Sunday, July 17, 2011

Video, Part 1 of 6:


If link doesn't work, go to You Tube and search "A safe ride across CT".

CT has a lot of great road cycling. And recently, the DOT, led by cycling guru Ray la Hood, has been working on a "National Bike Route". Most of the other states are way ahead of CT in "certifying" a "safe" route. But CT has lagged far behind.

Here's my disclaimer, there is no such thing as a "safe route". If you get flattened, I take no responsibility. Maybe I should say "saner" , "warm fuzzier", or something watered down. That's what CT did when they printed their blue line maps years ago. They said they are "preferred bike routes' or something like that.

This is only a suggestion to the DOT and ACA. Personally, I had very few problems. While I am not riding a C0-Motion or Koga, I have been cycling since 1972, and while yeah, like stubbing your toe, I might make an occasional mistake, but I am confident that if I get killed on a bike it won't be from sheer ignorance. I've also studied every single safety website and I've read John Forrester cover to cover (Twice).

This whole thing may be more about American pride than anything else. I highly doubt it will change the face of commerce as we know it, but I still think it's kinda cool. At least you won't have to endure a naked full-body scan at a terminal before saddling up at dawn.
So, Why is CT so damned difficult?
Funding? Culture? Something in the water?

Slowly, some progress has been made, at least near my hometown here on the Hartford/West Hartford "line", as they call it.

The culture here is extremely automobile-centric. But this summer, I have seen more and more people buzzing around on bikes. They look happy. Why are people looking happier all of a sudden? I am a vintage road bike addict, and particularly love to see the old 70's bikes back on the road. a good steel frame will last a lifetime with good care, whereas a Hummer will soon be seen rusting away in a field with the windows shot out.

Again, I started riding road bikes in 1972, during the first "bike boom", and "gas crunch", and I think it's just cool to see an old Raleigh or Peugeot back on the road . I have never been hit by a vehicle. Yes, I've had a few close ones, though, from which I learned pretty quick.

I rode to school every day, oh, never mind....

I decided that the only way to help the CT bike- cause is to do a " route audit". If ACA has some data from someone who has actually ridden it recently, maybe they'll move forward.

This route was originally posted by someone on the original Blue lined printed maps,then adapted to GPS sites.

Again, to accurately assess how a route is you have to ride it and take notes. I thought shooting some video would be a good idea as well. Some of it may bore you, but it's more for the data anyway.

GPS seems to be the rage these days, but I still love the old tour books, where the guy writes stuff like "Turn left at the old Oak Tree, watch out for chickens in the road".

I made some modifications to the route, to include a couple more back roads that I thought were amazing and quiet. Again, please be advised: GPS websites are still in their infancy. They can be glitchy, and often you have to go back and manually edit the directions ("cue") sheet because the satellites do weird things like make left turns into right turns. If you ride the route and there's an error somewhere just let me know. I'll fix it. But the cue sheet looked okay this time around, after doing the ride and taking notes.

Street names on the signs can change, and the satellite doesn't recognize that. So in re-mapping it, the cue sheet came out much better, but for some reason the RWGPS site now won't let you go back and edit the cue sheet like it did before (sigh.). You can edit the "trip" which is not the same. Hopefully soon they will have this bug fixed. I will update as soon as possible. But the RWGPS guys are cool, they listen.

On the plus side, you can download this route right onto your Garmin, and it comes up pretty accurate. I am still "old school", and still believe in lugging a good old Hagstrom map.

I asked a guy on a mountain bike what the name of the road we were on was. he whips out his Iphone and pulls up MapQuest. Do people still use Mapquest?

Here's the route:

Getting across this state can be brutal. In areas further south, and down toward Litchfield County towards NYC, the hills, traffic and the bridge crossings across the CT river are the main factors. I have read blogs by people on touring bikes on sites like "", and they say things like: "OMG, I just rode across the US, we did the Continental divide , and the hills here were far worse! My wife threatened divorce!!!"

Last year, I tried to go down route 7 into Danbury on a Sunday. I was passed every four seconds by an SUV. I thought I was going to pass out from the car exhaust, and so opted for a road that went over the Taconic Mountains from Bulls' Bridge. Great road, but two hours of absolutely brutal climbing to get to Route 22. Lesson learned. But I would do that road again. You should have seen the game farm and the horse stables at the top of the mountain. The western edge of CT was engaged in an interesting border war with NY in the 1700's. And the land has remained unchanged. That's one amazing thing about CT, how this state is a step back in time.

You can look at any map and say, "Ok! here's a better route!" But, what is it actually like to ride it? What is CT really like in terms of scenery and culture? am hoping this blog and my video will take some of the mystery out, and invite people to ride across the "Nutmeg State", and get to Boston, Maine, and points north safely.

S0, I shot video, apologies for being unrehearsed and spontaneous, I have to stop going "uh", but I do that when my brain is so full of serotonin, and I'm trying to gather my thoughts.

About an hour ago, as I rode downtown, a cute teenage girl almost turned right at an intersection, across the bike lane , setting me up for the classic "right hook. " .

Motorists here in West Hartford are just not used to proper protocol when turning.

