Saturday, July 30, 2011

Making Tracks with the Saratoga & North Creek RR

In preparation for a visit to the Albany, NY area, I visited the website of the Mohawk & Hudson Cycling Club (http://webmhcc.org), my old bike club, to see what group rides they had scheduled. I noticed an announcement that the Saratoga & North Creek Railroad was allowing bicycles on board at no extra charge. I visited the S&NCRR website (http://www.sncrr.com/) and it seemed that the schedule could fit nicely into our itinerary. My wife and I were planning to bring our tandem with us anyway, so we decided to check out the train and, if they could accommodate such a long bike, we'd board The Hudson Explorer at Saratoga Springs at 10 am, ride it to the terminus at North Creek, and then ride the tandem back to our car in Saratoga.

The 1885 Hadley Parabolic Bridge as seen from the train
Arriving at the station a little after 9 am, we were told that they could indeed fit our 90” tandem on board, so we bought our tickets and boarded. The dome car had been sold out, but there were lots of seats available in the air conditioned double-decker car. After a somewhat slow start on the way out of Saratoga, the train sped up to around 30 mph, which was slow enough to allow us to see the scenery, but fast enough to avoid the feeling of poking along that you can get on some excursion trains. Since the rails wind through the southern Adirondacks, one can expect a lot of trees close to the tracks, but we found that the pine forest was easy to see into and there were lots of places with great views across the Hudson River. The first half of the trip was on welded, continuous rail and thus quite smooth, but even after the rails reverted to the older, bolted style, the ride never got rough. Personally, I prefer the “clickety clack” of the old-style rails. Obviously, the S&NCRR folks have put a lot of effort into rebuilding this once-abandoned rail bed. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful—the conductor even spent time talking with us during the ride and letting us know where the best places to snap some photos would be.

The restored North Creek RR station was built in 1874
The 1874 North Creek station is one of the oldest surviving rural train stations in the US. It has historical significance in that it was where, in 1901, Vice President Teddy Roosevelt got the news of President William McKinley's assassination. The station is nicely restored and includes a museum and an extensive gift shop for those seeking souvenirs (http://www.northcreekdepotmuseum.com/).

After watching the conductor manually work the switch as the engine moved to the south end of the train, we headed into tiny North Creek. We stopped at Cafe Sarah's for some tasty sandwiches and then rode out of town. We had planned to follow a suggested return route that we had downloaded from the MHCC's website, but found that River Rd. was a dirt road. Unpaved Adirondack roads tend to be sandy, and the surface was sketchy enough under our 28mm tires that we decided to head out of town on NY Rte. 28, instead. Riders on wider tires, such as those typically found on hybrids or mountain bikes, should be fine with River Rd. Rte. 28 was lightly trafficked and had a nice shoulder that was up to 4' wide in places. Most of the shoulder looked fairly new, though it did deteriorate in places.

The first five miles out of North Creek is a series of short, easy climbs. From that point on, the route is more downhill than up, with about a 600' difference in elevation between the start and end. The highest elevation is around 1,300', and there are a few climbs, but the steepest ones are quite short and could easily be walked by those who prefer to save their efforts. We found it quite an easy ride on the tandem, averaging a bit over 17 mph, overall. Our highest speed on the descents was over 45 mph, but we like to go fast.

The S&NCRR Merganser on its return trip to North Creek
Once we left Rte. 28, turning onto the Glen Athol Rd, we found ourselves on a really nice, narrow, paved road with almost no motor vehicle traffic. We got an extra treat when we arrived at a crossing just as the Merganser, another train that the S&NCRR runs between North Creek and Thurman Station, was approaching. We had just enough time to fish out the camera and catch a shot of the train going by. The road surface got better and better as we approached Stony Creek, with fresh asphalt all the way to Hadley. We crossed the historic 1885 Hadley Parabolic Bridge, which is the only remaining example of this type of construction (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadley_Bow_Bridge). This bridge is clearly visible from the railroad bridge, so be sure to look for it out the windows on the east side of the train.

Shortly after crossing the Hadley bridge, the route joins NY Rte. 9N. This road can get busy at times, and the shoulder, which is wide in most places, is not the smoothest for bicycle traffic. We had no difficulties, but when we do this ride again, we will leave 9N in Corinth and take side roads back to Saratoga. There are a number of nice routes that you can take on either the east or west sides of 9N, though it appears that the least hilly options are to the east.

