“That Tandem Rally” of 2014

Twenty-one years now, we’ve been spending a weekend with like-minded cyclists at Allegany State Park in southwest New York State … and yes, the spelling is correct.

Like-minded you ask? Certainly, if you like tandem mountain bikes, climbing and descending steep hills, sometimes at night, and maybe twisting through the woods on skinny trails just a bit too fast. And if you like campfires, foodfests, and perhaps a bit of beer to go with the raucous conversation that inevitably surfaces amongst an international crowd of tandem mountain bikers, you too might want to consider joining the fringe.

We arrive Friday afternoon and take possession of the keys to Camp Allegany, the group camp near the Red House Lake. While Karen gets some of the kitchen tasks underway, I head up the hill into the trails to survey a new singletrack that WNYMBA has developed. The Pugsley is called for this detail which starts with a hike-a-bike straight up the Bova ski hill to reach the Ridge Run Trail and the new lean-to built to replace the one we’ve watched disintegrate over the years.

The Ridge Run Lean-To: Versions 1.0 and 2.0
The Ridge Run Lean-To: Versions 1.0 and 2.0

Near the top of the ridge, I found the exit point of the new singletrack and began riding it uphill .. the reverse (wrong) direction. It’s a tough trail in that direction, and doable on a fatbike, but I make note to advise the crew that on tandems, it’s best to stick to the plan of doing it in the clockwise direction.

I return to the camp by reversing down the Ridge, and taking the racecourse switchbacks down the ski hill, where I’m very thankful for fat tires and disk brakes on (nearly) impossibly tight and steep hairpins.

After the crowd starts to arrive and the first evening meal is packed away, a group ride around the lake follows, at night with high intensity lights blazing and freezing the local deer herds in their tracks.

Saturday Starting Lineup
Saturday Starting Lineup

Saturday morning, the riding starts in earnest with the group climbing up into the Art Rosco trail system and the split where some head up straight up the Patterson Trail,

splitsign

 

and a few adventurous but uninformed teams try to navigate the Snowsnake Trail. I received no reports of misadventures from the Patterson contingent, but those of us who elected the alternate route were all stopped in our tracks at least once each by the steep and unexpectedly sloppy-wet trail conditions. In dry years, most of the gang can complete Snowsnake without a hitch, but when wet like this year, pushing up past the mud bogs required feet on the ground and a lot of expended calories.

Vanessa at Rest
Vanessa at Rest

We arrived a bit late at the access road to the traditional “Stone Tower” lunch stop just as the Patterson group was returning from their lunch. Not surprisingly, they tired of waiting for us in the cold.

The Grinch at Stone Tower
The Grinch at Stone Tower

Here again, another split of the crew is in the works, and three of seven tandem teams decide to try the new singletrack at the opposite end of the ridge: Anthony and Katie on a full-suspended Ventana ECdM,

Anthony and Katie
Anthony and Katie

Karen and myself on “The Grinch” (another ECdM), and Chris and Vanessa on an UN-suspended Rodriguez with drop bars, no less. Katie and Chris are daughter and son respectively of Anthony, they are both fine adventurers and athletes, and Chris captained the rigid Rodriguez through the singletrack with amazing skill. Vanessa’s trust in Chris was tested, but remained intact at the end of the ride!

Singletrackin' with Captain Chris and Stoker Vanessa
Singletrackin’ with Captain Chris and Stoker Vanessa

Saturday’s night ride saw a similar group of three tandem teams plus Katie on a single tackle the long hill-climb and return descent of the Patterson Trail. Karen and I love this part of the weekend … the night rides! Especially the downhill, again with headlights blazing. A 45 minute road climb resulting in a 20 minute dirt trail downhill, complete with mud, rocks, wet leaves and a couple sweeping corners is too much fun to resist.

Sunday, most everyone goes along for a gentle ride off-campus. We head out the west entrance of the park, cross the freeway, and go exploring into Seneca Nation reservation land along the Allegheny River

Guests Mind Your Manners Here!
Guests Mind Your Manners Here! Click the image to read the sign.

and yes, THIS spelling is also correct. It’s a gentle change of pace as we twiddle along down the abandoned Old Route 17, now a crumbling remains of the original route to Pennsylvania before the construction of the Kinzua dam and the interstate.