Of course, she didn't use her turn signal, and tried to turn right from the left hand lane, which was marked left turn only. The reason she got into that lane was to inch past me. But, as usual, I was ready for this, and braked while she confusedly crossed my path, like "OMG! a guy on a bike!"

About 40 vehicles witnessed this. And nobody cared.

Folks, if you are going through an intersection, and you are in the left lane, a cyclist in the right lane is just gonna assume you are either turning left or going straight. Please don't suddenly swoop to the right, you will run somebody over. It won't be me, though, it will be your kid's teacher, your doctor, maybe even a Congresswoman (Beth Bye cycle commutes into Hartford)

Again, the intention is to educate an out-of state touring cyclist about CT, so we get with the US Bike Route program like everyone else.

The trip begins:

After stuffing myself to the gills at Hometown Buffet In West Hartford with pancakes and eggs, I had some friends schlep me to Millerton NY in their minivan. This was great, because I didn't have to take all the bags and wheels off the bike. It was a stunning day, a bit on the warm side, but not too bad. (I could have ridden all the way up there, but it would have taken most of one day, and the climb up route 44 after Winstead is long and monotonous.)

We had a couple more days of depresso-rain several days prior, turning all of New England into a cambodian jungle and causing the weeds in my garden to erupt with all the moisture. But the air was crisp and people were in a good mood.

Millerton NY is a fun place. A tiny town right on the CT border, it has enough touristy stuff going on to attract crowds from both states. But it seemed to be mostly NY'ers. You can tell in two seconds by the accents and the mannerisms.

The Harlem Valley Rail trail starts there, and some families do a thirty mile ride that starts on the trail, then goes through Sharon CT and other parts of CT/NY.

This trail has great pavement quality, and meanders along a gorgeous trout stream, and through some swamps and farmlands. Last year, on a fully loaded bike, I jumped on it to escape the truck- fumes on route 22, and I had a blast.

Rail Trails in CT don't seem to have as good pavement quality, and the tree roots push through in places. But this was smooth as silk. I highly recommend this if you ride with kids.

There's plenty of great food in Millerton, great pizza, coffee, even a traditional diner! Up the hill, on one of the side streets, you can find more upscale restaurants , as well as a very nice bed and breakfast, called "Simmons Way". Not exactly cheap at 180 to 240 bucks a night, but I'm sure they will pamper you well. A beautiful victorian style house. I give them kudos because the owner lady was kinda cute, said I could use the bathroom, even though I looked a bit scroungy. See the video.

Because the riding and terrain change so dramatically after you cross the border, I highly advocate looking at bedding down in this area before taking on CT. You will need to be well rested and "fresh" . You need to start CT in a good mood.

I do believe there are a few campgrounds just to the west, in NY, I am still researching this. Since you will be coming across NY anyway, you will probably have a handle on all this, as well as the fact that you can often camp for free on NY State lands for one night. But that does carry some perils....

I also think that west of the CT river , you need an advance permit, which requires a ridiculously long waiting list or some serious political connections. Places like People's State Forest along the Farmington river are stunning, but hard to get into. There is a private campground near route 8, and I will update that here as soon as I figure it out. Probably 40 bucks a night. A hot shower is noteworthy.

Since I am doing this as a volunteer on a painfully limited budget, I did stay by permission one night on private land, and camped unobtrusively (no fire) once on what I think was State land east of the river. I later heard (old guy on wooden chair at gas station) that the rangers are cool with that, unlike bustling Hartford County.

This could be termed "stealth" camping, or maybe not, as the land was not posted. But after riding all day, I had to make quick decisions and just get bedded down before sunset. Quite frankly , at the time I was so tired I just didn't care....

For the traveller coming in from NY, I suggest just doing google searches for motels , campgrounds and such at around the 40 mile marker. around the vicinity of Granby. You might be able to stay at Holcomb Farm, (which is on my video) , by permission.

It's an organic farm and food co-op, and I sense they'd be ok with a group of burned out touring hobos. There are picnic tables, which is huge in my book. You have to see this property. It's freaking awesome. They have regular music events there with acoustic guitars. Good sign indeed.

In all, the 40 mile intro in CT can be done in just a few hours, there's a lot of fast descending.
219 will blow you away.

Leave at dawn, set up camp, and take the rest of the day off to swim, go antiquing etc! End your ride at noon! After plodding across the cornfields of The Hudson Valley in NY in the scorching sun, dodging pickups, you will welcome lounging in the shade by a cool New England brook.

One important note: If you need bike stuff, services are SPARSE (!!!) on this route. Get your tubes in Millerton at the bike shop in the video. I usually carry four spare tubes, along with a Zillion patches, boots, etc. And an extra tire. (which I ended up using later).

After blowing that rear tire in Cannan, I wanted an extra backup tube, but couldn't even find a Wal-mart, Target, etc.

I started getting....paranoid....

Hippy- frugalness and just wanting a break, I decided to "boot" the rear tire to save the spare further, and the tire lasted all the way to the finish, even though the high-tech "flatproof" kevlar sidewall had a half inch hole in it.

The next time I go touring, I will bring a pulley and some rope and hoist the rear wheel up into a tree so I don't end up spilling my pannier bags all over the place.

