the Springfield bus terminal and rode through downtown Springfield during very early afternoon. The sights and sounds of downtown Springfield included, metal plates in the road, weird smells from food trucks and some dude talking to himself while trying to hump a street light. After Springfield the roads eased out, I stopped for some Gatorade and got behind some guy buying 20 different scratch tickets. Then it was on to Wilbraham, MA, home of Friendly Ice Cream. I got there it was 90 degrees, our tents were out in the middle of a high school track. But there were shade tents and ice cold beer available. Dinner was great that night.

Friday, the last day. The hills of Worcester County beckon, also that last four miles of climbing back up to Nichols College in Dudley. There were a couple of hard climbs, but beautiful riding through a lakeside town. Finally, I arrived in Dudley sometime between 12 and 1 pm. The ride and experience was over. I gathered my stuff, said goodbyes and thought about a suggestion from a friend that I should consider volunteering for this next year. I will have to see.

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WOW! It Has Been Almost A Year Since I Last Posted!

Yes, I did ride in 2015, 1,941 miles, not as much as I was hoping for. This year 782 miles so far at the end of April. It helps when you have a mild winter. I have upped my routine and I am trying to track my training. Both of my bikes have Ultegra Groupsets and one has a Stages Power Meter. I am considering putting one on the other bike.

I have a couple of goals this year. At least 4 metrics are planned, and maybe even one full century. I also want to put 2,500 miles in the books. So stay tuned.

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What a Winter! Now on to Summer Biking

Unless you lived in a cave these past six months, you know that New England got hammered with record snowfall. My only saving sanity was the fact I signed up for some Compu-trainer spinning workouts. It wasn’t until April that I finally got my first ride in. I only managed one ride in April but in May and June I managed to get the number of rides up to nineteen.

I started out doing lower mileage rides of around 25 to 30 miles. Now I am up to about 35 to 42 mile range and hopefully by the end of June get a ride close to 50 miles. I have even managed to ride up Green Street Hill four times so far this year. This is different from last year when I hit the big mileage early and ended up with back spasm and a one week migraine that landed me in the hospital for three days.

Other things that have changed is that RideWithGPS.com has asked me to be an ambassador and post some rides that other people can use. I really like using RideWithGPS.com and I encourage you to check it out.

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December 31 – The Year in Review 2014

First off, I finished the year with 2,055 miles and 3 metric centuries. I was hoping for six metrics and at least one full century. Life and health got in the way. A week-long migraine which included a couple of days in the hospital. This caused me to miss two of my metrics and through my training in a tailspin which may have led to my demise on the D2R2.

The year started out pretty good. A new road bike and some pleasant early January riding looked promising. Then winter came and we got hammered with very few decent days to ride until almost the end of April. I had an early goal to Ride for MS Cape Cod Getaway. So I trained often, early and probably too hard. This probably led to some amplification of some health issues.

I was suffering from back and neck spasms after long rides which led to bad headaches. At first I thought I was not hydrating enough. I hydrated more which helped the headaches but I still suffered the back pain. I was almost resigned to back suffering and taking muscle relaxant pills before and after a ride.

November rolls around and I find myself in a Computrainer Spin Class. The guys at the shop running the class suggested a chiropractor and gave me a few names. I looked up the names and they were all covered by my insurance. I picked one convenient to me and it has made it difference. I went for my only ride in December, which was over 23 miles in below freezing temperature, when I finished my back felt better than it had in a long time. So I will continue the chiropractor.

For 2015, I hope to get out in January, maybe even January 1, and continue the Computrainer and get back in shape. I want to work hard over the winter so I can get reach 4,110 miles and three full centuries.

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The Witch of November

I know, I stole that from the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot. November is a funny month. The daylight hours are short, we’ve changed back to standard time and it seems we have more cloudy and cold days than nice bike riding days. Also some people consider this the beginning of eating season, with left over Halloween candy and all the Thanksgiving Day goodies coming up. Let’s not even get into the Christmas parties of December. That is why November is a witching month, full of pits and pratfalls for the cyclist.

How do we avoid the witch? Well, I signed up for the 2015 D2R2 and set a goal to finish the 115k ride. I have also stepped up my training. Once people get into November, they put the bike away as well as their good eating habits. This is not good. A short break is fine but get back into training mode. If it’s cold where you live buy a compu-trainer. If you can’t afford one, check out your local bike shops and see if they offer compu-trainer classes. If you are out of luck that way, sign up for a gym for a few months. Do something! Also keep a training diary. But train, but don’t overdue it so much that you get burned out.

