Wednesday, February 27, 2008

As the Pedals Turn

I'm thinking of starting a new blog series documenting some of the great rides I've been on over the years. There have been many and some have a tale or two attached. This blog series is only here so I can recall some things that happened and maybe get some of the people who I may have ridden with to help me out with some of the finer details. I'm not much of a writer, so it's more just random thoughts from memories. Everything is true though.

Quite a few years back, my Dad, some brothers and a few friends decided we were going to ride up to Oneida Lake in New York for our annual family reunion. Uncle Stanley had a cottage, boats docked on the lake, a fishing lodge and plenty of land to hold a party for the 100+ relatives that showed up every year. It generally lasted from Friday through Sunday the first weekend in August.

None of us were in any real riding shape, we were mostly a bunch of runners back then. I seem to recall this was the Summer before my first year of college. I had to report to Cross-Country camp in a few more weeks and figured a long ride would be kinda cool. The plan was to start out at 4am and ride straight through until we got there, about 225 miles. My Dad had either his old Gitane or Motobecane he bought for $15 or $20 from a flea-market, Mike was riding his new mountain bike and Chris on his Fuji. I was probably riding my old Schwinn Super LeTour. I loved that bike and it served me well over the years. I'm not sure what Gerard or my other brothers were riding.

We started out from my parents house and I remember my dad saying he couldn't see a thing, it was completely pitch black out. Heading up Talcott's Hill through a blanket of trees at 4am, he kept asking us to talk his way up. He just followed our voices. I guess he was in his early 50's at the time and his eyes for seeing in the dark weren't what they used to be. Anyway, the sun started to rise over the horizon soon enough and we'd be ok. Mike was having a difficult time on his new Mountain Bike, and I was worried he wouldn't be able to keep up, or we'd never make it in one day.

Now, I've ridden through all the northeastern and mid-atlantic states and have never come across hill riding that's more of a bitch than the road between Tunkhannock, PA and Montrose, PA. I suspect my Brothers and Dad would back me up on this. It's a series of ups and downs that seem to never end. When early settlers came to this area 300-400 years ago, the English translation learned from the Native Americans living in the area is The Endless Mountains. Never have I heard a more appropriate description for a place. OK, maybe The Grand Canyon. I've ridden that stretch maybe a half dozen times and driven it in a car many more times. It's totally deceiving from behind the wheel of a car and would suggest a detour to anyone heading up into New York or New England through that particular area by bike unless you want to spend a few hours in the house of pain. It was slow going and by lunchtime we were already pretty dead tired, particularly Mike who was off the back the whole way. I kept circling back to help pull him along. My dad, being probably the toughest, always in shape whether he rides or not guy I ever met was doing well, and my brother Ed, the second toughest, was hanging in there too. At least they weren't complaining.

The weather started looking really bad right after we hit the New York Border south of Binghamton but luckily it was August and warm. Once you get into New York, the roads level out nicely and it's pretty smooth sailing from there all the way up to Syracuse. I think my brother Ed and I really started getting our legs about 30 miles south of Syracuse so we went on ahead to try and beat the heavier rain and wait for the others when we got to the city.

Mike was hurting really badly by now on this knobby-tired mountain bike and our patience was wearing thin so everyone went ahead of him. It was mid-afternoon by now but the sky was pitch black with heavy clouds. As we came down a slight hill into Syracuse it started to pour. Not just a heavy rain, but a cats, dogs and old Gitanes kind of rain so we all stopped under an awning along the street and waited for Mike. After about 30 minutes we started getting worried, after 45 Mike finally came rolling up the street soaked to the bone and bleeding from various places. He got hit by a taxi cab and was hobbled a bit by it, but seemed to be feeling ok. I guess that earned him some respect from the rest of us so we stuck together through Syracuse and continuted north.

One thing I've noticed about riding long distances while touring like this is that after a certain amount of suffering on the bike, things start to smooth out and you find yourself riding with little effort and covering some serious amounts of road. It's a great place to be. Sometimes it takes days, sometimes it take hours I guess. For me, I think it always hit after about 10-12 hours on the bike. I remember my dad, in a journal he kept for another of our epic rides, finding his groove on the third day after probably 350 miles of riding. I think the older you get, the longer it takes to find this groove.

By the time we reached our first sighting of the Lake, we were all flying along at a pretty good clip and knew it was only about another 30 miles until we could finally get off the damn bikes, rest, eat, hot shower. We sorta left Mike dangle off the back again as adrenalin took over and the speeds really picked up.

A few miles from my uncle's the sun came out, making everything seem to glow. It was just before sunset and the warmth on my back felt really good after such a long day and hours of rain. I really have to give some props to Mike for riding so damn hard on that mountain bike all day and to my dad, one tough old guy who's always ready to tackle any challenge.

To Ed, has that rash from all the chaffing healed yet? Talk about legendary,...

9 comments:

GamJams said...

Oneida Lake?! I grew up on Oneida Lake. Where is your uncle's place? I bet I've ridden right by it a few dozen times (though not in the past 20 years or so).

John P. said...

Between Bernhard's Bay and Cleveland on the North Side. I loved it there and wish I could get back some day for a visit.

Chrispy said...

John, I was up there last year with Laura and drove the north side of the lake but it has been so long and it has changed so much that I couldn't find Uncle Stanley's old place. I was real disappointed I could not find it. It has been probably about 20 years since I was last there.

John P. said...

Chris, Later, after I wrote this I realized that maybe you weren't on this trip. I guess maybe it just felt like you were there, suffering with us. :p

Chrispy said...

I was on the ride the year before when we did it in two days.

John P. said...

Ahh, you were on the one when Tony got flung under the guardrails like a cat that just got hit. OK, now I remember.

GamJams said...

North Bay. About 8 miles straight down route 13, right before Sylvan Beach.

I used to do a 40 mile out-and-back down 13 from North Bay to Central Square, and then back with the inevitable tailwind. Uncommonly good riding in that part of the world, though when I was there only myself and 3 other guys knew it.

GamJams said...

Er, 49. Not 13. It's been a while.

John P. said...

Mike, not only a great place to ride, but a great place in general. If only the winters were a bit less snowy and cold.