Highlander is a 40/70/100 mile bike tour in the Finger Lakes in upstate NY. Due to the glacial activity that created the lakes there are some great views and climbs. My wife Cara and I signed up for the 70 mile “corkscrew” and made plans for a Friday-Monday long weekend which included the ride as well as some winery tours and hiking. (On the topic of wines I have to give a shout-out to Herman J. Weimer who makes some excellent whites)
Before I get to the ride, here is one of the waterfalls Watkins Glen State Park. They’re worth a stop if you’re in the area. This trail from the parking lot follows the gorge and within the first mile you see a dozen waterfalls.
This year’s poster has a good olde fashioned painted depiction of one of the roads:
Plenty of wrinkles on the topo map:
Things started out well enough. We were in high spirits and keeping a nice steady pace on the hills. Our game plan for the day was to make our rest stops quick to make good time. I had not planned for our Jerseys to be such a hit with the volunteers. Apparently everyone was VERY impressed that we came all the way from NYC for the ride. We shared stories about the city and the different cycling culture/conditions there. On balance making new friends is better than making time so no complaints there.
When the weather is nice some of the locals come out on the big climbs. Like the grand tours, the big climbs are covered with painted messages. Almost all of the roads were a pleasure to ride on (“pleasure” being relative to the angle of the road, of course)–there was little to no car traffic, everything was clean, pavement was ALL better than the roads around the city.
We knew the weather could turn on us but we traveled too far not to take the chance. Three days prior the forecast was rain all day. Two days before the chance dropped to 20%. Day before: 40%. Day of: we got rain…
SHEETS of heavy, cold rain:
To make it even more fun, we also got a nice 20 degree temperature drop that stuck with us the entire ride…
…and we just missed getting knocked over by a downed tree (this is one of the volunteers attempting to move it for the riders)
The route is a combination of valleys, farmland and vineyards. When you are in the farming sections you can see for miles. We literally saw the first wall of rain hitting the ground a couple miles out and rushing towards us. I think I screamed a little.
Knowing this might happen, and thinking I was rather clever I brought an extra pair of socks in a ziplock bag. The rain eventually subsided and we started to dry out. Not knowing the exact forecast for the rest of the ride I kept watching the skies for an opportunity to change them and get my feet happy again. As fate would mandate, as I began seriously eyeing the road for a place to sit/lean the skies opened up again.
Before getting to the 50 mile point you descend one of the biggest hills on the course. With wet brakes it’s a little harder to keep your speed in check. I shadowed Cara down at 40+ mph through the driving wind, rain and cold to the bottom. We were chilled to the bone.
We went heavy on the cookies and pb+j sandwiches in a failed attempt to raise our body temperature through sugar. Even though the next 10 miles were all uphill we were too cold to start spinning again (it was 50 degrees now and we had only our single layer of soaked lycra) so we hoofed it across the town square to a gas station which, oddly, had diner seating in it. We got snickers bars and hot coffee along with another group of cyclists.
It looked like they had enough. A local with an extended cab pickup pulled up for fuel. When the driver came in to pay one of the ladies asked him:
“How would you like to make 70 bucks today?”
Apparently he did and loaded up his truck with their bikes and brought them back to the start.
Cara and I were still not warming up but were not willing to throw in the towel (though I would have killed for a towel at that point, a few napkins had to do). I surveyed the store. No rain ponchos, though they did have oversized garbage bags. I asked the store clerk and she pointed us to a hunting store across the street, in which we found an amazing assortment of weapons including some that would DESTROY a deer or pheasant. This town is prepared for the zombie apocalypse.
Boom! We found two bright yellow rain ponchos and were back in action.
Took about 5 of the 10 miles of climbing to finally warm up. It was still raining.
On the following descent the cheap plastic tore apart due to the flapping in the wind. To keep from getting tangled in our wheels Cara tied her poncho up like a toga, I stuffed mine in my jersey tour de france style.
…and that’s how we rolled all the way to the finish.
Odd moment from the ride: we were cresting a little roller and were riding towards a steep embankment where some cows were grazing. One of them looks me straight in the eye and moos (loudly) at me. Generally cows just moo. This is the first time I’ve been moo’d AT. It was strange. We burst out laughing.
The dinner at the ski lodge was great and included mostly local fare including pulled pork sandwiches and grape pie. We were given goodie bags with a bottle of wine from a local winery. They had the heat on.
After the ride we went back to our hotel and used some of our daughter’s bubble bath in the in-room whirlpool (the label said it was safe!) which created a comically large mountain of bubbles. No photos so you’ll have to take my word for it.
All in all: epic win.