Hopefully, I will be successful in this off season, so that when Spring comes I will be ready to take on a century. I have set some long term goals and now I just need to set up some short term goals to get me to the long term goal.

It’s okay to overindulge during the Holidays, just make sure that you are aware of it and you are able to get back on track quickly. Just because you blow it on one day, does it mean you have to blow it for the rest of the week. So keep active during the winter, it will make those Spring time rides less painful.

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October in New England

October is a transitional month. You go from the warm summer temperatures that still tease you in September, to the cooler raw temperatures that remind you that winter will soon be here. During this month you are treated to the artist’s pallet of fall colors that dot the landscape. Riding in New England in Autumn is beautiful. The hills don’t seem as bad when you are treated with a gorgeous view around the next curve.

I had the pleasure of leading a ride again this month. I will probably lead the same ride in November, weather permitting. It is the Ride to Redemption. There is a short and long version of the ride. The latest version will be the final one, depending on road construction. I had lots of compliments on the ride. I will tell you that leading a ride for a club takes a lot of work. You have to map out different routes, ride them to determine what the traffic will be like and make any necessary adjustments and then mark/arrow the routes. After this you have to print up the cue sheets and compare them to the maps. Finally you have to print up the waivers. It was work, but it was rewarding.

The only issue that was brought to my attention was that one rider was wearing ear buds while riding. In Massachusetts, a bicycle is considered a moving vehicle and ear buds are not permitted while operating a moving vehicle.

Anyway that’s it for this month. I hope everyone had a good month, I know my mileage was up over September. I also hope everyone had a Happy Halloween. Eating season has begun, so try to ride more and if you can’t ride, hit the gym or a spin class.

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My Experience in the Mile High City

Denver Colorado has an active bicycling scene. There are dedicated bike paths, lanes, and numbered routes. You can pick up a map of the numbered routes to navigate your way around. They also have a bike rental system where you can pick up a sturdy, but heavy bike at a kiosk and ride it to another location and drop the bike off. Beware, if you use one of these rental bikes make sure you read the fine print or you can find yourself hit up with extra fees. If you are just visiting the city and want to ride around exploring the city and the roads out to the mountains, I would recommend renting from one of the local bike shops.

I ended up renting my bike from the Edge Doctor bike shop, on Broadway and 9th. I ended up with a nice new 2015 Fuji aluminum frame road bike with cable disc brakes. Helmet and flat change kit included for a little more than $40 per 24 hour period. Unfortunately, I only had one day to rent a bike and it was on a cloudy sometimes misty day with temps in the low 50’s. So, I did not head out towards the mountains instead I chose a nice flat bike route.

The route I took was the Cherry Creek Trail. This trail goes from the confluence of Cherry Creek and the Platte River out to the Cherry Creek Reservoir. I can’t be sure of the exact distance but I almost went the whole distance but the weather turned a little more nasty. Here is my link to the ride:

http://ridewithgps.com/trips/3431228 . This path, when possible separated the bike riders, from the pedestrians on the different sides of the creek.

If I get back to Denver before my son moves east, I hope to ride out to Golden and maybe up Look-Out Mountain. I would also explore some other rides maybe out to Boulder as well.

I made some other observations about Denver. Some of them do not put the bicyclist in a favorable light. To list a few: 1. A rider going against traffic. 2. A couple of instances of riders blowing through stop signs and red lights and not taking their turn at four-way stops. 3. A bike rider pulling a left hook (my son said this was common) where a bike rider came down the left side of a row a cars stopped at a traffic light and then making a right turn in front of the first car in the line. I will note that the riders doing this were either the young hipsters or maybe a commuter. (I didn’t see too many roadies except on the bike paths or way out of the ‘burbs.) 4. Last but not least, I noted that there seemed to be more riders without helmets than I saw wearing helmets.

Denver, Colorado is indeed a great area to bike ride in. I just hope the local residents don’t spoil it for themselves and everyone else.

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D2R2 2014 Experience

There was something different in the air, that had been building up for weeks, prior to this year’s ride. It was the weather. The summer had been cooler than prior years and the weather was more of different extremes. It would be dry for a couple weeks then the Berkshires would be hammered with rainfall measuring anywhere from 2 to 5 inches in a 24 hour period. This led to erosion and reroutes. The people from the Franklin Land Trust, who put on this event, kept riders up to date with changes in the routes and some lunch stop locations. They even advised on the road conditions and what tires we should consider.