If there's a caboose, I'm going to get a photo
The conductor told us that we were the first cyclists to bring our bikes on board the new train. We had a great time and highly recommend this as a day trip. If the 60-mile ride back seems too far, you could take the train to North Creek with your bike and cycle local roads for several hours, returning on the 3:45 pm run to Saratoga, or you could disembark at any of several intermediary whistle-stops, taking a shorter route back to the Saratoga station. For example, the ride back from Thurman Station would be an easy 40 miles. The cost of a ticket is as little as $13 ($19 round-trip), and discounted senior and child rates are available. The actual cycling time for us was around 3 ½ hours. There are morning and evening trains in both directions, making a variety of riding options available. We highly recommend this trip and are confident that, like us, you'll be left thinking about when you can take advantage of this wonderful opportunity again.

For a recommended return route, see http://ridewithgps.com/routes/578654
A Picasa album of photos is available at http://goo.gl/wDfWa

Monday, May 30, 2011

YAC (Yet Another Century)

Fourth century this month, on a warm, late-May day.   Working to get in shape for the 100-200, which is only three weeks away, now.  A small group of five of us started out from Williston at 8 am, enjoying the light Memorial Day traffic.  Three were originally planning on peeling off before Middlebury Gap, but as it turned out, this didn't happen as planned.

The first adventure happened when Todd broke his rear derailleur cable, just north of Bristol.  Jeff had a spare and we tried replacing it, but too many cooks spoil the broth and the cable got installed incorrectly.  Todd had family nearby and a bit of a plan, so we left him there by the side of the road and continued south.

Jeff, Annie and John at the top of Middlebury Gap

We had been setting a strong pace, enjoying a nice tailwind, and I knew I needed to set my own pace climbing Middlebury Gap.  John and Annie changed their plans and decided to do the entire loop, it being such a nice day.  Also, Todd had called to say that he had been able to fix the cable and he was going to ride over Lincoln Gap and rejoin us on Rte 100.  The river through Ripton was running fast and strong, making quite a sight in places.  The other three got to the top of the gap long before I did, but there were no complaints.  I took the lead on the descent, breaking 50 mph on the bumpy pavement, as the others proved their superior intelligence by using their brakes.

The tailwind became a headwind on the way back up Rte 100, though it wasn't too bad going through Granville Gulf, where the waterfalls were blasting away after all the recent rain.  Sure enough, we spotted Todd just south of the intersection with Lincoln Gap.  We bounced along the broken pavement between Warren and Irasville, and then it was time to climb App. Gap.

Jeff, John, myself, Annie and Todd at the top of App Gap
Todd and John danced to the top of App Gap, with the rest of us nursing our sore legs up the mountain. We met up with another rider, who joined us on the ride down, all the way to the end of the Hollow Rd.  I bombed down the hill first, again, and planted myself at the final switchback to get some shots.  I didn't trust having time to get the camera into burst mode before the other riders showed up (I would have), because the menu system is cumbersome, and the annoyingly long delay of the Olympus SW series of cameras meant that some of the riders went by before the camera caught the image.  Having used this camera for a few years, I can say with some authority that it is totally lousy for any kind of action photography.

The guy who joined us at the top of the Gap

Annie rounds the switchback...

...with John and Jeff close behind.  The camera missed Todd.
We got back around 4 pm, with the stops for the broken cable, a flat, and extra store breaks, due to the heat.  Having ridden to the start, I added an extra 25 miles, for a total on 129 miles.  I found the Brooks Swallow saddle more comfortable than the first time I tried it on the Klein, but I think I'll swap it for a Brooks Pro again for the 100-200, as I don't think my but would like to sit on it for another 90 miles.
 

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Spring Centuries

The cliffs along Appalachian Gap were shedding chunks of ice onto the road.
Rode a couple of centuries in May so far, just six days apart.  The first was a Gap-Notch ride.  I had a delay after glancing back to check for overtaking traffic before moving out to round a curve.  I was going about 45mph and the wind caught my glasses and tore them off. It took me an hour to find them, but I was able to straighten them out and wear them again.
Still snow on the ski trails in Stowe.
The road through Smugglers' Notch is still closed to cars--I found out why!
 I wasn't the first person to go through the Notch this year on a road bike, as I saw a fresh track from some other intrepid cyclist.  Neither one of us can say we actually rode the Notch, though, as that would have been impossible.

This spring was incredible in the way it was gushing out the side of the mountain, creating an instant brook.


The Notch had over a foot of snow on the road in several places.

This is a shot looking straight down at the Brewster River from the Edwards Rd bridge.  Most people in cars never even know this amazing scene is there, beneath them.

Beautiful view of Mt. Mansfield from Upper Pleasant Valley Rd.
 On May 6th, I reprised last year's century, riding to the VT Design Technology Education Assosiactions spring conference at VT Technical College in Randolph.  I got a bit of a late start this year, not leaving until 5:45am (I should have left at 5:00, but we had attended an excellent concert by Quartetto Gelato in Stowe the night before).  I rode the 50 miles to the conference and back, adding in a hilly little 20-mile loop with "the gang" after the conference.
The early morning mist along the Winooski River reminded me of cycling through Savanna.

