50% FAILURE. 100% OVERALL SUCCESS
Welcome to the hinky math ride report, alternate title “A comedy of awesome errors”.
This past weekend, I decided to do a fully-loaded trial run out to Beaver Pond Campsite near Lake Welch. I chose this location for two reasons.
1. To get to it, I would get to take Precious (the bike) and Zimmerman (the trailer) up Seven Lakes Drive.
2. It would give me the opportunity to try out all my camping gear.
3. Beavers! (I knew there wouldn’t be any, but I just like saying it)
What follows is a comedy or errors that has left me feeling uplifted rather than discouraged, buoyed rather than sunk, and tickled pink rather than beaten black and blue. (Although the bruises on my calf might disagree.)
PROBLEM THE FIRST
I had two hours sleep the night before I left. A number of things had conspired against me, leaving me no time to really prepare and get ducks to line up into a formation resembling a row. As a result, I had to rush and pack all my stuff last minute.
Getting up in what felt like a 10 seconds after I went to bed, I shuffled around putting the final few things in the Dry Sak, wrestled the damn thing closed, and went to strap two stuff sucks to the top.
Weren’t you going to buy a second bag for the extra gear?
Yes, I was. But I haven’t, so there. You’re focusing on the wrong things. What you should be asking is why didn’t I buy extra bungy cords to tie things down. The one that comes with Zimmerman is kinda low key and was in no way up to the task at hand.
This left me standing there looking quite perplexed at two stuff saks that weren’t going to come with me if I couldn’t work something out. And they had all my clothes in them. Admittedly, way too many clothes for an overnight trip, but I was trying to do a full test of what I was taking for the 3.5 months on the road.
Tick tock. Something had to give. I wanted to get to the George Washington Bridge as the gate opened at 6am, so as to not piss off weekend riders trying to get up the ramp at the same time as me. It was a good and courteous plan.
I stood back and assessed. Tick bloody tock.
Executive decision made. Since I was only going for one night, I would take no cooking stuff with me. Out came the stove, the pot and utensils bag.
Bloody stuff saks still wouldn’t fit.
Out came the Thermarest pillow. Figured I could use a stuff sak filled with clothes.
Out came my shoes. You might ask why I was taking shoes? Well, as much as I can walk around in my cycling shoes, they’re not much fun for serious walking and I plan to do some of that. Plus I am still struggling with the dreaded Plantar Fascitis, and my new inserts are really helping. I’ll still need to figure out how to fit these into the bag in for the real deal.
Finally, the bag closed. At which point I tried to maneuver the entire ensemble out the door. Holy crapamoley, it was unwieldy. But maneuver I did, getting it all the way down to the lobby before…
PROBLEM THE SECOND
My handlebar bag mounting proved less than satisfactory. By the time I got to the lobby and wheeled my way to the front door, it had slipped and the bag started rubbing on the front wheel. I could see no way to fix this quickly, so tick, tick, tick, tick, BOOM. Off it came. I transferred the contents of it to my old commuter backpack.
I hate backpacks for long trips, but two days wouldn’t kill me and I figured I could sort the handlebar situation out when I got back.
This is why we have test runs, people!
PROBLEM THE THIRD
It took a bit to get used to this contraption. I mean, it was jiggly and sway-y and kinda felt weird. But I got into a rhythm on the Westside bikeway and just kept on going. It was ok. Despite being a bit late, I made it up the GWB ramp right before a small group of cyclists came through. Good timing. Noodling across the bridge, tra-la la la, I stopped to try fix the gear weirdness that I’d actually been having the last couple of rides on Precious. Small adjustment. Onward to see if that fixed it.
And that’s when my chain broke.*
Puzzled, I leaned Precious on the railing and strolled back to pick up the chain. At that precise moment, a port-a-potty flew off the back of a truck landed two lanes away from me. A car squealed and skidded to avoid this giant symbol of the luck I was having and ended up almost hitting the rail next to me. Then all these cars were braking, and people not knowing there was a port-a-loo in the road were honking. Mass confusion. Traffic insanity.
And all before 6:30am. Like all good NYers, they continued calmly on their way, waving each other through politely and courteously. Actually, they were coming from New Jersey, so they really did.
All the while, I stood there. Chain in hand confused and all “WTF!”
A roadie pulled up beside me and unclipped, having witnessed it all.
“WTF!” he said.
We chatted for a bit about what to do about this traffic hazard. There was a port-a-potty sitting in lane 2 of the George Washington Bridge after all. He went back and talked to a guy in the bridge booth before wheeling back to talk to me. I wanted to say “I know how to fix this chain! I did a course!” but then I would have to say “but I didn’t pick up the extra chain pins yet” and that would have been embarrassing.
Call me an amateur. I won’t take offense.
Fortunately for me, there just happens to be a bike shop on the Jersey side of the bridge. I walked there, pushing my unwieldy companion. First walking of the trip. Won’t be the last.
PROBLEM THE FOURTH
I’m a loser. Meaning I got lost. This was a total balls up. Since I was going up Seven Lakes Drive, I figured I would use an old GPS route I made last time I rode to Bear Mountain. That ride had ended with me in Cold Springs, whereupon I took the train back to the city. This is not important to know, but will come up again.
As I got going again, new chain freely flowing, I flipped the Garmin view over to the map to see how this route was tracking. Weird. It didn’t seem to be following any roads, just pointing in general directions. I had to figure out where to turn by observing the line suddenly changing direction. It just seemed weird, but having never used the maps function of the Edge 705 (I’ve only owned it a month), I wrote it off as disappointing but workable.