I'm not anal enough to make a "packing list" like some guys. The trade off being that the tool you need is always buried deep in some pocket you swore you'd never forget. I spent probably two hours fooling around in the park, waiting for the glue to cure in the sun, and throwing my boomerang, which is probably legal since it's not a firearm. But doing anything slightly out of the ordinary here will attract attention , so beware. :)

I still made it to Pleasant Valley by dusk, which again, is where you really should be anyway, as you want to be ready for tomorrow's climbing and descending, and getting across the 140 bridge in Windsor Locks. That is a lot more metro-combat. Remember, I started the ride at noon, and fooled around a lot.

We almost never have loaded mule- bikes here, and this baffles the living shit out of most motorists. During the whole two day ride, I saw only one loaded bike. The guy was also riding wierdly uphill on route 219 against traffic, no strobe. But maybe he had just dropped something in the road, I will let him slide. I suspect he was heavily medicated. He looked spaced out, but had a very nice bike loaded with Ortleibs.

In the rolling hills into Lakeville and Sharon, the roads are often VERY narrow and winding, and vehicles WILL pass you on turns with a double yellow. They do this at incredibly high speeds. They will happily whip a mirror past your left ear at 65 MPH. If you have never had this happen, I guarantee it will make you stop and ponder.

Solution: keep an eye out in your helmet mirror to constantly gauge the "running of the bulls" as they stampede from behind. You can then see if you need to pull over or not. I am never afraid to simply stop. It has saved my life here many times.

In places like Riverton, you will often see a lot of racer cycling groups, which often enrage some locals as they groggily drive home from the biker- bars at 6:30 AM. I did notice on sunday morning the hammer-head cycling groups were on the road at 6:12,, in large numbers. They looked good, I wanted to join them. (I ride fast also).

Ted's Tour" is dedicated to the death of a carpet- fiber roadie who was hit by a DUI (drunk guy) while he stood at an intersection in East Hartland, hitting his water bottle. I saw that intersection at exactly the same time. Eerie.

The driver blew a stop sign and came around a bend, hitting the two cyclists at 50 MPH. One death, one paralyzed for life. One was a CEO of a major company in Hartford.

Don't even ask me about the Henry Dang case in Windsor Locks. Just Google it.

CT motorists also don't seem to grasp the concept of turning on their headlights when it's dark or raining. I hate this. Last night, I counted five vehicles with no lights on while I went to the store. I am the guy yelling "turn your effing lights on". WTF is with that.

CT motorists cannot be bothered with ever using their turn signals. They have to put down the phone to do that.

The cops here rarely do speed traps. They spend a lot of time watching construction zones, where in NY they have cute girls waving orange flags.

NY has far tougher laws, and you will see that they actually enforce that if you ride or drive there. Get a DUI there and you must get a breathalyzer device in your car, and you must pay for it.

Beware the dreaded pearl- white Lexus SUV. I fear this vehicle the most. Taking a vehicle that is supposed to go off-road and seductively softening it's look with enhanced aerodynamics and a cute little spoiler is downright.... diabolical. Add to this an array of electronic devices and you now have a true weapon of war. At the helm is usually the ubiquitous soccer-mom, out of her mind on Vicadin, fighting with her divorce lawyer on the Iphone while the kids crank up another round of Sponge Bob in the back.

Ironically, the common but more archaic looking Hummer H-2's go slower than them, but we have tons of Hummers here. These you can at least hear coming from behind.
We also have tons of Lincoln Navigators, and all the other insanity of, I have to say it once more.... American Consumerism.
However, when a Hummer comes at you here it lumbers, like the giant rodeo bull Fu- Manchu, trying to just get somewhere.

Beware the gardening trucks, loaded to the gills and pulling trailers, In Litchfield County there are lots of mansions, and thus lots of grass to mow. The drivers are many times immigrants and they often drive poorly. We do not give Immigrants OSHA training here.

Nothing wrong with mansions, growing grass, gardening trucks, or immigrants, I'm just saying keep an eye open.

Just survive.

Also boat trailers. Like Bass Boats. You won't see too many motor homes here, though.

In with this mix, there are enough harassing Billy-Bob rednecks in smoky old Chevy 350's to keep your heart rate up. Often, they are out carousing, trying to pick up those lonely soccer-moms.

One technique I love to use on them is just slam on the brakes when they try to sneak up on you to yell stupid insults or throw Bud Light cans. (I've never had anything thrown at me, though).

This is especially fun past 20 MPH, as it takes 50 yards for them to stop all that weight. Often they won't bother backing up to continue their antics. If they do, just make a U-turn, and escape.
Another note: you will see far more Bud Light cans in the ditch west of the CT river than you will to the east. Interesting. You will also see more church steeples.

I rest my case.

West of the river, the other type of pseudo- SUV is young Biff in Daddy's SUV. Biff is now out of boarding school for the summer , and is bored and out to raise hell. He just broke up with his girlfriend Tammy, and so is feeling a bit off center today. (She just sent him another text message) . Biff is usually high on Ritalin, and maybe pumped on steroids.

And there are tons of them here, as CT breeds tons of kids. Usually, Biff has a Bad Boyz sticker in the rear window. Fortunately you can hear him coming, as he usually has rap music playing.

