Over The River and Through The Woods and…

The forecast called for 20mph winds and an average temperature of 32 degrees.

The plan was simple, though in retrospect maybe a little outlandish: bike up to the top of bear mountain, take a picture, then head for Grandma and Grandpa’s.

Packing Cara, Sierra and our holiday stuff into the car took a little longer than expected and I wasn’t out the door until 11:30am. Making it by sunset would be a challenge, even if I made no stops. Ultimately it didn’t matter; the bike was outfitted with my 600 lumen headlamp, tail light and various reflective strips and fenders–it was the concern of the family that added the urgency.

The ride out was all headwind. Caught glimpses of guys that I ride with as well as the usual year-round training clubs. They were all on the return as I finally reached cruising temperature.

You always have to change your time calculations in the winter. First you have the layers and layers of restrictive clothing. Even with that you’re cold so you keep it locked in the small chainring. If you generally cruise at 18-20mph in the summer you’ll only be doing 14-17mph on a good winter day. With the wind in the mix there were sections where I was pushing hard to maintain 12mph.

I made a futile attempt to duck the wind by heading down the valley onto main street through Piermont. No luck. The wind had the same idea so I kept the cadence high and spun on past the cafes whos patrons were locals now that the morning rush of cyclists had headed home.

As the towns rolled by I began to have my doubts. Maybe I should have grabbed one of those great rueben sandwiches that the Runcible Spoon makes. Maybe I should just cut over when I get to 202 — it’s still enough miles, right? No. Today I am out for bear meat and I shall have it.

I am long out of the range of today’s cyclists and the roads are mine except for a few locals out for some errands before the holiday.

With the trees thinned from winter and the recent storm, and because of my slower than usual pace I am noticing a lot more of the details. The 10 story high mountains of excavated rock in Haverstraw. The Indian Head Nuclear Power Plant. The cars that look like little toys scaling the ridge opposite the bear’. The European quaintness of downtown Glen Cove with it’s street-side storefronts and cobblestone sidewalks and brick walls.

As I pull up to the bear the weather turns the menace up a notch; dark clouds begin to speed by overhead and it begins to snow. “I guess I’m going to get my moneys worth today” I found myself saying aloud.

After being pummeled by the wind for 40 miles it’s nice to be in the shelter of the mountain. My climb was not much slower than summer climbs. There was a young couple pulled over with smoke coming from the hood of their car. They asked where the nearest filling station is. I told them they definitely did not want to try to walk to it. Being only a “tinkerer” level macguyver in lycra there was little I could do to help–I couldn’t dip my chain tool in my bottle of water and make antifreeze. I made sure they had a mobile phone and knew how to describe where they were and continued on before I started to cool down.

On a clear day you can see the New York skyline from the lookout tower. Todays conditions were unusual as the cloud cover ended abruptly somewhere before the city. The buildings’ silhouettes contrasted sharply against an orange sky backdrop. As expected the wind at the top was furious. I almost got knocked over when attempting to get that panoramic photo that I rode out here to capture. Got it on the 2nd try, sent an SMS to the wife and got the hell moving again.

Dark clouds blow over Bear Mountain and drop a light dusting of snow.

Descending a mountain is pure, unadulterated, unfiltered joy 99.9% of the time. Today I found that 0.1%: when you are inside 4 layers of sweaty, wicking cycling gear. You know that feeling when you stick your face in an air conditioner? Take that, half the temperature, then make it full body. Even the windproof parts suffered from heat loss because I was not working that hard. For about 10 minutes I alternated which hand I held behind my back to keep it shielded from the wind, only putting both on the handlebars to handle a few of the hairpin corners.

Luckily for me it was all climbing from the bottom to my destination which allowed me to get the blood circulating back out to my extremities.

When you ride solo it’s all on you: making sure you are wearing the right clothes, double-checking your tool kit, and measuring properly your output to match the calories you carry in your pockets.

For me this meant staying warm and moving in the cold and the wind for 75 miles with two clif bars. I ate each of them an hour and a half apart and tried not to do anything crazy like go for any Strava KOMs–this stuff had to last!

Around mile 60 I was starting to tire but continued to push on, beginning to lean more on the directions that my Garmin was giving me.

At mile 70 fatigue gave way to confusion and paranoia which I knew was a bad sign. I no longer trusted the garmin. I stopped the navigation and had it re-calculate to make sure it knew what it was doing. I was not recognizing my surroundings. The sun was beginning to set.

With three miles to go my mind was telling me that this 3 miles could turn into 20 if I missed a turn because the Garmin got too cold. I pulled into a pizzeria and inhaled three sugar cookies to get my blood sugar back on track. Had I been thinking more clearly I would have also grabbed a coke and a slice of pizza but we were too close now. Had to finish what we started.

Even though the sun was not gone yet, the mountains of northern NJ cast very long, dark shadows. Might as well have been night. The headlamp went on. I love that thing, it lights up the entire road like a motorcycle headlight. Good thing, too, as there are definitely some rough patches out here and there are definitely no street lamps.

After the longest two miles of my life I start to recognize some landmarks and the Garmin has re-earned my trust. I pick up the cadence and crest the final hill and triumphantly press “stop” after an epic adventure.

Tonight I am not going to discriminate when it comes to what kind of calories I consume or how many–it’s all fair game. Rumor has it grandma and grandpa made a roast in the slow cooker.

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