Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter adventures

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that Madball were scheduled to play a show at Syracuse's Westcott Theater in mid-December. Since I haven't been to a decent show for many months, I thought I could do a little bike/music mini-trip, cycling up to Syracuse on the 14th, seeing the show, spending the night at a cheap motel, and then riding back the next day. I sent out an e-mail to the FLCC listserv and received lots of good advice about route recommendations. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the show was canceled. If I couldn't have a bike/music experience, I thought I could at least do the bike part and test my new winter gear. Since Syracuse itself is not exactly the most attractive destination and going all the way there and back in one day would have been a bit much, I mapped a route that would combine two of the route suggestion but did not go up all the way into the city.

The weather forecast for Saturday looked pretty good -- mostly sunny and temperatures around 0° C. I didn't sleep well the night before and I hadn't done any preparations on Friday, resulting in a pretty late start at around 10:30. I knew that a significant portion of the ride would be in the dark, but Wolfgang is well equipped and I actually enjoy riding in the dark.

After climbing out of Ithaca through Cayuga Heights, I took the regular route along Hanshaw/Lower/Upper Creek/NY366 into Freeville and continued on CR105/Fall Creek Rd into McLean. After a quick ClifBar stop at the post office there, I continued on the McLean-Cortland Rd towards Cortland. Traffic was a bit heavier on this stretch but not bad at all. In Cortland I then turned north on NY281 (the sensor activated left turn signal at the intersection of NY34B and NY281 is not triggered by bikes) and would follow this road for many miles. Within the Cortland city limits, up until the junction leading to I-81, was the most trafficked part of the ride but, again, it was still fine. Once out of Cortland, the road became wide, flat, and empty. 281 runs parallel to the Interstate and therefore only carries the little bit of local traffic for the few scattered houses in the valley. In Tully, NY281 becomes US11, and had I gone towards Syracuse I would've taken this road or possibly an option further east. Instead, I crossed the Interstate again and then turned onto NY11A. This part starts with a real nice downhill that takes you out of the Susquehanna River and into the Oswego River/Finger Lakes Watershed. In the small township of Cardiff it was time to replace my GPS's batteries and turn West on US-20.

When planning the route I wasn't quite sure what the traffic on 20 would be like, but as it was only a short stretch and there was no good way to go around I just gave it a try. Traffic indeed did increase, but it was still very low and the shoulders were in good shape. US20 takes you into the Cherry Valley and, indeed, the valley is basically filled with orchards. Because 20 doesn't really follow the valley, I turned right onto Hitchings Rd/CR151 and then zig-zagged my way on small back roads to Cedarvale Rd/CR42, later turning left onto Pleasant Valley Rd/CR119. This road leads right into Marcellus where I took another rest break at a gas station. There were still more than 75 km left to go and shortly after Marcellus, on the Old Seneca Turnpike my woes began.

While riding up a hill I noticed that somehow my bike felt very soft and 30 seconds later it became obvious that I had a flat rear tire. Now I wasn't so much surprised, as I've had flat tires with my winter tires pretty frequently, as more annoyed at myself that I hadn't spent the money and gotten myself tires with puncture protection. Well, no big deal, I thought, and quickly put in a new tube. Of course, I inspected the tire for what had caused the flat and somewhere close to where it should have been, I saw a little hole but without anything stuck in it. Thus, I assumed that whatever had caused the flat had already fallen out and went on to reinstall and reinflate the tire. Only a few minutes later, however, the damn tire went flat again. I pondered my options and since I was pretty much halfway between Marcellus and Skaneateles I initially decided to give up, walk the bike to Skaneateles and call the accomplice to pick me up. It was still more than 5 km to Skaneateles still and at some point I got annoyed enough to give it another try. I took out the tire again, patched the tube, inspected the tire, didn't find anything aside from holes, put it back in, and continued. I knew this was my last chance, as now it was dark enough to make another repair really difficult. Well, the tire held the air for a little bit longer, but not much. So I walked/rode/rolled Wolfgang the rest of the way into Skaneateles and called the accomplice. She, of course, was not too thrilled about having to drive more than hour on a potentially icy road, but of course she came pick me up with "Virginia," our trusty carshare car.

Aside from the tires, my gear held up pretty well. The new shoes were warm enough (feet still felt cold at times, but much less so than on previous rides in similar conditions) and so was the work glove/liner glove combo. I'm still waiting for my new wool baselayer shirt to arrive and eventually I might have to increase the warmth on my legs. The dhb winter bib tights were okay, but had it been colder they probably wouldn't have cut it anymore.

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