Bringing Cliff Home – Getting Started

August 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

Cliff approached me almost two years ago regarding his desire to do a trans-continental bicycle ride. In those early days the basic idea/hope was that in our advanced years, there may be others among his friends that would be interested in doing some part of or the entire journey with him. This plan also included a really good friend who would be willing to sag the entire trip with a support vehicle, as it was Cliff’s intention to stay in motels along the way, and not carry anything on the bike other than bare necessities.

We met a couple of times to discuss this plan. Personally I wasn’t going to commit to the entire journey, but I could see myself allocating as much as a week, and I would apply that week to his last week on the bike. What he needed was some route options. It can be argued that the number of options is unlimited, but I really think it comes down to 3: a Southern start, a mid-continent start, and a Northern start. I advised Cliff that the Southern start means you end up in desert within 10-15 miles of leaving San Diego, or perhaps a little more getting out of Los Angeles. A San Francisco start is appealing, however once you cross the Sierras, the options across Nevada are extremely limited. That left a Northern Start in either Portland, or Seattle.

As I usually do nowadays I turn to social media sites like Map-My-Ride, or Strava, and do ride searches. Set the conditions of the search for 100+ miles with a start in Portland or Seattle area, and see what comes up. I had a number of hits for rides that read something like “PAC Tour Day 1” that left out Everett, Wa, and covered something like 100 miles. Moving the area of concern turned up “PAC Tour Day 2” that tracked a course heading East through the Cascades. Each of these rides I found, I texted to Cliff. I believe I texted 5 days worth of PAC tours. At this point Cliff wasn’t getting any indications that there were others among his friends that he would have significant or even any company and that included someone to drive the sag. Eventually Cliff called me and said “Maybe I should look into doing the PAC tour” which has it so happens was scheduled to do the Northern Transcontinental in the Summer of 2016. I don’t know the exact details of what transpired, but I suspect that Cliff contacted Lon and Susan (the owners), and got details about pricing and the itinerary, and how the number of riders affects the overall cost, and what it takes to reserve, and before long, Cliff sent in his deposit, and his planning began.

From that point forward, anything that Cliff needed for the event itself, the PAC Tour folks told him what to do, and what to buy. When it came to training they sent along some guidelines concerning the amount of weekly mileage, as well as certain long ride targets he should be shooting for so that when he arrived at the ride, he would be ready to go. You cannot do a PAC tour without training. You get 3 days to loosen up your legs, and then it is meat and potatoes 120+ miles a day, day in and day out.

My involvement in all this was to help Cliff with some of his long training rides during the late Winter 2016 and throughout the Spring. I enjoy laying out routes through new areas, and Cliff likes following those routes, so it was a good setup. In addtion I was tasked with setting up an intercept route that myself and a few select others could “intercept” Cliff in upstate NY somewhere, and then instead of finishing with the PAC Tour in Boston, we would ride home to The Jersey Shore and finish in Sea Bright. The early itinerary seemed to indicate that Geneva NY would be that intercept point, and I started planning routes that took us down through the Catskills, and then options on both sides of the Hudson to Bear Mountain, with a final push home via Manhattan and the Highlands Ferry. I guess that when I was helping Cliff plan his trip, I did sketch out a route that involved a Ferry across Lake Michigan and then riding through Ontario and entering NY at Niagara Falls. The PAC Tour dipped down to Chicago, and then wound its way around the Lakes and then back up into NY at Lake Erie. Cliff approached them about including Canada, but they didn’t like the idea of needing passports, but then some months later he received an update that the itinerary was changed, and they would take that Ferry, and they would cross Michigan to enter Ontario. With this change, it meant that the intercept point would be pushed to Little Falls instead.

Little Falls, NY changed the dynamics of routing home because it put us close enough to Saratoga Springs, NY which Cliff loves, that it seemed silly not to take an easy day there and then enjoy the night life. The problem with that is I wasn’t willing to give Cliff more than 3 work days for this, so that meant we had to cover 220 miles in two days, and if one of those days is Bear Moutain Inn, then that meant our second day on the bikes was going to be 150+ miles. Not impossible, but not desirable. But that was the plan.

As the date approached it was time get commitments from people who were going to come along. We wouldn’t take a huge group (not that there were a lot of volunteers), however we needed a solid core of solid riders. Cliff lined up a friend of his that helped us on our 200 mile attempt, Michael Walsh to handle the Sag vehicle, and we got Doug Hover, and John Lewer to commit to the entire trip. We would pick up Ray Villa, Alex Rossano and John Conway in Saratoga Springs where they would be with another friend of ours Larry Centro. When these guys agreed to come along it was with the understanding that 150 miles was out of the question, and Larry would ferry them to an agreed upon location where they would then join us for the final 70-80 miles to Bear Mountain.