The week leading up to the D2R2, I kept an eye on the forecast. It was to be dry and cool at the beginning of the week with some rain on Thursday and showers Friday. The day of the ride was to be cloudy to partly cloudy in the low 70’s and only a slight chance of rain. The roads would be rough.

After driving through rain and heavy traffic I checked into my hotel on a somewhat gloomy late Friday afternoon. Outside the hotel was guy from U.K. putting together a brand new (3 days old) Moots Bicycle. We chatted a bit about the rides we planned on doing and wished each other good luck for the upcoming ride.

I woke up early on Saturday morning and looked out my window. It just looked gloomy out. If it wasn’t for the ride, I would have probably crawled back into bed. I made it up to the start parked and made the final preparations to get ready. I registered and by nine o’clock I was rolling out of the gate somewhat slowly. It was starting to sink in that despite all my road bike riding this year (over 1450 miles including 3 metrics and lots of hilly rides) I wasn’t prepared to take a fat tired hard-tail mountain bike over the rough Old Albany Road and when I had nice pavement I had too much rolling resistance. The bike, in its current set-up, was fighting me. It was the equivalent of pushing a chain up a hill and there are a lot of hills in the D2R2.

In years past I had run on narrower 1.75 or even 1.5 x 26 inch tires that were more like a road/gravel grinder tires. For my prior D2R2 rides I had pulled my mountain bike out of storage around mid-July. Then I would make a point of spending more and more time riding it so my body would be familiar with the stresses of day long riding on it. I did not do it this year; my back let me know.

As I rolled out of the start down Mill Village Road, I felt pretty good. I continued on this relatively flat route until turning on to Upper Road. I managed this climb decently as I listened to the hum of my knobby tires on the asphalt. Little did I know that this too was going to lead to my downfall.

I have ridden this route before in 2011 and 2013. Soon the tough part began: Old Albany Road. This road was heavily washed out in places and seemed a lot steeper than in years past. This is when I realized that maybe my lack of preparation during the last three weeks had caught up with me, and maybe a few extra pounds that I put on over the winter and hadn’t worked all of them off was having something to do with it too. Back to Old Albany Road. I was geared down but I couldn’t find the right gear. I was spinning my pedal, but could not find that sweet spot where there was ease of pedaling combined with enough speed to power through the washed-out gravelly areas. So I was off the bike and pushing at a few spots. Finally I hit pavement and was doing good for awhile, but my back was making noises. I hit the rolling hills and enjoyed the downhill parts even though I had to be cautious as I did not want to go too fast and lose control.

More rollers and my back was killing me. I was looking at my GPS and was getting discourage. I was being passed up, my time was a lot slower than in the past and I was figuring I would be lucky to hit the first water stop before it closed. The clouds looked like they could open up and rain at any minute. The real kicker was my GPS screen would scroll by with the upcoming topography and there were places where it looked like a giant vertical wall. I finally had another nice downhill and caught up with some riders waiting to cross Route 2. We crossed and it was more climbing. The pavement, quickly turned to nice hard packed dirt. I was on the bike and pedaling but in pain. I had to stop and walk again and again as a result of my back and neck spasms.

Finally, I made it to the first water stop with about 15 – 20 minutes to spare. One of the volunteers noted my pained look and another had a car with a bike rack. So after a bit we drove down from Patten Hill and back to the start.

Back at the start finish, I checked in and was given some Ibuprofen. Another volunteer help me take my bike back to my car and I got my duffel bag to take back to the tent. (I noted that the muddy field I had parked in just hours before was nicely dried out.) Soon the shower shuttles were running and then I was able to get cleaned up and feel somewhat human for dinner. Dinner was great, and I met some people I knew. It’s always good to have dinner with great company.

Even though I had a giant DNF, the event was great. I enjoyed the hot breakfast onsite and the dinner/lunch was great too.

I will probably do it again next year, but I will have to consider what ride to do.

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Road Behavior, Riding With Groups, Alone and Dealing with Drivers.

I have been riding a lot over the past few years and seen some good and bad behavior on the part of both bike riders and car/truck drivers.  With more people riding bikes we as bike riders have to show better awareness and safety habits or more of us are going to get hurt or die.  We can’t rely on car drivers to change their habits overnight.  It will be a long process.

