The Perils of Bicycle Commuting

Last night, on my bicycle commute from work I had a run-in with a motorist. Technically the confrontation was with a backseat passenger. No one was hurt. It was just a verbal spat that result in an arrest for the (drunken) harassing behavior and drug possession.

Commuting is a great way to combine exercise and low impact transportation while getting outside. This year, I’m traveling less, spending more time at our plant sites, and commuting more than ever. The rationale is simple. The distance from home is about 11 miles, I have to go to work anyway, and I love to ride. I have several routes and variations of those routes that keep it interesting and allow a manageable commute of 11 to 17 miles, that can usually be done in an hour or less each way. My ride home typically takes five to 15 minutes longer because it is uphill.

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If there is a single drawback to bicycle commuting, it can be described in one word: motorists. If there were no cars or trucks on the roads, I would love to ride even more. I see a lot of crazy conduct on the roads of Connecticut (and Massachusetts) where I do most of my riding. Cycling offers a unique vantage point and with nothing blocking or filtering your view, you take it all in. That includes seeing a lot of ignorant drivers. I see it all of the time, but rarely write about it. I’m sort of numb to it. However, if you were a new cyclist or if you were less tolerant of the risks, you would likely stop riding on roads altogether. In recent years, many people have told me how they no longer ride on the roads.

I certainly don’t recommend riding on the roads that I use for commuting. I’m a huge advocate for safe riding and especially bicycle commuting, but for the average rider, the risks don’t outweigh the benefits. I’m on Burnside Avenue all of the time and that road has seen three cyclist related deaths in recent years. They have done work to make the road safer by limiting it to one vehicle lane, and by adding a bicycle lane, but that was only in response to the accidents.

Around here, the roads are terrible and getting worse. Despite being fenced off from traffic, even sections of the local paved bike paths have hazards that include cracks, potholes, glass, and weeds. The city streets have even bigger potholes. They are narrow and lack shoulders. They have faded paint/markings. There is even more glass. They have cracks and frost heaves. It’s nasty, but in a weird way, I know every flaw and still enjoy riding these roads. It’s the act of commuting, and not the environment, that keeps me doing it. My routes aren’t entirely devoid of beauty. Sections of the East Coast Greenway are lovely. Riding through Wickham Park is beautiful.

I left Horst Engineering’s Burnham Street plant at 5:53 P.M. I rode up Burnham Street, cut through the industrial park, and accessed the bike path from Tolland Turnpike. This is a typical route for me. I ride this section of path several days a week. It has huge cracks, and at this time of year, long weeds spout from them. It’s unfortunate that this section isn’t maintained. When they extended the East Coast Greenway from Manchester to Bolton, I was against asphalt. I didn’t want them to pave it. I preferred cinder or dirt like the Hop River State Park Linear Trail. The photos show what happens when you fence off a bike path and then neglect it.

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It was a hot evening with the temperature in the low-90’s Fahrenheit. It was the kind of summer night where if you didn’t have your air conditioning blasting, then all your windows were rolled down. On a bike, there are no windows and there is no air conditioning.

I got off the path near Wickham Park and then took Burnside Avenue (Rt. 44) to Middle Turnpike and then to Center Street. I was in a rush to make a “belt test” for the kids at Park’s Taekwondo, so I just went straight up 44. It’s not a pretty road, but not every bicycle commute is pretty. Sometimes, you just have to get from point A to point B. On this road, I saw a usual number of distracted drivers, and at a stoplight, reminded one to put away her phone.

I made my way up Center Street towards downtown Manchester. When you ride your bike straight up 44 like this, you are prepared for something to happen. At this point, I was listening to some music, and minding my own business. A car came rolling by me and a person in the back seat on the passenger side hung out the window screamed, “Get out of the road.”

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I tapped my EarPods twice to stop the music and waved at the guy in a dismissive manner. He proceeded to flip me off and shout some obscenities. I was riding nearly as fast as the car, so I accelerated a bit. I was in that kind of mood. Most of the time, I just ignore people, but like I said, it was Monday night, the end of a long work day, and it was hot. I was a little frustrated too. In situations like this, I usually weigh my options before responding, but sometimes your reaction is spontaneous. There were a lot of other cars around, so I “let him have it,” shouting back and telling him where he could go.

