Monday, August 19, 2013

Le Tour de Brookfield - my encounter with the New York Alps

I just returned from a trip to upstate New York, where I spent ten glorious days camping with my horse and 100 other people and their horses.  There was never a dull moment on this adventure, with a perfect combination of horseback riding, running, cycling, drinking, river-wading, catching loose horses, and even some dandy off-off-off-off-off Broadway theatrical performances.  This is hands-down my favorite ten days of the year.

Leading up to this trip, Diana gave me a couple reminders to bring my new road bike.  It's a blast! she said.  The rolling hills are incredible! she said.  And although I've gained a ton of confidence and strength on my bike, something tickled the back of my mind and got me to thinking, I'm not quite sure I can handle Diana's version of fun.  But I was a good sport and brought my bike along for the ride (fits nicely in the backseat of the pickup truck.  Didn't even have to take the wheel off!)  In a last minute attempt to prepare for whatever Diana's bike route threw at me, I made an emergency stop to Landry's bike shop right before I headed to New York to have my clip pedals installed.  I needed any advantage I could get!

As we drove towards our camp, I noticed the roads getting remarkably hilly.  I think I actually felt an ulcer growing as I drove up the hills towards the field, realizing that I was at some point in the next ten days going to be required to run up this, bike up this, or both.

Le camp

On Saturday, the day after we arrived, Ronnie and I decided to go for a nice easy out-and-back run.  We know I haven't been running much due to my nagging heel injury, so I suggested an easy 3 miler.  Ronnie wanted 5.  We decided to split the difference and run 2 and turn around.  But hey, if you're gonna run 2, you may as well just run 2.5, right?  So, our run ended up being 5 miles.  The funny thing is, the run was entirely uphill on the way out (we thought), and then oddly enough it was uphill the whole way back!  This is when Ronnie had an epiphany and said, "I just realized, those people that walked 5 miles uphill to school both ways... this is where they lived!".  This is also the first run where I carried Mace.  Ronnie mentioned that the dogs around this area aren't leashed and can be pretty aggressive.  Although we never got chased by a loose dog, we did have a deer jump in front of us and just stand there as we ran towards it.  We also saw a hawk and some really cool red salamanders.

Although I felt pretty decent during the run (and was proud of myself for managing 5 miles of hills), my quads felt it the next day.  It was a good kind of hurt though.  Just muscles trying to wake back up.  The following day we went for our first bike ride.  I was a little nervous about it, being in a strange place and also trying to use the clip in pedals for the first time.  I went out with Ronnie, our friends Becca and Mert, and Diana.  Becca and Mert didn't have a lot of biking experience so we weren't planning to do a long route, but they were good sports about it and stuck with it.  That was pretty awesome because I can't say I would have if I were them!  It was a great experience getting to ride with Diana, because she has a lot of experience and was full of good advice.  It was like having a personal coach, as she counseled me on how to successfully clip and unclip from the pedals, how to approach an intersection, and even how to ride in pace line formation, drafting off the guy in front!  She suggested that I shift into my small front ring more often to get better cadence up the hills.  I thought that was kind of weird because, after all, I'm pretty darn good getting up hills thank-you-very-much.  But it's a suggestion I tucked away anyways, just in case.

The views on this ride were spectacular, with rolling hills, two super steep descents, and plenty of cow farms.   Of course, descents could only mean one thing, right?  What goes down must go up...

It was an 11.5 mile ride, and definitely much more challenging than anything I had ever done at home.  After seeing these hills I got a little nervous about what Diana and Mark were going to throw at me on our ride.  She assured me, however, that we wouldn't see anything on her route as difficult as what we had on this ride.  (I learned the hard way that Diana is a big fat liar).

The next day, Diana and Mark rolled up to my camp with their cute matching cycling jerseys, as I was finishing my lunch.  Normally I don't like to do anything on a full stomach, but hey - it's just an easy 20 mile bike ride and Diana even said herself it's nothing like what we did yesterday.  Sure thing guys, I'm in!  I will say, they were a lot of fun to ride with, even if they had to keep waiting for me.  They certainly seem to have this whole cycling thing nailed down, grinding up the hills in perfect unison and textbook cadence.  And in case you're curious about the hills that we were grinding up--->

Les Alps de Brookfield

It's easy to become distracted by the four major climbs on this route, but don't discount everything in between either.  In fact, there was not one single flat stretch of pavement in this 22 mile ride.  What made this ride so difficult was that the climbs were so long and steep, and then the descents were so steep and went by so fast that it wasn't even long enough to recover from the previous climb!  To put things in perspective, mile 6 took me 8 minutes and 50 seconds, and that was constant pedaling.  That tip Diana had given me to shift to my smaller front ring sooner came in very handy, very quickly on this ride, so I'm glad I had tucked that away!  At one point I recall thinking, wow, I can't really breathe so well and my turkey sandwich is sitting somewhere in my esophagus.  I hope it's not too obvious.  Just then, Diana rolled up alongside me, offering some breathing techniques.  "Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth!".  Okay, so I really did sound as bad as I felt!

Weird things happen when you're in this much physical distress.  For instance, I saw some signs in peoples' front yards that said "Lincoln Davies".  I honestly don't know if it was some sort of political sign, or advertising a roofing company, and I don't really care.  I just remember being so angry at this hill I was climbing, seeing that sign, and thinking to myself, F#@* you Lincoln Davies!  F#@* You!  There were also some loose dogs and I remember thinking this is what happens when you're the slowest one in the pack.  I will be the one that gets eaten.  A couple times we got passed in vehicles by other folks camping with us and they honked their horns.  I could just imagine the conversations they were having after seeing us.  Oh would you look at that.  Mark and Diana took Fatty-Bo-Batty on a bike ride.  On the way back we had to climb a hill that I swear I don't even remember going down earlier in the ride, and it occurred to me that I'm 100% in favor of blood doping.  I actually remember thinking that if someone were standing on the side of the road handing out HGH and blood transfusions, I would pull right over.

One really cool thing happened though, as we headed back to camp and rolled down this massive hill, and I realized that this is the same hill that we had climbed up about 10 miles earlier.  I couldn't believe I had actually climbed all the way up this hill.  That was a proud moment!  And don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad.  We had some amazing views on this ride.

So maybe I complained a tad about the hills, but afterwards Mark mentioned that "not just anyone" can ride this course.  This is for serious cyclists.  I feel like I earned a few stripes by surviving this ride!

After the ride I was treated to a nice cool shower and some well-deserved margaritas.  The next day my hamstring was killing me, which lingered a couple days.  Mark and Diana did another (longer) ride which I missed (oh gee darn), but they caught up with us again when Ronnie, Mert, and I went back out for another ride on Friday.  We did the same loop we had done the first day, and I was happy to find that the crazy hill that I couldn't breathe on the first time around didn't feel so bad this time.  It's like my body was saying, eh, I've seen worse.  I rolled up to Mark and Diana, who were patiently waiting in the shade, and said "well it's like they say: It doesn't get easier, you just get stronger!"  I may not be super in love with these hills like Mark and Diana, but I do consider them to be a great learning experience and a real confidence booster.  Now that I've conquered these hills, I won't be nearly as intimidated by them when planning my routes around town!

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