Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Epic! Hardcore! ~ Reactions to our February Century Ride

We did it!!!
Epic. Hardcore. Those are some of the words people used upon hearing of our desire to complete a century ride (100 miles) in upstate New York on our tandem in February!

The snowfall came down upon us for only for the last 10 miles or so. While I had previously told David that if it snowed, I would be getting off the bike and he could ride in on his own, that didn't happen.
: )

After all, we had gone so far and my butt wasn't even killing me at that point!

Our adventure began on Friday night. Because David had a full workday ahead of him, we had the van packed the night before. When Dave was free from work, we drove 3 1/2 hours to Ballston Spa, a small town not far from Saratoga Springs, New York.

Our hosts: Paul & Wendy

We connected with a wonderful couple, Paul and Wendy, who offered to host us for the weekend. We met them online through the warmshowers website, which offers hospitality for touring cyclists. These people warmed our hearts with their down-to-earth friendliness and generosity. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at their home, the easy conversation and the most incredibly amazing and delicious meals!

Paul is a professor in Culinary Arts and Wendy is equally gifted. It was our good fortune to meet up with them. In spite of our late arrival on Friday night (after 8 p.m.) we were welcomed at their table with a pot roast dinner, including mashed potatoes and homemade bread!

On Saturday morning, we awoke early. Paul was great to help Dave off to a good start with coffee brewing. I had taken along fresh ingredients in a cooler for our favorite pre-ride smoothie, and we shared some with Paul before we hurried out the door to ensure we had plenty of time before our ride start at 8 am. We were about a half hour drive away from the town of Schuylerville, where the Snowball Express event began from the Director's home.

After stopping on the way to figure out why our GPS was directing us in an opposite direction from notes we had taken earlier in the week, we finally arrived at 7:45 am. I was already dressed in multiple layers, but Dave overheats easily so he still needed to pile on some clothing. Other riders were mulling around, inside and outside of the house.

Coffee, tea, and bagels were available for pre-ride fueling. I had a half cup of coffee and a half bagel with cream cheese. There was a great assortment of Hammer Nutrition products put out for us too. Dave and I took a couple of gel packs each. We had also brought along some of our own old favorites for long rides: Clif Bars, Shot blocks, and some of our favorite flavors in Clif Shot Energy Gels. (I like the mocha and expresso flavors, not so much a fan of fruity gels.)

We took off  around 8:15 a.m. The morning was bright and sunny, and while the temperatures were said to be in the low 30's, there was little wind. I was very comfortable in my six layers!

There were six bicycles on this ride, seven riders -- including the organizer. This was my second century ride. My first was The Flattest Century of the East put out by the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen Club, and that one had over 2,000 participants. This was quite a contrast!

Dave Waldburger
We were happily surprised that one of our fellow TCC (Thread City Cyclists) members was inspired to join us. David Waldburger is a seasoned cyclist who commutes to work each day on his bicycle! He is a pleasure to ride with, as he easily adapts on group rides with other cyclists of varying capabilities.

We all rode as a pack for the first part of the ride. Everyone was upbeat and talkative. It was nice to get to know the other cyclists.

Jim Williams
One of our fellow riders has taken part in the RAAM ( Fascinating to talk to, Jim is an attorney living in New York City, on a 4-person team training for this year's grueling event (profiled in the movie documentary, Bicycle Dreams).  His team, Team4HIVHope, will be conducting active experiments on their members to compare the effects of endurance activity on HIV+ and non-HIV+ athletes. In 2011, Team 4HIVHope completed the Race in six days, six hours and 34 minutes and finished 8th out of 32 teams. The ride we shared with him is part of his ongoing preparation for the big race, which begins on June 16, 2012.

With the exception of one somewhat challenging hill at the very onstart of the ride, the route was surprisingly flat. Dave and I were pleased that the pace of the group was comfortable for us -- even being on a tandem. We averaged a speed of 14.5 MPH.

Along the way, we kept ourselves fueled periodically with the sports nutrition goodies we brought along. At one point, the group did spread apart. Those of us in front lost our way, and we needed to stop to look at the route sheet and turn around after crossing a grated bridge. I was thankful at that point, that it was dry road because we imagined that riding over that grating could be a little slippery when wet.

At another point in the ride, we lost sight of two riders, but they were local and knew the area well. Somewhat miraculously, we all managed to regroup again as the ride progressed. The first rest stop was at a convenience store about 35 miles in. I was ready for it! Unlike the guys, I wasn't comfortable stopping along the roadside to pee.

At the halfway point, it was about 12:30 in the afternoon. We were back at John's house, where we started. It felt good to take a more lengthy break then, as we collected inside around the dining room table. There were chips, Oreo cookies, Pop Tarts, and leftover bagels to munch on. I was surprised to see a cooler full of cold soda for us. That's one item I've removed from my diet. I enjoyed a hot cup of tea instead, and it felt good, warming me up from the inside!