They had to stop at a red light, and I planned to just ride past them, but as I cautiously approached, he swung open the car door as if he was going to “door” me, all the while yelling at me. I easily swerved out of the way. He was one of four people in the car. Two men were in the back, and two women were in the front. I rode up on to the sidewalk to give myself a little space. You never know what a lunatic like this will do, so I figured that rather than get run over, or worse, get shot, I should be careful.

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As I was riding on the sidewalk, they pulled past me once again and this guy was again hanging out the window and shouting obscenities. This time, I decided to “blow kisses” in his direction. I realize, that wasn’t very mature. We discussed my approach at the dinner table later in the evening, and my kids found it amusing, but Debbie wasn’t impressed. My daughter thought that I was using some figure of speech, but no, I told her that I was literally blowing kisses in his direction. I hopped back on the road and kept riding. It wasn’t long before I caught them again. This time, they were sitting at the light at the Center Street/Main Street intersection. I slowly pulled up behind them, pulled out my iPhone, and snapped a photo of the car’s license plate. The driver saw me in the rearview mirror and I knew she wasn’t happy with me, or the guy in her backseat.

I pulled alongside them and pointed at her and said, “He isn’t the only one that’s going to get in trouble. You are.” Just then, the light turned green. They turned left on Main Street and I rolled through the intersection continuing on Center Street. I spotted a Manchester policeman in his SUV on the opposite side of the intersection. I pulled over. He apparently saw part of my interaction with the car, was trying to figure out what happened, leaned out of his truck, and yelled from across the street, “Do you want me to go after that car.” I replied, “They were harassing me.” That was enough for him. He took off. I figured I would keep riding. I knew I could always call the police later and send them the photo.

I got about a half mile up the road and the policeman was parked on my side of the street facing my direction. I came to a stop, he got out of his truck and approached me. The last time a policeman stopped me on a bike, I was the one who got a written warning. That was for running a red light in Truckee, California. That was a memorable ride, with the ticket writing moment captured by my iPhone camera. Now, this ride was becoming memorable too.

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Officer Johnson was very kind. He asked me if I had a photo of the car and its license plate. I confirmed that I did. He proceeded to tell me that he was a cyclist, loved to ride, and confided that it was “nuts on the roads.” Like me, unless commuting, he heads for more rural roads. I explained how I commute to East Hartford nearly every day and have done so for a very long time. He was sympathetic after I described the incident and would have talked all evening, but I told him I was in a rush. He thanked me, gave me his phone number, asked me to text him the photo, and then to follow-up with my contact information.

I sent the photo immediately, and then rode off. I got to the belt test in time and both kids passed. Afterwards, I sent the rest of the information and thanked him. Then, I rode the rest of the way home. When I got there, I had another message from him. He indicated that he caught them, and arrested the kid in the backseat. I thanked him again. His final reply: “You’re welcome and you did your part also, made it easy for me.”

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So, I guess you could say it was a happy ending. It’s natural for me to feel odd when someone gets in trouble, but if I recall my own anger and frustration when the car first passed me, but I figure that this guy got what he deserved. It’s important to report incidents like this and advocate for cyclists. If you choose to ride, do it as safely as possible and don’t ignore the risks.

2018 Mt. Greylock Trail Races

We made it to the Berkshires for the Mt. Greylock Trail Races. This was Debbie’s 20th consecutive year. I’ve joined her for 17 or so editions during this streak. The kids have been doing them since they were in-utero. I don’t know what 2019 or the future will bring, but for now, it’s a nice accomplishment.

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Todd Brown did his 21st consecutive Greylock/Mt. Washington Road Race double. We only did the double twice. Curt Pandiscio did his 24th Greylock. He mentioned that there is at least one other person with more than 24. Debbie is up there on the list considering she did her first one when she was 24 years old in 1999, the same year I met her. We didn’t connect until October. That meant she had a summer full of racing on the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series circuit before doing her first ultra at the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run.

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Last year, she did the short course 5K because Greylock was the day after Manitou’s Revenge Ultra. The schedule worked out differently for 2018. Manitou’s is next weekend, and sadly, she will miss it for another commitment. That meant that today she could go long (13.5 miles). I did the 5K with Shepard and Dahlia.

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Shepard gave it a go, and nearly got his first Greylock win. He has improved his time every year and came home with a second place trophy for his efforts. If he keeps at it, he will get a win. That’s unless he moves up to run the long course.