Logistically, Doug Hover worked in a Niagara Falls vacation with his wife, who would drop him off in Little Falls while she returned home. I was already planning on being in the Albany area with my family, so I set it up so that I brought my bike there, and on the day that Cliff was riding East to Little Falls, I would ride the 80 miles West from Albany and meet him there. That allowed me to spend some vacation time with my family before I spent vacation time on me.

In the last week before this would all go down, Cliff sent me a copy of the cue sheet for the PAC ride after we intercept Cliff, and lo and behold, they also were going to Saratoga Springs, and Cliff was expressing doubts about a 150 mile+ day. I modified our route to Saratoga to coincide with the PAC Tours that would allow Cliff to ride that morning with both his new and his old riding buddies, and I looked for ways to shift mileage from our long day to our short day. There were a few options on the table in the form of towns between Saratoga Springs and Albany where we could ride to those towns, and simply utilize the Sag wagon to ferry us back to our hotel. Question was which town? At the same time I “straightened” out the route to Bear Mountain as much as possible and chipped away at the miles. As it turns out if you stay on the West side of the Hudson down to Albany it is practically a straight flat line, as opposed to the East side which wound in and out of dells the whole way.

The final piece of the puzzle came together the Thursday I picked up my father-in-law at EWR and together with D2 we drove to Albany where we were to meet Susan via a bus from NYC, my brother-in-law Walt flying in from somewhere, and D1 also flying in from somewhere else. After getting Walt, we needed a bar down in Albany where we could await Susan’s bus, and then I remembered The Riverfront Bar and Grill “The Barge” that sits on the Hudson in a park and is a few stones throws from the bus depot. As it turns out, the bike path that I plotted our Tuesday route runs right by this establishment, and when I checked the numbers, if we simply rode here our first day that would knock Tuesday’s mileage down to a manageable 114 miles. Score! I texted everyone that I had found Monday’s destination and our route was complete.

Sunday came and my family all had to get an early start, and it was supposed to be a scorcher of a day, so with 80 miles ahead of me, I also got an early start and we went our separate ways. For me the route was actually quite simple. I navigated on some greater Albany roads all the way to Schenectady where I picked up the Mohawk Rail Trail, which eventually morphed into the Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Once on that I was good all the way to Little Falls, it was simply a matter of whether I preferred hard packed cinder or the smooth paved road of Route 5S. The cinder was very decent and I could maintain a 20+ mph pace along it, however it had debris and it was a little overgrown in places and it was more like single track than a rail-trail, but while on that trail, I was shielded from the wind, which was blowing pretty steadily out of the West. Route 5S was smooth and rolling, but the wind does get old. There were times when the towpath had breaks in it and there was no choice but to ride 5S for a while, but I always returned to the towpath.

Four and half hours later I found myself in Little Falls, way early for my rendezvous with the others, but I was soaked to bone in my own perspiration, and I was hungry. There isn’t much in Little Falls, and I had a slight problem. The plan was to meet Michael and John there at some point where they would reunite me with my travel bag that I had prepared in Jersey. I didn’t have any change of clothes with me, as I sent all that home with the family. This was all by plan. In retrospect I created my own problem when I decided to get into my room and clean up and simply wait for the others to arrive. Once showered, I had nothing to put on, and it was a cheap motel, so no robes. Nothing but towels. No pool that I could put my cycling shorts back on and sit in. Nothing. Compounding the problem, the battery on my phone was close to dead, and I had no charger, so the last text I sent off was to John and Michael “Room 5”. Then the phone died before I could send another message to please please please bring me my clothes.

So, I sat in my room all afternoon watching the telly, and waiting for that fateful knock on the door. I was expecting them near 4 o’clock, and that was also when I thought folks from PAC Tour would start rolling in. Four, came and went, then 4:15, then 4:30, then 5:00 and soon it was 5:30 when my door finally knocked and wrapped in nothing but a towel I opened the door to find Doug and his Wife Cheryl standing there with expressions of surprise and “Visual Overload” registered across their respective faces. “Please find Michael or John and get me my bag. I want to get dressed!”.

John and Michael had arrived some time after four, and I really should have called the front desk and left a message for them when they checked in, but neither of them knew my predicament. John changed into riding clothes and quickly departed for a ride, while Michael went outside and mingled with the PAC Tour folks who were coming in. Meanwhile I was sitting naked in my room starving (and thirsty for a beer).

Reunited with my bag I was able to dress and meet everyone including the main organizers of the PAC Tour, the legendary Lon Haldeman, and his wife Susan Notorangelo, two ultra-marathon cycling junkies. After everyone was cleaned up, we found a place to get some pizza and beer, we swapped stories, and we looked forward to the ride we were going to embark on to bring Cliff home.

Cliff kept a little online diary of his adventure which should be readable here.

Susan Notorangelo is the event photographer and posted all the photos from this years event here.

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