Use your rear view mirrors here every ten seconds. If you make eye contact with motorists here, expect to get harassed. CT is wierd with this. It's a "WTF are you looking at?" My momma always told me it's not polite to stare.

If people give you a look like they are disgusted with you or you smell bad, get used to it, that's a CT thing. Anything that's the slightest bit different from the norm here is scrutinized. If they don't like the shoes you are wearing they will call the police.

Just roll with it, once you get over the 140 bridge, it gets better.
There are a couple houses along 44 with annoying dogs who will chase you. I was chased 1/4 mile up a hill climb by three yappy-nippy dogs , right at my heels. I outran them, but only because I couldn't grab my horse riding-crop quickly enough. CT is in love with Bichon Frise poodles, beagles, Jack Terriers, and such. A couple years ago, pugs were the rage. But I think pugs only live 5 years. (sigh.)

These breeds tend to be more active than the larger dogs, in my opinion. I can't beleive the dogs chased me down 44, it's a major road. The owner, a ratty looking obese woman (like you'd see on Jerry Springer) also ran several hundred yards up the hill after them, with her slippers on. This was pretty humorous.

Once you get to about Norfolk, however, things start to look better, at least for awhile.

But please use the shoulder as much as possible. Don't take the lane on a 50 MPH CT road.

West of the river, you will have to endure riding in the "crap" on the shoulder a lot of the time, if you don't leave at 5;30 AM. Hopefully you have Schwalbe Marathons. Nice wide ones.

Don't be in a hurry on climbs. Just remember, the drivers here are in a hurry because th
eir mode of transportation enables them to be. And despite gas being 4.69 a gallon, they still put the hammer down. It's a consumtion contest, really.

Extreme caution going through Winsted. Note in the video I called it 'Winchester" at first, I correct myself here.

Just go slowly, and be careful of cars zipping in front of you to get to the gas stations, McDonald's etc. This town is pretty post WWII- depresso, and you must be "lock and load' vigilant. Lots of glass , junk in the road. They just opened up a new gun shop, the "Semi-auto Gun Shoppe".

My van broke down here once after the legendary FalconRidge Folk Festival. I had been sleeping in tents and playing guitars all night for three days. Arlo Guthrie ended the event with the best war protest song I ever heard, "when a soldier makes it home" (see You Tube).

Steam was coming out of my engine, so they called fire trucks, and about 8 cop cars showed up, even one with the big mean nasty ugly German Shepherd in the back. The cops weren't very nice either. They took 8 by 10 color glossies with circles and arrows....

I had an acoustic guitar in the back, and that means, in their minds I'm some sort of weed grower. I really am a trouble maker, going to Yoga classes and folk festivals.

Putting an orange flag on your bike is not a bad idea here, as CT drivers love to also pass each other on the right, and will zip into the shoulder. I didn't use a flag on this trip, but may get one next time, just for the metro areas. Oh but the aero-drag.... And the dork factor....

I considered coming back on route 6 from Brooklyn CT to Hartford. It's also known as "suicide 6" because this road is so incredibly fast, and vehicles get impatient and try to pass on the right. (I opted for route 66, which was easier, but still required advanced roadbike skills in many places). When they pass on the right, they then slam into some poor sucker trying to come out of his driveway on a bend in the road. White crosses dot the ditches here.

Legend has it this road is haunted.

(In all, though, on this ride, I had few problems, but then again, I'm used to riding here) .

Now the story gets better...

Back to the warm fuzzy part!!!! (well, slowly)

I left Pleasant Valley around 8 AM the next morning. It was quite chilly near the river, but it was quiet and the air was sweet.

You will hit some uphill climbs for the next few miles, some will get you breathing hard. This is challenging so early in the morning, so take it slow. Check out all the old houses , built in the 1700's. How cool is that?

Eventually, though, once you hit 219, you get a screaming, fabulous descent into Granby and then you can find services . Supermarkets, etc. There's a bike shop on Route 10/202 called, creatively, "Granby Bike Shop", but they are closed on Sundays. Good idea to call ahead for their hours.

CT businesses often have wierd hours, they open at 10 AM, for example. To their credit, though, it's not a "Shoppe."

The ride on route 20 from Granby to East Granby to Windsor Locks gets gradually more intense with vehicularity. Make sure you get on "old" Rainbow Road to stay away from the insane airport traffic, this fork is easy to miss.

I did miss it myself. You can't go on 20 near the airport, it's state highway, so you have to use Rainbow Road, then get on route 75 (Poquonnock Ave) to get to Windsor Locks. If you go on the highway 27 cop cars will come out of nowhere.

This whole part of the ride is all "lock and load"metro riding. Just go slow, and be vigilant. There's a lot of glass in the shoulder in places, don't swerve into the lane to avoid it, you will get killed.

The section on the map approaching the 140 bridge (Warehouse Point) goes through some suburbia to keep you off the main roads. That part was okay for me, no issues.
The 140 bridge was pretty easy to cross. Nice wide shoulder, a raised sidewalk even.

Then you Carbon-Monoxide battle your way down route 5 for a bit, then cut to the East on some backroads. This is where the ride will instantly improve. East Windsor is gorgeous, lots of old farms, nurseries, and drivers here didn't seem to be in a raging hurry. In fact, I was often blessed with the road to myself for awhile here and there.