Old Route 17
Old Route 17

We had a gorgeous view of the river as we crossed on an old bridge, and we had a nice lunch break on a dead end path before turning back toward camp.

Brian, John, Arianne and Karen
Brian, John, Arianne and Karen

Another crew split. Three of the seven remaining teams (we started the morning with 11 bikes) took the wet alternate back toward the park … a wooded double-track that was nearly as much water as dirt. We got wet feet and muddy bikes but no one took a bath this year.

Bike Wash and Wet Feet Ahead!
Bike Wash and Wet Feet Ahead!

Back in the park that evening, we had our third food-fest of the weekend and our second warm and toasty campfire.

campfire

 

Monday morning saw the last of the weekend leftovers coming out and starting to disappear. Dessert for breakfast was not uncommon, but just as well … we needed fuel for the last bit of riding before breaking camp and heading home. Some of the group did a lake loop and some went to Thunder Rocks. Mark and Lynn joined Team Grinch for a gentle cruise to the top via Patterson Trail where we split. Karen and I took a nice ride alone back to camp via the Ridge Run. The ridge is beautiful this time of year with the fall colors exploding in the park. We paused for a moment to soak in the fall colors before heading down to the connection leading to the Bova ski hill.

Fall Colors on the Ridge
Fall Colors on the Ridge

I took the opportunity to test the new brakes by heading straight down the ski slope! Even with the weight and inertia of a tandem team, the new Avid BB7’s were able to bring us to a complete stop half way down the mountain without the slightest fade or squeal … or doing an endo. TEST PASSED, we are ready to take the Grinch out west again next summer and loaded for touring  —>> Canada section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route!

The Last Summer Ride

According to the celestial calendar’s, summer is now over in North America. We know there are plenty of wonderful riding days ahead this year (and more than you’d think if you ride fatbikes) but at least officially, we’ve transitioned to “fall”. To wrap up the summer season, my local club offered some nice scheduled rides and I couldn’t pass up the Letchworth – Arcade ride. It’s an 89 mile hilly route in Western New York starting from Mt. Morris: “The Best Little Town by a Dam Site”.

Yes, Mt. Morris IS little, and IS by a dam … the one that backs up the Genesee River in the Letchworth State Park gorge. Letchworth is touted as New York’s “Grand Canyon of the East”, but so is the Pine River gorge in Pennsylvania, so go ahead bureaucrats – duke it out.

In any case, Letchworth IS a fantastic site (sight) and makes a great start location for this ride. The first part of the ride weaves southbound down the main park road past some spectacular overlooks …

Letchworth State Park
Letchworth State Park

and exits the park at the Castile entrance. As the route heads south through the park, it begins climbing the Niagara Escarpment, the same geologic structure that creates the Niagara Falls to the west. Once clear of the park and up into the hills, the route reaches the plateau of the escarpment and farm fields abound.

Upstate New York farm
Upstate New York farm

The terrain continues to roll as the route heads west, crossing a series of ridges on the way to Arcade. There’s a huge wind farm near Bliss NY, and I stopped there briefly on top to devour a banana and enjoy the view.

Wind Farm in Bliss NY
Wind Farm in Bliss NY

Once in Arcade, visitors can view, or RIDE the Arcade and Attica steam locomotive …

Arcade Attica Railroad
Arcade Attica Railroad

… or simply enjoy a bite to eat in a quaint downtown devoid of fast-food joints. Turning back east, the route crosses many ridges, one of which is decorated by the Wethersfield wind farm …

Wethersfild Wind Farm
Wethersfild Wind Farm

… the old, but nearly extinct hamlet of Hermitage …

Old Church in Hermitage NY
Old Church in Hermitage NY

 

Really Old!
Really Old!

… and if one was adventuous, a selection of dirt road detours.

Gotta go ... Can't resist!
Gotta go … Can’t resist!

the route swings by Silver Lake where I recharge with a vanilla shake.

Refuel!
Refuel!

Eventually, the ride re-enters Letchworth State Park and again passes by the Mt. Morris Dam …

Mt. Morris Dam
Mt. Morris Dam

… and an optional side trip along the Genesee Valley Greenway into Mt. Morris …

Genesee Valley Greenway
Genesee Valley Greenway

… and past the Livingston county administration buildings.