A little while later, we were back outside getting on our bikes. I was playing a mind game with myself, trying to forget that I had just ridden 50 miles, and convincing myself that I felt good enough to embark on a fresh adventure!

The skies were getting more overcast, and it seemed it wasn't as warm as it felt earlier in the day. The temperatures were supposed to reach 39 or 40 degrees, but now there wasn't so much sunshine.

Mile by mile, riders engaged in lively conversation, which passed the time more quickly. There was little traffic, and I appreciated that.

Later in the afternoon, the weather turned, and we felt the occasional drop of water hit our faces. We were hoping for it to hold off, but gradually, it became colder and before we knew it, it was snowing!

In spite of my warning to Dave that I was prepared to hop off the tandem if it started snowing, we were so far along at that point! We had 10 miles to go when it first started to get wet, and 8 miles left when it was actively snowing.

As the weather changed, our group spread apart greatly. The faster guys (Dave W. and Jim) broke away from us. The three others fell behind, and as a result, Dave and I were on our own for a while.  

The snow started to fall more heavily and it was accumulating on grassy areas, but seemingly melting upon contact with the road. We were advised earlier in the ride that the way back was continuing straight, but we came upon a fork in the road. Our glasses were covered in wet snow, and our clothes were starting to soak through. Being on our own, we were suddenly unsure of which way to go, and we didn't want to delay our return by choosing to wrong way.

We stopped to give John a call on the cell. Come to find out, he wasn't too far behind. However, while we were stopped, another rider made his way up to us. Ross is an older cyclist, a marriage counselor. We enjoyed chatting with him about his work, and we joked about couples who ride tandems, and how doing so tends to make or break a relationship.

Ross rode with us in the snowstorm!

Ross has gone this route before, and he knew how to get us back. He was encouraging -- it wasn't too far to go, the roads weren't all that much slippery, and we had come so far already!

As we continued onward with Ross, Dave's cell phone rang. I retrieved it from his rear pocket to answer. It was John. His wife had called him, stating that it was snowing pretty heavily back at the house. She offered to come out to get him with their minivan, and he was going to have her do that. John offered us the same escape if we felt we did not want to continue riding in the harsh weather.

There were just 8 miles to go! No way. We had to keep moving.

We approached a stop sign, and Ross stopped and we followed suit. He took off his gloves. He asked us for our camera. This was the 100 mile mark, and Ross was helping us to capture the moment!! (Photo at the top of this page.)

By then, we had two more miles before we were back at our starting point. It's likely that our earlier detour lengthened the overall mileage tally. As we pulled into the front of John's house, Ross yelled out a hearty, "Congratulations!!" to us.

Dave W., Scott, Jim, John, and my Dave after the finish!
Ross had just left for home.

(Not sure why the reflective stripes on John's jersey caused a blur, but it happened in four shots!)

We congratulated him as well. Dave W. and Jim were already inside, and John was brought home by his wife. A few minutes later, Scott arrived safe and sound. We clapped and cheered for him too!

Inside we warmed up and peeled off our wet layers. It was 5:30 p.m. As much as we were feeling drained and wiped out from the last few miles, we felt proud of having done it!

Back with our van loaded, we phoned Paul and Wendy back in Ballston Spa. Such wonderful hosts, they were preparing another memorable meal! The menu included Chicken Marsala, couscous salad, and grilled asparagus. For desert, walnut tarts from Paul's class. Incredible!

In the morning, we were served a breakfast we had never experienced before -- aebleskiver! They are traditional Danish pancakes in a distinctive shape of a sphere. Somewhat similar in texture to American pancakes crossed with a popover, æbleskiver are solid like a pancake but light and fluffy like a popover. Paul invited me by the stove to view the unusual cast iron pan designed especially for this dish. Served with powdered sugar and maple syrup, we enjoyed the new found delicacy!

Before heading home, we wanted to see some of the sights of the area. We checked out the Schenectady Greenmarket a winter Farmer's Market. We picked up some fresh bread, jellies, almond butter, and raw honey. Afterward, we headed over to the town of Saratoga Springs where we walked and checked out some of the eclectic shops to be seen.

All in all, this was an adventure that began with kind-of-a-crazy idea from the man I love! This century ride in February is part of our goal-setting process, where we decided to mark out certain key events to challenge ourselves throughout the year.

We've met some amazing folks and learned a lot along the way. We're super-excited to experience more! This is all in support of our desire to be more fit and healthy, and to stretch beyond our own pre-existing ideas of what we are capable of doing!


  1. Great story Karen and thanks for the complements. I had a great time and look forward to a great season. I love the picture of you and Dave with the snow on his glasses. You were aware that he couldn't see a thing, right?