I didn't have to check my helmet mirror every two seconds.

I stopped at Ellington at the BIG Y Supermarket and got some food for breakfast. It was later into the afternoon at this point. I was a bit.... paranoid..... that I wouldn't find services for a while, and this turned out to be a good move. Stafford Springs, however, further down has everything you might need, I think they also have a Wal-Mart, so you can score bike tubes and stuff there.

The climb on 140 up toward Crystal Lake wasn't too bad. You go up some decent elevation. I thought it was going to be a lot worse. But the air was much cooler. I stayed next to a stunning pond that was spring fed.
The ponds and lakes out toward the east look a bit skanky from the road, but the dark tannin stained water is actually pure and amazing. There's just a lot of peat in the water. I highly reccomend taking a full swim . I floated around on my air mattress, and the road buzz was soon gone. I felt great.

The next stretch going into Stafford Springs was fabulous. This is where you start to feel that you have entered CT's heartland. I took off my helmet on the hill climbs. I rarely ride without a helmet, this felt wonderful.

Challenging climbs, unbeleivably fast descents. (put helmet back on). The shoulders here are wide and the roads are well maintained.
I started meeting nice people too. They were sincere, like impressed that I would do such a thing. The compliments weren't back-handed.

I was glad to find a 7-11 in Stafford Springs, on Main street. I was able to charge my cam-corder battery there. There are some pretty wierd looking restaurants. Across the street there's a seafood restaurant/bar in a strange old Victorian building. Residents here were freindly, though, and I had no problems.

Getting out of town and onto 190 East however took some plotting. But navigating this metropolis wasn't too difficult. I made sure I drank water at every opportunity. I probably consumed four gallons that day. The sun was beating down, it was pretty hot, and I was slathered in layers of SPF 30 sunscreen.

Route 19o takes you through Union, which is really just a hamlet, but you go through Nipmunk State Forest, and over Bald Hill, then route 171 to route 197. Be sure to stop at Bigelow Hollow State Park and go for a swim!

You are above 5700 feet elevation in this area, by the way, so the air will be cooler. Bigelow Hollow Lake is spring fed, cold and beautiful. I ended up messing up a little, and going south on 198 to Woodstock Valley, then East on route 171 to West Woodstock, and then on to County Road. I was actually glad I made this error, as these smaller roads were just incredible. I liked it so much that I changed the route. There is also a great Deli in Woodstock Valley in the middle of nowhere. And they will make you a Boar's Head sandwich. I talked to some very cool peaople there also.

One guy I met said that most men here do some sort of machinery work. there's a lot of mechanical/industrial type work around here, some guys probably contracted at the Groton sub base to the south, then migrated north later on. I got a firm, sincere handshake, which is rare west of the river. Again, I forget the name of this Deli but you can't miss it. Nice place.

"Ye Olde Middle of Freakinge Nowhere Deli"

So, the County Road goes through untouched cycling Nirvana. This deli is about two miles from its entrance.

I hit 169 North and was back on track to reconnect to 197 East to Quinnebaug, then 131 East to Fabyan and Grosvenordale, then route 12 North to Wilsonville.

Wilsonville demands some caution, as it's a small town, at the top of a "knob", featuring winding hilly roads, but it's sleepy enough, so you can still relax. Beware of dogs. Possums. Banjo music wafts in the cool air. I sense that the locals drive slow through here, no desire to flatten somebody's kid.

Eventually, Wilsonville Road dumps you out onto Route 193 North , which is a piece of cake. More services, including a place to buy beer to celebrate hitting the border, can be found right near the CT/MA border.

There is a good looking lake at 3160 feet elevation down the road , you can see it on the right. If you still hold a three day fishing license from CT, consider stopping there. There is a fish logo as I look at the map, so it must be pretty decent.

Above this, in MA, you are in Webster, which is below Worcester. The elevation drops down to about 700 feet so I think you might get some great descending coming up.

I've diven through Worcester, it was not fun. Too many rotaries and fast traffic, but hopefully a good cycling route can be found to bypass the area and get you through eastern MA and to points further north.

If you are considering connecting to MA at a point further south than Thompson, so you can go along the shore, you probably won't have a lot of road problems if you alter the route I posted. The roads are all pretty decent.

In summary, I had a great ride. I was stunned by what CT has to offer, and I was grateful to finally see "both sides" of the state. I ended up staying at a friend's house where they fed me to the gills for the arduous journey back on route 66 through Hartford.

If you are a ripping fast tourist, you could probably "do the state" in two days, (why do people "do' inanimate objects?) maybe even one day! But you will miss out on so much.

I highly encourage you to just take it easy, go for a swim, hit some art galleries, whatever, you will have plenty of time.

The climbing here is indeed challenging, so be ready.

You Must hydrate beyond what you think you really need.

But the descents will amaze you also.
Just remember: Check your equipment out thoroughly, make sure you get those last minute bike supplies, as those services are sparse right along the route. But other services are adequate.
If you hate sleeping in tents, (I actually prefer this as I am paranoid about bed- bugs in haunted New England hotels) I am sure you can find motels, etc. with some creative Googling.