Yeah ... looks "official"
Yeah … looks “official”

Nice day. Great weather. Summer ends, but Fall Colors Begin!

A Surprise Visitor

As Warm Showers hosts, we’ve been hosting touring bicyclists for a few years now, we’ve had many guests over the years and it’s always been a pleasure to assist and entertain fellow cyclists. I’ve also been a member the BMW Motorcycle Owners Association (MOA), and listed in the “Anonymous” book for a few years as well. The Anon book lists members who offer hospitality and assistance to other MOA owners, but I have never been called on yet … till this last week.

Karen took the call initially but handed it over to me when she realized the caller was a motorcyclist looking for help. The caller was Jim Farrell from Victoria BC. He explained that he was stranded for a couple days in the area because the motorcycle he was shuttling from Boston to Edmonton AB for a friend had a final drive failure and was at the Country Rode Motowerks (CRM) BMW shop awaiting a part delivery. The bike was a 2001 model and the part was the LAST one available in North America. He got lucky in that CRM staff was able to scoop it up and get it shipped in overnight, but that still meant two days off the road hanging out in Rochester.

No problem!

I buzzed out to the motel Jim was calling from to pick him up and we headed over to CRM to evaluate the situation and make plans. We then headed to my place to unload his gear and Jim happily accepted my offer to show him around town to kill time. Turns out, Jim is not only a world travelling motorcyclist, but a retired photo-journalist with a keen eye, a love of people and architecture, and as a Canadian, a depth of knowledge of American history that embarrasses me. And man, has this guy got stories to tell!

We visited Rochester’s only Frank Lloyd Wright home, the George Eastman House, NOTA, downtown and the High Falls District, Corn Hill, Cobbs Hill Park, and the watered “crossroads” of the Erie Canal and the Genesee RIver at Genesee Valley Park. But it seems the biggest moment for Jim was the visit to Mt. Hope Cemetary where to his delight and surprise, I showed him the gravesites of Frederick Douglas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Douglass) and Susan B. Anthony (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_B._Anthony).

Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony

Jim admitted he couldn’t believe he knew so little of Rochester, and also admitted getting a bit choked up in Mt. Hope, and discovering why Rochester is far more important to American history than Kodak, Xerox, and Baush and Lomb.

Jim at Susan's gravesite
Jim at Susan’s gravesite

Happy Trails Jim. It was a delight to meet you and share my home with you!

Jim Farrell
Jim Farrell

 

Update: 9/30/2014 – Jim emailed to let me know he made it home to Victoria safely, and “The Field Marshall” (the bike) is back home with it’s owner. Jim shared a Facebook link to his adventure, including many great shots from his layover here in Rochester NY.

Enjoy:  http://tinyurl.com/k53k4pd

 

Proof it’s Still Summer!

One weird thing we’ve noticed about this summer: the absence of cycle-tourists contacting us via Warm Showers for an overnighter stay. For the uninitiated, “Warm Showers” is an online community of touring cyclists who offer free hospitality to other touring cyclists in the form of a place to stay overnight while touring, as compared to camping, hosteling or paying for a motel. Hosts are free to offer whatever assistance they like but at a minimum, it typically involves tent space, floor space or a bed or guest room to sleep in. Oftentimes, a host will offer showers (the most desirable feature of an overnight – hence the name “Warm Showers”) food, laundry, internet, and even sag support, among others. Here, we offer whatever we can to make our guests comfortable and improve the joy and success of a safe and memorable tour!

The weird part of THIS summer: we just had our FIRST guest of the summer last night when typically by this time of the year, we’ve hosted as many as 4-6 cyclists. We did get a hosting request while out bike touring ourselves in Vermont, and sadly had to refer the cyclist elsewhere.

Perhaps the weather was weird this summer, or perhaps the MANY other Warm Showers hosts around Rochester got contacted first. Perhaps our location in the city, not as close to the canal trail (on ACA’s Northern Tier Route) as many others, makes our place a bit out of reach for a tired cyclist. (I’d happily move to a place right ON the canal if we could afford it!)

