A Different Type-A
Venturing off the beaten path is quite in vogue these days as riders fit fatter rubber to their bikes, seeking backroads and safer pastures away from cars. This road season, for me in particular, was more about the straight and narrow. Between four stage races and some of the northeast’s more notable road races, I was dedicated to a training plan that defined my summer riding. In the end, this type-A attitude saw me across the finish line at GMSR and straight into a two-week break. No bikes.
Jumping back into training, I’ve been gradually rebuilding in a healthy and sustainable way. Today’s ride was probably the most healthy way to rediscover what brought most of us to bikes. Most of us probably didn’t take up riding to have the metallic taste of blood creep into our mouths as we climb mountains in Vermont at 185 BPM. Most of us probably didn’t take up riding to out-sprint each other at 6 am in Central Park on a random Saturday in the Summer. Most of us probably took up riding because it gives us an unbridled joy when we feel speed, feel free, and feel alive.
For the TBD crew, that sense of freedom is often found on the other side of the George Washington Bridge after a slogging ride out of New York City. Each day we fight our way on congested roads, avoid swerving Uber drivers, and cautiously pass delivery trucks parked in the few bike lanes we have. But riding has that sort of magnetic attraction which pulls us to destinations new and old.
This weekend, a band of TBDers ventured north to seek those open pastures of congestion-free roads and a sizable dose of Autumn color. A mix of some OG team members and our latest recruit, we brought a mix of fitness and a mix of equipment that was the perfect synopsis of the day. From slick-tired ‘cross bikes to aero road bikes with rim brakes, we came to party.
A week prior, we settled on the idea of a transfer ride. Some of us were more ambitious in our intent, suggesting a one-way transfer for a 100+ mile day. In the end, a rainy morning saw us questioning our decision altogether as we drove up the Henry Hudson Parkway. The bleak weather was forecasted to break, but our spirits were damp as the mist greeted us in the Bear Mountain Inn parking lot. As the crew from team car one, Matt VDV, Sebastian, Scott and I layered up beside the car, we were buoyed by the arrival of team car two, carrying Burati, Erwin, Tom and Roger. For those who know, #rogisback.
Mere miles into our escapade north, we came upon miles of standstill traffic - which we carefully navigated via the shoulder and opposing lane. Remarkably, there were no angry shouts as we made our way past hundreds of cars. The source of the traffic: the Army vs Air Force football game hosted at West Point. Amazingly, the polite attendants and guards ushered us through, always offering us the right-of-way. Each of us was enchanted by the halls of the academy as we rode past, high above the Hudson. Despite our proximity to the campus, few of us had ever rolled through its historic grounds. As we exited and began climbing above the palisade, we received cheers and words of encouragement from the football fans queued in their cars. In all of my years racing (ok its not that much), I have never received so much road-side support!
Just past the gates of West Point, we discovered that our main attraction of the day, Storm King was gated closed. Not wanted to pass through the gate under the watchful eye of our nation’s Army, we sought an alternative route.
Gravel was always a part of the day’s plan, but what was supposed to be a “mild gravel trail” turned out to be muddy and challenging doubletrack. The path began with a steep climb, littered with wet leaves masking the nature of the trail beneath them. Forced to climb with care in the saddle, tires protested as we fought for grip on the difficult surface. Eventually, the path narrowed and became strewn with larger stones and pockets of deep mud. This was now full-on cyclocross as our bikes swished from side to side beneath us. Nervous for my carbon rims, I was fixated on the trail in front of me, watching for any potential obstacle too great for my SuperSix Evo disc with 27mm tires.
Despite the mud accumulating near my bottom bracket and the slight sense of worry occupying my mind, I was enjoying this. I may or may not have offered up a few frustrated phrases during the passage of the trail - but as I think of it now, only excitement returns to my mind. I was eager to feel pavement beneath my tires, but the sense of accomplishment in riding those trails was a boost I hadn’t felt during my road racing season. Sometimes its good to be a little less type-A.
The squad regrouped and decided to make for the other side of Storm King, hopeful that we could ride the climb. A sinewy descent led us, bright-eyed and grinning, to the base of Storm King. We soon discovered the road was closed to cars, the ribbon-like slab of asphalt high atop the Hudson was all ours. The road glistened with runoff as we ascended past freshly-created waterfalls. Our tires flung rooster-tails of fresh water into each other’s faces, but no one complained. We wiped our glasses and fixed our eyes on the top.
Climbing Storm King, our newest rider Scott gave us the realization that Autumn in New England is unlike anywhere in the world. Scott, a recent transplant from Melbourne, had never experienced a proper fall - let alone a truly epic fall ride. At the top, the wide vistas of the Hudson gave us even more appreciation for the beauty so close to our little bubble. Our concrete covered island, just 50 miles down-river, seemed entirely foreign in that moment.
Perspective helps us realize that there’s more to New York than… New York. And there’s more to bikes than racing and training plans. Far away from the hustle and bustle, the serene, crisp air filled our bodies in a different way. We weren’t charging down 9W towing a 20-rider paceline, we weren’t clicking the lap button on our head units, we were just riding.
At this point, I must remind you that this ride was not without its tribulation. Cameras were dropped, riders toppled on the slick doubletrack and flats were had. On top of it all, my rear derailleur cable snapped before we hit Bear Mountain. As the group convened around my bicycle, I tightened the limit screws to shift up to the 13 tooth sprocket - knowing I’d need something easier for Bear.
I was grinding as Tom effortlessly spun over his pedals in front of me. I was glued to his wheel as we ascended Bear, motivated by his smooth cadence as I struggled to turn 60 rpm. Rising from the saddle, I matched his efforts as we twisted up the climb, away from the group. There was only one way for me to ride the climb with my limited gearing - hard. Perkins road (the final push to the summit) was strewn with carefree pedestrians, blissfully meandering up and down the mountain as I wrenched myself, pedal after pedal, towards the top. Wind buffeted my efforts as I rose from the saddle to fight the growing pain in my legs. I fought to wind up the gear, but I never surpassed 75 rpm on the climb.
At the top, I was tired, my legs were sore, my heart pounded at 190 BPM, but I was absolutely stoked. Despite strong gales, we sat at the top of Bear Mountain in awe of the view back to New York. Like vibrant waves of orange and red, the hills rolled along the landscape until they reached the city’s skyline, sharply rising against the horizon. The winds blew harder, leaves rustled and released from their arboreal homes. We descended amongst the falling leaves; freely plummeting and entirely in the moment. Autumn in New England is unlike any place on Earth.