That's it, have a great ride and may the wind be at your back! :)

Peace out, prayers to those in combat. May the winde be at thy backside.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Igor: Ghetto cycling legend

I finally flagged down Igor again.
I met him two years ago, riding a decent Panasonic road frame with ape bars, cigar in mouth, on the sidewalk.

Turns out he is a Chernobyl survivor/refugee. He said he used to be a driving instructor in Russia. But then he had a brain aneurism. he has a huge horseshoe shaped scar on his bald head, and is missing most of his upper teeth.

We went to the basement of his old apartment bulding, where he gave me tons of bike parts, saddles, and jars full of precious bike bolts, nuts, fittings, stuff that has saved many bikes in the past. Itty Bitty parts that can take weeks to find in a search, he strips them at the curb .

"I was homeless for a while, I slept here" (pointing to the front of a wire caged storage space)

"But one night a fucking rat ran right up my leg, so I got out".

He was often seen riding against traffic. Remember, he was a driving instructor, so he knows everything.

"When these Americans buzz me in big giant SUV's I give them the finger. Fuck you!!! (waves hand dismissively

" I tried to grow a weed plant right here (points to doorway window) but the cops told me to get rid of."

"Oh man, when the Nuke plant blew, they came down my street, hosing everything down"

"I hate all Italians. They are suckers."

I ended up buying this man's bike. Forty bucks. No one else wanted it with the wierd Ape-bars, and the honker horn. I let him remove the water bottle cage.

Tange double butted Chromoly panasonic Sport 1000, left chainstay slightly bent but can be cold-set back easily. I plan on keeping this in my fleet.

Today is July 4th, and America is quiet, either everyone is at the beach or recovering from their hangovers. In a few minutes I will do a 50 miler. The weather is okay.

Some days when I think that times are hard here in CT, I think about guys like Igor.

I also think about the soldiers I have met recently at the VA hospital. Legs missing, facial burns, many are heavily medicated zombies, ready to blow at any second.

The fashion show in Blueback Square is at a lull today, but beautiful people are strutting around like peacocks eating ice cream and sipping lattes.

When you reminisce about bikes with Igor, however, his face changes and he looks like he's 8 years old.

Peace out, prayers to those in combat.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Stupid Light

I am chuckling to myself as I sit here in my underwear with a giant bowl of Barilla pasta , reflecting on today's wonderful winter ride.

28 miles, bitter cold out, the wind at certain points was, well, yes, excruciating. But I rode quite well, despite having one of those headcolds where you can still function. No high fever or depression. The sun shone brilliantly off the snowbanks and the air was crisp.

I am falling in love with this gaspipe 70's Panasonic, it's not the frame materials, but the design and geometry. The bike handles amazingly, all japanese-Ninja, and that was a big help today in dealing with the ruts of ice on the roads. This makes me happy. It doesn't take much, especially these days.

After having a couple more warm fuzzy moments with a few other bike-friends downtown, I saddled up once again and headed home.

The unthinkable happened.

Standing up on the pegs for a hard sprint across Trout Brook Drive toward the hill, ( a huge intersection with fast traffic, two lanes) , my Shimano Hyperglide chain snapped.

But how could that happen? Those chains cost 24.99!!! (The better ones are 45.00!!!)

Fortunately, I had no traffic waiting impatiently behind me. The start of the plummet sent me into a forward lurch, to the side. The bike swerved to the right, and wobbled for maybe ten feet. My testicles hit the pump, which was strapped on top of the top tube. I think this absorbed some of the blow. (I am not hurt, it was a mild impact, thanks for not laughing at me)

I am amazed at how I righted myself, it felt like I had just fallen off a balance beam and my torso was below my legs. How I got myself up again is a mystery. I fought for it, even though I was half frozen.

Thank God I was not "clipped in". I use toe straps, and have been using those since I was 10. (I do use modern "clips" on longer rides) I was able to extricate my left foor first, then my right.

Toe straps scare a lot of people, but in my opinion, you can actually get your foot out easier. The key is to not always crank the straps wicked tight. To me, pulling your foot backward is a much more natural movement than trying to twist your ankle. When you cringe in fear, your hamstrings will flex, so instinctively you will "pull out".

I only use clips on really long rides, never in heavy traffic. Only when it's sunny, and the wind is from the northwest.

I had to walk home, only about a half mile, I could have re-pinned the chain, but wasn't in the mood to fumble with tools and cold hands on bare steel.

The racy bikes that everybody rides these days have very narrow chains to accomodate the extra gears. I ended up buying this chain because it was all they had in the shop.

The chain I broke was a 7-8 speed Shimano Hyperglide, I always kept it clean, well lubed. This is the second one I have broken in less than a year.

Both chains have broken at least twice. I am extremely careful in re-pinning them also, being careful not to damage the plates. I also check them by flexing the link repeatedly laterally. I am not sure I trust those new "masterlinks" they look too fragile.

These chains are also easily damaged by "cross chaining", something you could usually get away with in the old days. That's when you are in the big rings on both ends.

Sometimes I found that useful to suddenly power up a sharp incline after a quick descent. You just get a quick boost. But apparently if you do this on the new chains, they cannot handle the lateral torque, and I think the plates bend. I've read many posts about this on various forums, the debate rages on.

