The cycling in SW Florida can be boring and tedious but the weather is hard to beat for year round training. Back in New England we would ride in almost any conditions. Some of those epic rides, have almost turned into folklore.
Here is one of those stories...
12/13/2009: Perhaps our training ride was too ambitious for two weeks before Christmas, but not really so unusual for our hard core roadies. The plan was to start at the Starbucks in Carmel New York and meet with Morgan Stebbins who would lead us over by his house in the Garrison, New York. From there we would cross the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge and do the six mile climb up Perkins Memorial Drive.
The day before the ride the weather forecast got worse, but not horrible. The predicted temperature for our 8AM start was 27 degrees. It would warm up to close to 40 with a chance of showers at noon and rain later. If everything went according to plan we would get back from the 60+ mile ride around noon, and even if we got wet for the last half hour no big deal.
Of course not everything goes as planned...
Morgan gave me a call as I was walking out the door to leave for the ride. He said "did you see the forecast?" I said I did but why don't we go as planned and if it starts to look bad we can turn back sooner. The sky was clear and deep blue as I drove over to Carmel. But I was a little concerned about the temps displayed on the Mini's dash. I passed through pockets as low as 13F and up to a very crisp high of 17F. Way colder than forecasted, but hey the optimist in me said it was going to warm up.
A big group of our club's hard core riders showed up, Chuck, Frank, Chris, Andrea, Johan, John, Morgan and Justin rode up from Mahopac. Just as we rolled out we can see a big cloud front moving in from the South.
The next 25 miles over to Garrison just flowed. We warmed up on the gradual long climb on 301 by Fahestock State Park and then bombed down the long descent toward Cold Spring and the Hudson River. Morgan picked a great spot, the Garrison Deli, to stop for coffee. We thawed out inside with the brick oven stove warming us. Johan and Frank checked the local radar on their iPhones and even though we could see the front slicing through Northern New Jersey there seemed to be plenty of time before it would reach us. Like Everest looming above base camp, we really wanted to summit Perkins which would take about 45 minutes from here. Morgan was concerned and offered the suggestion of taking the hilly route back now, but we took a vote and the consensus was to proceed.
Pace-lining south on 9D we hit Bear Mountain Bridge in no time. This is a very scenic bridge that has been used in many commercials, not long but it traverses high above the Hudson in a strategic spot. Soon enough we started the steady climb to the outlook on Perkins Memorial Drive.
The final two steep miles are off the main road and we found locked gates blocking the road as it is closed to traffic during the winter. No fear we weren't in cars, we are on bikes with 23mm tires. The road looked clear, except for the occasional ice flow, so we climbed over the gates and proceeded with the climb.
It was gray almost eerie quiet with just us cyclists on the mountain. We took a picture at the top, but didn't want to stick around too long as it was cold and getting darker. The descent was fun but I was freezing by the time I got to the gate. I tucked behind Morgan for the next four miles of descending I could feel occasional rain or maybe frozen ice.
We regrouped before the bridge and checked a map to confirm the fastest route back. It was around 11:15, we had at least 25 miles to go, and the rain was coming earlier than predicted. We were going to get wet, but really that was the least of our problems...
The shortest route was what we originally had planned, to head down the hairpin road from the bridge toward Peekskill which the locals call the "goat path". Fortunately we had to climb a mile before the big twisting descents. I was freezing and was happy to climb and get my core temp up a bit. I could hear the clicking of frozen rain hitting the road and as we headed south the rain got stronger. The descent was a bit tricky and road was getting crunchy. But in a matter of minutes the roads changed from crunchy to wet to ice! The rain instantly froze when it hit the 19 degree road surface.
Stopping for a quick huddle, we figured we had about 90 minutes to go if we could put the hammer down and go for it. But over the next 10 minutes the road turned to a sheet of ice and we got separated into smaller groups and really couldn't communicate with each other. I was with Chuck and Frank.
We were freezing and it was pouring just rain now. Everything was covered with a thin coat of ice our clothing, our helmets, and bikes. I could feel the ice on the chain and cogs, and on the rims when I hit the brakes. This was one extreme test for my new Shimano Di2 equipped Cannondale.
We didn't have much choice but to keep going heading north on Route 9 about 10 miles to Cold Spring. If it got warmer and the roads got better we could attempt the 20 mile pass east on 301 to Carmel. I rationalized we could warm up on the long climb and then bomb down to our cars. And if that wasn't possible my ace in the hole was doing an impromptu visit to my sister's family in Cold Spring.
The next 10 miles were not pleasant. It was getting colder as we headed North, riding in driving rain and very sketchy roads. By the time we got to our turn Chuck, Frank and I were frozen and the roads were barely ridable. We needed shelter soon and there was absolutely no place to get out of the rain on 301. No option, we forged on and rode two miles more to sister Patti's house. The backroads of her neighborhood were a skating rink. We barely were able to ride the last uphill 100 yards.
Looking like frozen aliens we banged on the back door and my brother in law Mike laughed and said come in! I've been riding a long time but I never experienced anything like this. All of our clothing had a clear coating of ice on it. We were lucky to make it here. Patti gave us coffee as we dripped all over their lower level.
Mike graciously offered to drive us back in their 4 wheel drive Subaru. We were able to get Chuck and Frank's bike in the back, and I left mine to retrieve later in the week. A collective sign of relief from the three of us. But wait it's not over yet!
Mike avoided the treacherous back roads and took Interstate 84 over to Carmel which would normally take 20 minutes. All was well until we hit stopped traffic and learned that the highway was closed due to multiple accidents! It took us close to an hour and a half to move the next mile to the nearest exit where all the traffic was being diverted. During that time we passed all types of crashed and stuck cars and trucks. We were able to reach our other training partners via our mobile phones and were happy to learn that they where OK but in a similar situation.
Justin, Johan and Bill were stranded in a remote deli in the middle of nowhere. The roads got so bad that Bill crashed and they all had to walk about a mile as it was impossible to ride. Justin lived pretty close to the deli and they waited for the roads to clear and for his wife to give them a ride. Andrea and Chris made it to Morgan's house in Garrison and had to walk a stretch near the end. They also were on Route 84 a few miles behind us, and I was able to alert them it was closed before they got caught in this mess.
By the end of the day it turned out to be like an episode of the amazing race. Our bored and competitive personalities wondered if we would win the "race" back to the cars. I put my local cycling experience to good use and directed Mike on some less travelled backroads to avoid the 84 diversion mess winning our crazy version of the "amazing race". Big thanks to Mike for the ride!
All and all our day turned out to be an epic adventure but it could have been far worse. We all made it back safe. And we weren't the only ones to get caught by surprise by the bad weather forecast. And at the end of the day we even got a good workout in! 54 miles and I could feel the 4+ hours in my legs. Perhaps Morgan summarized it best; "let's put it this way: we won't forget it, and we lived to tell the tale - woohoo!"