But lucky we were last night to host Alvin!

Karen and Alvin
Karen and Alvin

Riding from his home in Los Angeles and now ten weeks into his trip, he’s headed for NYC via Syracuse / Albany / Hudson River on a now gentle schedule after taking the “PCH” up the west coast to Oregon, and across the country from there. He’s a gracious guest, a wonderful personality, and as a native Californian surfer,  he’s convinced me that a surfer mindset dovetails perfectly with cycle-touring!

Guess I never should have got rid of MY surfboard I had in Hawaii when stationed there in the Coast Guard! I might not have been good at the surfing part, but I’d be a natural camping on the beach NEXT to it!

We had a nice dinner PRE-pared by Karen since she was working late (which I still kinda messed up forgetting all about the salad) but we had no trouble filling up Alvin’s tank with the casserole and pudding. Fun stories of travel and people we’ve met touring were shared and Alvin’s story of the missing iguana reminds me to closely monitor what gets tossed into the kitchen garbage can.

And note to self … Alvin confirmed what I’ve heard from others: don’t ride northbound on the PCH. The north winds will kill ya! But DO ride it. Inexpensive hiker / biker campgrounds are available at frequent intervals along the route … Perfect for bike touring!

So, if you are “downstream” from Rochester on Alvin’s route to NYC, or you ever have the chance to host him wherever he travels, be sure to invite him in for a stay. You’ll meet a happy cyclist who’s a genuine pleasure to chat with and whom you’ll be sad to see leave without you tagging along!

Great meeting you Alvin!
Rubber Side Down!

(Ahem … “shoe glue side” … )

I’ve Been Retired for a Century

So what does a happy biker DO on his 1st day of retirement?

Goes for a bike ride, of course!

My local club had a 56 mile ride scheduled with the start location only 15 miles away, just over in the next county. The weather looked good for the whole day, so rather than pack it in the car, I rode out to the start. Got there in plenty of time to chat with others before we took off.

The ride got warm quickly, and it took only a few miles for a gang of six to coalesce and take off the front. I did take just a moment and made a brief stop to say hello and share encouraging words with a new cyclist.

Biker Chick
Biker Chick

That gang splintered a bit later as Gary and I got wound up just fast enough to miss a predetermind alternate (we were just following the track file on the GPS) with no one quite close enough behind to catch our attention to point out our error. We got to Newark, and waited, and waited, and eventually figured out WHY no one was coming. We took off to find the other gang at a store, but our original four we were riding with was up ahead now.

No big deal. We rode a bit with the other group for a couple miles before the nice roads and nice day inspired us to wind it up again. Gary is a true monster cyclist, burning 20+ mph into a headwind. And he punches a big hole in the air, so I was perfectly happy tucking in behind for several stretches today. And when we turned with the wind in our backs, we REALLY went sailing … until his rear shift cable broke, freezing him into his highest gear. Not a fun way to ride in rolling hills!

We stopped and watched the gang fly by as we tinkered and tested and eventually got it tied off in an easier gear, but now he has a 2-speed bike to finish the ride. But he STILL hauls ass down the road!

We again caught up with the other group and took a break at a store in Sodus. The gals migrated over to an ice cream shop leaving no indication how long they’d be stuck there, so once again, Gary and I took off to wrap up the last 13 miles of the day’s club ride.

After a brief pause at the finish with 71 miles on the ticker, I headed for home. The long way.

Weaving through the back roads, I eventually picked up the Erie Canal Trail and headed for Rochester. Right about the time I stopped to catch a couple photos,

Headed Home on the Canal Trail
Headed Home on the Canal Trail

I could feel that familar sign of “The Bonk” setting in. It seems a couple diet cokes and a pack of peanut butter crackers, for what is now nearly 100 miles, just doesn’t cut it. When I get in town and pass a bank, I see 90 degrees on the clock. That didn’t help.

(Not) soon enough, I pull into the driveway, stumble down to the cool basement and sit on the cold concrete floor for a while. Refreshing.

A Century plus Tax
A Century plus Tax

One hundred (a “century”) and seven miles of gorgeous riding, on a gorgeous day … and if I can’t get my legs to move in the morning, it’s not a problem.

I’m retired.

Life Uncaged