Insults fly. NATO goes to Yellow Alert. In this case it's the French vs. The Japanese.

The tried and true Sedis (now Sedisport, a division of SRAM) chains are only 8.99 , and I have never snapped one. However, I'm not sure if they make them as narrow as the Shimanos. But all I need is a 5-6 speed.

I don't care if they are heavier. Somebody said the quality isn't as good now, but there's a lot of bashing on the 'net. We'll see. I am sure you can still get them NOS from places like or Harris Cyclery.

I hear they make chains now with hollow pins. That's insanity. I think these cost around $100.00.

If you are an agressive rider, do a lot of climbing, sprinting , or are overweight and you're riding a road bike with 18 or more speeds, it's not a bad idea to replace your chain once a season. Your freewheel will last a lot longer anyway, and you owe it to yourself.

After all, if you just plopped down a ton on money on a road bike, you won't enjoy it much with a case of traumatic brain injury.

It happens fast, trust me.

peace out.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Granby cowpie solo adventure

68 miles today, Through the cow country of various rural towns and a chunk of Mass.

Pics on the site.

I was stunned at how beautiful the scenery was on this route. The roads were perfection, and everyone I encountered was nice.

I have decided to make this a winter playground, There's enough open space to get some sunlight into your brain, as opposed to some of the mountain rides I've been doing , where you are tucked into the side of a mountain, where it's darker and colder.

But by the time I got done eating my soup and sandwich , It was 3:30 PM . The temp was starting to drop.

The Granville store gets a C+ for service. Yo!!! I asked for Rye bread , not white (but ate it anyway, I don't get picky when riding, just when i'm blogging) . The chili was decent, but they ran out of coffee. For sandwiches in rural places, The Riverton General store totally gets the velo-kudo award. I just feel like bitching about something.

Hey, I just rode farther than most people drive in a weekend, so there!

But they were your typical rickety old Country store couple, so I'm cool with that. Hell, they're still in business, I've seen so many close down lately.

Plus I think they're the only game in town so if you are freezing to death or freaking out, it's a welcome sight.

Wisely, I cut off a least segment of the route and went around Newgate instead, I didn't want to be on fast roads with pickup trucks on Halloween weekend.

Headline: "CT Cyclist killed by farmer tripping on acid".

The Congamond Lake area is pretty cool, but I bet it's insane in the summer. I do have a fondness for party lakes, though, with house boats and bass-boats. As a kid, some of the most fun I ever had was wailing around in a grumman john-boat with a 1957 Johnson 20 horse outboard, that always started on the first pull.

Lakes like that always have great bass fishing. Especially at night after the water-skiers go home, then the fish start feeding.

A great ride through stunning country. I've been meaning to connect more with this area, and this one did the trick.

Today's road-swag finds were great:
-Half roll of black Gorilla duct tape
- A perfectly ok Araya alloy 7ooc road wheel with a way-cool Edco sealed hub

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New blog

Just a quick note, I have another blog going on now. I might still keep posting here on random thoughts, this blog is more geared to mature riders.
Here's the new one, I do like their layout options more, but Tumblr is a bit quirky.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Indian summer

We've done some amazing, slamming rides lately. Steep climbs that take forever, 50 MPH Descents that take minutes, but rob you of body heat, and further drain you with exhiliration.

We are a rag-tag bunch, from all walks of life, but somehow just "let go", and accept each other's rough edges. We are slowly getting better at the choreography of road cycling.

If you've never ridden drop-bar with other people, you might laugh and call that a bit cliche, but that makes you a non-cyclist, or maybe a loner, so I must dismiss you.

Who are you?

When you are riding down a mountain at 30 MPH, half frozen, talking over your left shoulder to someone you have just met at 7 AM, there is really a "dance" involved.

By "dance", I mean, you make sure your wheels don't collide and rub, which causes crashes, which then, of course, alter people's lives.

It's fairly easy to assess who grasps this, and who does not. Fortunately, the ones who do not don't hang around very long.

Thanks, you know who you are!

Peace out,


You are just keeping one eye open on the rider, one eye on traffic approaching from behind, and somehow, one eye forward-ho...

Monday, August 16, 2010

New York southbound 250 miler

I just rode 250 miles round trip to lower Westchester County and back. I visited my mom. She is convinced I've lost my mind.

I'm sure I easily did 20,000 feet or more of climbing, with 40 pounds of gear.

After dropping off from the group in North Cannan, after a 50 miler, the real journey began. It was 100 degrees at noon. I switched bikes and loaded up the mule. The light, graceful motobecane was shuttled home on the bus.

I quickly inhaled some chicken and baked beans and bread on the camp stove, drank as much free Mcdonald's soda water with ice (awesome) as I could stand, and we headed down route 44 to route 22. There was a pain in the ass ascent into Lakeville, then it was downhill to Millerton over the Taconic mountains and then a left turn onto route 22 south.

22 is a touring bike road. You have to get used to trucks whizzing past at 65 MPH. It's noisy.

The road is wide enough, though, so you can survive riding on the shoulder. It is stunning scenery, rolling farmland pretty much all the way down to about Pawling, where the NY sprawl begins, and you start to see pizza shops and stores selling plastic lawn furniture. Things get increasingly Italian in Pawling.

