A true Gentle Rider must use his or her bike to break the bounds of the home metropolis every once in a while. Nothing changes your perspective on distance and the landscape like using your own power to cross a state boundary or a mountain range.
I recently went epic after my week-long family vacation upstate New York. We had spent the week relaxing in the bucolic country scene down a dirt road nestled in a valley. I brought along my finest (serious) road bike, since it has the double water-bottle holders. I brought the bike with the intention of riding it home to NYC (Brooklyn) at the end of my week. So during the week, I would get out as much as I could to scope out a route and to bank some miles into my legs and lungs.
The morning of the ride was overcast and a slight rain was falling when I left. Our vacation house was down a dirt road so I carried my cycling shoes, rolled my bike and walked to the end of the dirt road in my sneakers so I wouldn’t pop a tire just getting started. I had eaten a light breakfast and had packed my maps, some cash and my iPhone in a ziplock bag in the front of my jersey. When I reached the end of the dirt, I stashed my sneakers behind a tree and strapped in to my bike shoes.
Riding upstate gives plenty of opportunities to experience rolling terrain. The hills are real. Living in NYC, my usual rides provide only single, rather small hills. More than once, I found myself down to my last gear, lungs gasping, sweat pouring, vision compromised, but for me, this is a state of pure joy. It must say something about me that I love to torture myself with the thing that I love, but perhaps that is the secret formula of my happiness.
The scenery upstate is beautiful, open, green. There are plenty of small country roads that run along rivers, so the predominant sound, beside your freewheel, is the rushing water after a rain.
Between gasps and the constant inner voice coaching me to, “breathe…relax…stay upright…find your balance…watch out! pothole…” there is real time to think. Think about land, how we experience physical space, what we’ve created, what is good about it and what is not so good. You start noticing how much car culture has altered our senses, not just our surroundings. I got to stop in small towns, eat at the main street mom-n-pop and feel like a visiting alien with my clack clack clack ginger-stepping and my ridiculous spandex outfit.
And there is scenery! I regret I didn’t take more pictures, but I wanted to conserve time and energy. I’d never ridden that long continuously and didn’t want to add extraneous tasks or complexity. But the things you see. An old white bearded Hasidic Jew dressed in cloaks with religious decorations, carrying some scripture, crossing a grassy hill in the early morning mist… or was that a WIZARD? The swamp full of branchless white birch trees against a dramatically cloudy sky. Scenic overlooks over crop checked farmland. Deeply shady wooded mountain parks and roadside streams with so many beer bottles and cans that you wonder how they got there; did they wash downhill through the woods to accumulate in these unbelievable numbers? Or was a carload of wild teens gunning through the mountains shotgunning beers and chucking them as they went?