That was until I arrived in Piermont. I’d made dozens of turns, up and down quiet little streets, and I’d still ended up in Piermont? Don’t get me wrong, I adore Piermont and its fine pastries, but how did that happen?
I zoomed out on the map to see where this Garmin thought it was taking me.
This is actually quite funny. Well, I’m laughing about it, so you can too. For some reason, it was reading my old route to Bear Mountain backwards. As I zoomed out I saw that I was in fact being directed to Cold Springs. Remember how I said I’d caught the train back? I’d turned the Garmin off for the train journey, then flipped it back on at Grand Central to ride home. So the Garmin had plotted a straight line between Grand Central and Cold Springs AND THAT IS WHAT I HAD BEEN FOLLOWING!
I actually function quite well when lost and still within the bounds of civilization. Just not a panicky type. As luck would have it, I had been fooling around with a map route the previous night that ended in Suffern. Loading it caused the turn-by-turn to spring into action and yell at me in a beeping tone. Nice to know it works.
Speaking of getting lost, I rode an extra couple of miles trying to find the turnoff for the campground, when I finally got in the vicinity. Apparently nature thought it would be funny to hide the sign behind some trees causing me to miss the turn completely. Chatting later that night with some worldly campers, I found out I was not the only person to get lost trying to find this exclusive locale where beavers camp.
PROBLEM THE NOTHINGTH
I didn’t really have any problems after that. Just issues that I now know I have to fix. I would like to get my gearing situation looked into. On some of those steeper hills I just can’t stay on top of the gear. And that’s in my granny gear.
I kinda suspected this would be the case. On Sunday, I was forced to walk up three steep hills. I was a bit fatigued to be sure, so that played a part, but they were also too steep to tackle with that trailer. It doesn’t help that there’s also no way to do a standing climb with it behind the bike – it’s just too wobbly. I have read it can be done, but it takes a braver soul than me.
Finally, there’s the water situation. I chose some hot hot hot days to do my trial run, and even though I had about 3 liters of water and refilled at various points along the way, it was all I thought about. Where would I get my next bottle? I seemed to drink quite a lot.
1. Seven Lakes Drive wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be (although it was painful). The long, long hills were a great test of mental fortitude. Found myself talking my way over the top of each one. Anyone who’s done this ride knows that it can be quite challenging – now picture that towing 50lbs of gear behind you.
But I made it up those hills – did not walk up a single one – and I find I have the memory of a gold fish when it comes to them. Grumble, grumble all the way up, then a few minutes later and I’m cruising along tra-la-la and all is forgotten. Until the next one.
2. While riding out to Beaver Pond, I was starting to second-guess the whole camping idea. It was the weight, and considering most of the stuff in my bag is camping gear, I was giving it a cold, hard stare. Should I just give up and stay in hotels the whole trip? Ugh, the cost. But once I’d set up the tent and got situated, I realized that the camping was what made it fun. The tent was awesome (although I found out I’d actually ordered the footprint for the Hubba, not the Hubba Hubba, which SUCKS), and everything worked pretty well. Also, weight became less of an issue on the second day. See point 6.
3. Kids are inquisitive little blighters. I stopped in a store to get a bottle of water and this little girl started asking me a million questions: “Why are you dressed like that? Where are you going? Aren’t you afraid of bears? Are you taking a knife? But how will you protect yourself?!” Then she came outside and grilled me about my ‘funny bike’. Was intrigued by the GPS. Touched Precious all over, which I think he secretly loved. Then her mum came out and told her to leave me alone. She ran along behind me on the path as I set off, back to life on the road. Goodbye, little girl! Grow up and be adventurous!
4. I learned what gnats were. Need to buy some spray.
5. Some people are amazingly kind. I’ll admit that I’m looking forward to chatting to strangers (not creeps mind you), and sharing little snippets of their lives. After having the most wonderful shower in the world, I got back to my tent and the couple in the tent next to me asked if I’d like some dinner. I stayed and ate and chatted with Phil and Linda. They like lighthouses. Now that they’re retired, they take time off to go drive around and to look at them and take photos of these bright ‘yoohoo, over here’ buildings.
I borrowed their bug spray. My gnat-filled life got much better after that.
6. On the second day, I completely changed my packing strategy and things improved dramatically. Handling became smooth and free-tracking, to the point where I occasionally forgot I was towing a trailer at all. (You remember pretty quickly on the hills). Downhills that first day were terrifying – I think I had too much weight at the top and rear of the load, which made it move around a lot. Second day, downhills were a dream, if a little fast. You get to a point where you feel the trailer start to go faster than you and just ‘push’ you down the hill.
7. There is nothing better in this world than a cold shower after a hard day.
8. Sometimes it’s nice to pull up in a shady green park, kick off the cycling shoes, wriggle your toes in the cool grass, and have a snooze for an hour while a chill breeze touches you all over.
Although a lot of things went wrong, this was a resounding success. I identified the things that need looking at. I discovered things I still need to get. I’ve read a lot about what to expect and what gear not to take and opinions are like assholes etc. (forgive my crassness). But nothing teaches me faster than making to do something myself and cocking it up badly. I learn in a hurry then, you can bet on that.
Best weekend ever!
* I’m still a little stumped as to why the chain broke. It had about 1700 miles on it, so it wasn’t that worn. At first I was really paranoid that the weight of the gear was just too much (weighed it when I got home and it was 38lbs), but I wasn’t really putting in that much power to the pedals, and when it broke I was on the flat part of the bridge in an easy gear. A few days previously, I had noticed a weird clicking noise in the chain. I’m wondering if it would have broken anyway.