Camping was all done for free, the first night was in the NY state owned "Wassaic multi-use area", which made me a little nervous with all the rednecks driving around at night in the field with their pickups. But they were probably running their gun dogs, no big deal. It was along Wassaic creek.

The next morning the propane stove decides to melt down . So the "backup" hobo wood stove is used to boil water for coffee. This takes forever. Finally, after drinking two cups, a gas station is discovered 1/4 mile down the road around the bend. I had assumed we were in the middle of nowhere until that point. All that time is wasted.

The rest of the trip down is pretty much fueled by turkey sandwiches, turkey bagels, doritos, and apples picked from various trees. The rest of the cheap Aldi oatmeal is consumed en route.

Camping that night was done in a lower -middle class couple's yard in Pound Ridge, next to an 18th century graveyard, where you can't read the writing on the stones anymore. The graves are all made anonymous from acid rain. At first, you are rejected by the rich horse farmer/corporate lawyer and his stunning wife, who smiles and waves as you ride past, so you decide to ask them if it's okay to camp there... but the guy is a type A prick, and it just doesn't jibe.

Pound Ridge and Bedford is amazing, though. We take a tour for maybe 12-15 miles of amazing mansions, horse farms, etc. Drivers are all cool, no hassles whatsoever. I almost fell madly in love with the barista at a hoidy-toidy coffeeshop in Bedford, Eileen. She hooks me up with a free refill after I tell her about my odyssey.

A box of spinach pasta is passed up because it's 12.99 a pound.

"don't worry, Rob the owner of this place can't even afford that stuff. Go to the A&P right up the road..."

Richard Gere has a restaurant there. You ride horses around, then go eat. Pretty cool idea.

People apparently ride these horses down rt 22 which is amazing as well.

This is where all the celebs live. Dave Letterman, Mick Jagger, etc. etc. I've come to the conclusion that Bedford-Banksville road is quite possibly the prettiest road I've ever ridden.

The ride home is more difficult because of the searing heat. I consumed about 4 gallons of water that day. I concluded that two slices of sicilian pizza with anchovies is good for about 3 hours of intense hauling. I burned all of it. No fat added to my waist.

Many stops are made at farm stands on the way home. This is just too much fun. Some of these operations are actually pretty huge, you just don't realize it until you walk behind the place and play with the dogs a little, talk to the college girls who who are chattering away, setting up the displays.

The air is thick with the smell of cow manure, but there's a nice breeze.

At one point, you have to get off the bike for 15 minutes because "road hypnosis" has set in. You are trying to figure out if it's fatigue or dehydration, but it's not. It's just the monotony is starting to get to you. So you drink another gallon of water, put your feet up on a picnic table and take a cat nap. Ten minutes later, you're up and running again for another 20 miles.

Camping that night is on the lawn behind a Paramedic station, by permission, of course. A nice, safe place. A halogen streetlight illumintates the camp, saving precious battery time.

The "penny stove" is used this time. It's made from two sections of beer can, weighs nothing, burns alcohol. A reasonable pasta meal is made in rapid fashion. The alcohol is isopropyl, gas line antifreeze. The cheap stuff is $1.50 a bottle, the better stuff is known as HEET, which is Methyl alcohol, Burns very hot, but is more dangerous, becasue the flame can be invisible at times.

You can also burn grain alcohol, if you decide not to get rip-roaring drunk while cooking with it. This is far more expensive, but burns the best and cleanest. Flaming french deserts use it.

One thing I like about these stoves is they are quiet, unlike my MSR white gas backpack stove that sounds like a rocket engine. I'd rather hear the crickets.

The rest of the journey down rt 44 is pretty uneventful. You encounter a few obnoxious inquirers who have some opinions to dump on you, but succeed in fending them off. One woman tells you
"you gonna end up dead before you get there!"

Yeah, thanks...

Lately when people start asking questions about my equipment, my riding, I now ask if they ride bikes too before responding. This will often clue you in as to their intentions. Many times they start off nice, then at the end try to dump some toxic opinion on you. I just don't have the time for this anymore.

The best part of doing a trip like this is the sleep. You fall asleep in seconds after hitting your air mattress. Then you wake up at dawn, like you're supposed to, the birds wake you up . Your body is rapidly put into sync with your circadian rhythym , early to bed early to rise. No farting around with laptops and such late at night.

Owls Hoot.
Coyotes yelp off across the reservoir.
NY has Kestrels, Cooper's Hawks, Falcons. they swoop across the road.

The bike performs admirably. I am getting much better at the art of load balancing. You cannot put weight over the front wheel, it screws up the handling. Even the weight of an air matress messes up the feel.

Eventually, you'll get a "real" front rack, panniers, etc. but this is fine for three day trips. It's an old Bridgestone mountain bike with cantilever brakes converted to drop-bar with a short stem. It's grey and pretty ugly, but at the same time beautiful in its stockiness.

It's whisper quiet, especially on the descents. I love that. If you get "blown off ' the road into a ditch, the wider slick tires might save your life. These new tires are surprisingly fast also.

I always fly the American flag on the rear. If people think you are going cross-country, they might not harass you . Or you can say you're an Iraq war vet, and the rednecks will then leave
you alone.

I do see some absurdity and some irony in that.