I love this view of Rte 12 at Baker Pond, perhaps because it means the long climb is almost done.

These geese must have been nesting on the little rock in Baker Pond as they honked up quite a racket when I looked their way.

The tiny church in East Braintree.

The short church was built in 1817, making it one of the oldest surviving buildings in the state.

I decided to try taking Howard Hill Rd from Rte 12 over to the Ridge Rd this year, not having any idea of how incredibly steep it is.  I stopped to take this photo of the stream that runs alongside the road, partly because it indicates the pitch of the road.  To make things worse, the grader had just gone up the road--I caught it at the end.
The entire South Burlington team did the apr├Ęs-conference ride this year.


Bob Lindemann, Olaf Verdonk and our old friend and now VTC guy, Andy Myrick, joined us for the ride, giving us a great crew.

Jay rides across the floating bridge in Brookfield.

The Rte 66 hill is a real buster, but Erin really wanted to ride it and he cleaned the whole climb, meeting his big goal.

I love this view from the Ridge Rd, with the rolling hills in the background.  Quintessential Vermont.

I decided to go over Moretown Mountain on the way home, for variety and to ride the three covered bridges.  You can just see one in the upper left.

A closer view.  Why truckers don't use more care when they cross these is a mystery.  This kind of damage is so easily avoided, it's a very poor reflection on the professionalism of some drivers.

The lower two bridges use Town Lattice construction, while the third has a Queenpost design.

Cox Brook was running strong and beautiful.

Most of the dirt was quite good, though still a little on the rippled side, after mud season.  Parts of the upper section had been recently graded, but I had the right bike and tires for this kind of work.

The glimpse of Camels Hump tells you you've reached the top.

The historic weathervane on the old church in Duxbury.
I finished up the ride in the dark, with the sound of the spring peepers along the Duxbury Rd so loud it was almost painful.  A very pleasant 200k spring ride.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Should be Skiing

We've been having a great snow year up here in Northern Vermont.  The temperature has not gone above freezing in over a month and the snow is both deep and excellent, with a light, fluffy body on a dense base.  We had our coldest temps in  many years a couple weeks ago, dipping to -20 F, but it didn't last long.  There have been many morning, though, with the temp hovering around 10 degrees, which is about the lower limit of what I'm willing to ride.  It's early February and I have just tipped 500 miles for the year.  Not very impressive.  I did venture out when it was around zero one day, but it's tough to get past the nasty bite the air puts on you without resorting to face masks and the like and I find these accessories obnoxious and uncomfortable.  I snapped the pic above early Friday morning on my ride into work.  I had pulled over on the steep descent on my dirt road to let a couple cars get by, as a layer of snow over the frozen ruts was making the descent dicey, as it usually does.  The temp was 10 degrees when I left, but it was probably colder than that at this spot.

I confess to having let this great snow slip by, as I haven't been out on the skis at all this winter.  It's hard to get motivated when Jeanne hasn't been able to join me as she is recovering from some foot surgery and the dog is too arthritic to go bounding through the woods any more.  I just find excuses to do other things, like cut wood or move snow around on my days off.  This may change today, though, as we've made a ski date for Sunday afternoon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beginning and Ending a Solid Cycling Year

2010 was the first year in which I made an effort to complete a century ride at least once each month.  The winter months in Vermont present a real challenge to this kind of goal, especially if your work schedule is as busy as mine.  I was able to slip in a 113 mile ride in November, though my hands were pretty cold by the time I finished.  December proved to be the biggest challenge.  There were a couple of days in which conditions were good enough, but other commitments got in the way.  As it was, I opted for January 1st.  Technically, I guess I missed it by one day, but since it was my own goal, and with 16 other centuries during 2010 , I'm counting it as a goal accomplished.

The temperature was 38 degrees when I started, around 8:30 am.  I would have started earlier, but I had hoped that I might get some other locals to join me, having announced the ride as a New Year's double-gap century, though it didn't turn out that way.  Larry Colletti, the local bike club VP, had organized what he claimed was a shorter, easier ride out of South Burlington that day.  As a reply to some "trash talk" from Larry about their ride, I concocted the following "real" ride report, to set the record straight.