For those of you who ride in groups there are lots of things to consider, especially if you do not have that much experience riding in groups. First do not ride close to the rear wheel of the person in front and never ever overlap wheels. A little touch of the wheels can send several people down. Know how long it takes your bike to stop and if possible check out the rider’s bike in front of you. If he/she has disc brakes they can stop a lot quicker than bikes with regular caliper brakes. Listen to the ride leader at the beginning of the ride for any last minute safety briefing such as road construction, busy intersections, rest stops and rally points. Also if there are no cue sheets some groups will use human arrows. This technique means that the rider behind the ride leader will peel off from the group at a turn and point his or her bike in direction of the turn so the rest of the riders can see which way to turn. This rider waits until the sweep (designated at the beginning of the ride) comes along and tells this rider it’s okay to go on. The arrow can then feel free to catch up with the rest of the riders or stay with the sweep, but should not fall behind the sweep. When riding in a group it is important not to ride more than two abreast, unless you are overtaking two other riders abreast and there is no car or truck traffic around and you can safely pass. If you see a car coming from the back, call out “CAR BACK!” and if on a narrow road and a car is coming towards you yell “CAR UP!” When other riders hear this they should get over in single file so the traffic can pass. Another thing to consider when riding with a group or even by yourself: Take the lane when making a left turn. Check behind you, put your left hand out and get as far over to your left, in the lane, to make your turn. If you are in the group and see the group leader or the person in front of your group get ready to make a left and you are in the back it is incumbent on YOU to take the lane for the rest of the group. This will make it safe for you, the other riders, and let the car/truck drivers know what you are doing.

There are different type of drivers out there that scare me:  !.)  The distracted soccer mom driving her min-van and talking on the cell phone at the same time.  2.) The Prius drivers, not that they are jerks or unsafe but you just can’t hear a Prius come up behind you on a slow winding road.  3.) The redneck pickup truck driver who makes a point of making sure you get a full dose of their exhaust as they pass you by.  There are also some variations in between; we all have seen them.

There are just as bad bicycle riders too.  Most of them think they are professional bicycle racers wannabes, thinking that if things would have fallen right they would have spent some Julys riding in Le Tour De France. These riders have no regard for anyone else on the road, including other bicyclists. They wear replica professional team jerseys, local racing or bike shop racing team. They pass other bicyclists very close, sometimes they blow through red lights and stop signs. What is even worse is when you get a bunch of these riders together usually from the same racing club. They give the rest of us bicyclists a bad name. They will ride 3 or 4 abreast and they think it is beyond them to get over to single file when a car or cars that need to pass. This leaves a bad memory in a driver’s mind and he or she (probably a he) will take it out on the next bicyclist, who is out riding alone.

As a cyclist, I had encounter where a driver in his late 50’s early 60’s and his friend stopped their pick-up truck after I did not get up on the sidewalk when they laid on their horn from about 1/10 of a mile back. They swore at me and I thought I was going to get doored. It was not a pleasant experience. Now I keep my phone handy in case something like that happens again. This was about two years ago and now I just usually get a mouth full of exhaust fumes.

So we just need to get along and realize each other’s rights. One, no matter how right you are you are not going win in a collision with a car. Just be nice don’t cause a confrontation and let them go. Drivers need to be educated that bicycles have the same right to the road as they do. Bicycle riders do need to stay to the right as safely possible. But bicyclists have a different view of the road. A bicyclist has a better view of the potholes that may be small to cars but, could cause a serious crash for a bicycle or at the least give the bicycle rider a flat tire. So the next time you see a bicyclist out a little further from the right than you think they should, remember this they are trying to avoid pot-holes that could put them down right in front of your car.

So share the road, be nice and bicyclists remember to wave or say thank you when a car driver lets you into traffic. Who knows, you may make that car driver into a future cyclist.

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The Promises of June – Crash and Burn.

June started out so promising. My mileage was up and I was feeling good. I even managed a climb up the back side of Mount Wachusett. My training for Cape Cod Getaway MS Ride came to a screeching halt about 10 days before the ride.

It started with nausea and a headache on a Wednesday evening and by Sunday I was in the ER being admitted for an Intractable Migraine Headache. This landed me with two nights in the hospital and being ruled out for the MS Challenge Cape Cod Getaway. But the MS Society said there is another ride I can do in three weeks which I plan to do.

Right now I am recovering and getting rest. I do have two metrics for the month and will have a metric for July and one for August..

As for the roads. The Massachusetts roads are awful this year. It seems Massachusetts is putting its priority elsewhere.

I will keep you posted.

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