The obligatory Top of App Gap photo.
"Having heard from no one about joining me for the 1/1/11 Double Gap ride, I cruised past the Round Church in Richmond a little before 9 and, seeing no one on two wheels, decided to do a solo.  I wasn't feeling strong, but it wasn't too bad, either, with temps in the upper 30s and a general damp in the air.  I was just plugging away on my ancient Atala through Huntington until I got to App Gap.  I was struggling up the Gap, feeling generally weak and queezy, when I heard the rumble of carbon fiber and suddenly this phalanx of GMBC yellow and green streaked past.  Kevin, of course was in the lead, with Colletti nipping at his heels. Coleman had his helmet cam facing backwards so he would get something besides butt shots for a change, followed closely by David White who was riding an original  Mario Confente tricked out with HED carbon wheels and the unobtainium Campy 16-speed cassette.  I think there were a few others in the pack, then a tiny gap and poor Anders struggling to hang on.  "C'mon, guys," he pleaded, " this is supposed to be just a training ride!"  Ellie was pulling around Newberry and said "Hop on!" as if I could.  It was all I could do to wave weakly at the group as they disappeared around the switchbacks.

"I really felt bad as I climbed that last kick at the top of the Gap. Looking down at my old Sigma Sport at one point, it only registered 2 mph.  I got a real shock at the top when I looked over at the cliff along the south face and saw that someone had just scratched "KB 1111 15:37 FROM 116!" in the ice with a CO2 cartridge.  I tried all last summer to break 20 minutes starting from the stop sign at the end of the Main Rd and here Bessette had broken 16 minutes from the bottom of the Baby Gap!  I just hung my head and cried.

"I started to feel a little better going down the cold east side, but I was getting chilled, so I headed up the inappropriately named German Flats Rd (which has absolutely no level sections) to warm back up again.  I was starting to feel really bad at this point.  I was thinking it might be worth it to get a room at one of the lodges and just crash.  All I wanted to do was curl up and take a nap.  I headed south on Rte 100 but when I got to Warren I decided that I didn't really want to climb another Gap or get that far from my truck in Jonesville, so I turned around and headed north again.  I stopped at the Macs outside of Warren to warm up.  I had forgotten my water bottle, so I bought one of their $2 specials and filled it with Gatorade and sat down to warm up with a cup of coffee.  I confess to losing my breakfast in the rest room, which made me feel a bit better, and after a pretty long break, bundled up to trundle north again.

The Mad River at Moretown
"I took the easy route along 100B, to avoid climbing Duxbury Hill, and was on the west side of Waterbury when I heard that sound that only a herd of crabone fibre lackies can make.  Shocked, I watched the GMBC peloton scream by again.  Colletti must have read the look of wonder in my eyes, because he yelled out "Second lap!" as he went by.  I was actually sobbing at this point when I heard Andre Sturm's deep bass voice boom out "PREEEM" as he sprinted up the Bolton Dam climb, charging past the pack, with shards of carbon and epoxy popping out all over the road behind him. Again, the green and yellow circus disappeared around the bend at the top of the hill, the rumble gently subsiding like one of the freights as it rolls away down the rails along the river.

"I got back to Jonesville around 2 pm and looked longingly at my truck sitting there, but I had really wanted to get in a century on 1/1/11 and I convinced myself that I only needed to climb 18 miles up the Huntington Road again and, if I could just do that, I could then turn around and it would be almost all downhill back and I'd have my hundred miles.  I was so discouraged from being passed unceremoniously by our dear VP and his crew, that I wanted to feel like I had gotten something accomplished, no matter how meager compared to the "Fast Boyz."  I slogged along up through Huntington and was climbing the Hanksville Hill when -- you guessed it -- I heard the rumble coming again.  This time, I pulled right off the road and stood in the soggy snowbank as Colletti came around the corner on the climb, out of the saddle, veins popping out of his neck.  Hearing that unmistakable staccato steel on pavement sound, my eyes popped as I realized he was riding on studded tires!  Still, he was putting a serious dent into Kevin, who was straining to stay on his wheel.  The rest of the crew came through in a double pace line, with poor Anders in the caboose, sniffling something about going back to Belgium where they don't have these hills.

Passing the Round Church for the third time
"Totally discouraged, cold, and riding solo again, I turned back at the cemetery and started the easy ride back in the dwindling light.  I had packed a sandwich and other goodies, but had felt too poorly to eat anything all day, completing the cold century on a single bottle of Gatorade.  This, of course, meant that my legs started getting wicked cramps on every climb for the last 15 miles, but I was able to walk these out or avoid them by getting out of the saddle.  I finally made it back to Jonesville with my lights blazing, happy to be done and extremely grateful to have seen the last of Coletti and that dam GMBC crowd.

Total mileage, 101.  Elevation gain, 5,760.  Sick, cold, in other words, if not for those GMBC folks, a perfect ride!