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Debbie also earned a trophy for her efforts, though we studied the past results, and the competition isn’t as fierce as the old days. That’s pretty much true for all Grand Tree races. The fast guys and girls have moved on to ultras, other events, or retirement.

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That’s what makes Debbie’s streak so remarkable. She has been very durable. Last weekend, she did the 50 mile North Face Endurance Challenge at Mt. Wachusett. She takes care of her body and it shows.

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Last weekend, I got to ride up Mt. Wachusett. This weekend, I rode up Mt. Greylock. After she finished, I changed and rode up Rt. 8 to North Adams. From there, I took the toll road to the summit. The views were spectacular. It was a hot day, but there were still a lot of tourists and hikers.

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I met them back in Adams, and after a quick parking lot change, we headed for Northampton. After a brief stop at the Hungry Ghost Bread, we went to an early dinner at Paul & Elizabeth’s. It was a good Father’s Day.

Race Results

Boy Scouts & Cape Cod Adventures

Last weekend, I joined Shepard and Boy Scouts Troop 25 (Manchester, CT) for their spring trip. Since each boy spends seven years on the trail to Eagle Scout, the troop has a seven-year rotation of locations. This year’s trip was to Cape Cod.

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We drove up late on Friday evening, making our way to Camp Greenough in Yarmouth. The troop had a large site at this Scout camp, used as a summer destination for the Cape and Islands (Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket).

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It worked out to be a good base camp for our Cape adventures. On Saturday morning, I was up early, so I consulted the Internet and discovered that the Scout camp trails were part of a larger network that included land trust property and other open space that was adjacent. I found a link for NEMBA Greenough Trails, which was great. NEMBA is the New England Mountain Bike Association, and we are long time members. I had my bike, but decided to go for a trail run instead. I was back before the boys even got up.

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After breakfast, we split up into three groups. There were more than 100 Scouts, Staff (leaders), and parents/guardians (mostly Dad’s). We spent the first half of the day a the Cape Cod National Seashore. 

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Our group first visited Coast Guard Beach, a short walk from the parking lot. We got a tutorial on surf fishing. After spending some time on the beach, we returned to the cars, and made our way to Fort Hill. There, we did a short hike that took us through some marsh land around Salt Pond Bay, and then on to a great overlook. We learned about the Native American history of the area and enjoyed the beauty.

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The walk brought us back to the Penniman House, which has been beautifully restored. We learned a bit more history and then piled into the cars for the short drive to the Salt Pond Visitor Center. We saw two great movies about the seashore and the history of the Cape Cod whaling industry.

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It was sad to see how innocent whales were slaughtered, nearly to extinction. After the movie, we toured the museum and its informative exhibits. All three groups regrouped for lunch in the amphitheater.

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After lunch, our group drove back to Yarmouth to tour the Whydah Pirate Museum. This was the highlight of the trip for me. Both Shep and I loved the history of this place. I’ll leave it to you to read up on the museum and its story, but it is highly recommended. The Whydah is the only pirate ship every found. The shipwreck off the coast of Wellfleet, inside the boundaries of the National Seashore, was discovered by Barry Clifford in 1984. The site is an archeological gold mine (literally), but even more important than the sunken treasure, are the artifacts that explain what pirate life was like in 1717, the year the ship went down in a powerful Nor’easter.

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After our museum visit, we made our way east again to Linnell Landing Beach in Namskaket where the entire troop reconnected for an afternoon swim in the chilly waters of Cape Cod Bay. All day we had fantastic weather, and it was an awesome ending to a day packed with fun.

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Dinner was back at Camp Greenough. Songs around the campfire ended the festivities as the boys were calling for bed. They were knackered. The Sunday agenda called for another museum and gardens visit before returning home. Shepard and I skipped out on the troop activity as we had a different adventure planned. We packed our bikes because the Secret Squirrel Mountain Bike Race was at Freetown-Fall River State Forest, and was practically on our return route home.

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We broke camp by 6:45 A.M. and were in Freetown by 8:15 A.M. We had a blast at the race and then drove home through Providence where we stopped for a late lunch at Tallulah’s Taquiera which was conveniently located one block from Like No Udder. It was a fun ending to a great father/son weekend with the Scouts.

2018 The North Face Endurance Challenge Massachusetts

Yesterday, Debbie ran the 50 mile trail race at The North Face Endurance Challenge Massachusetts. The event was at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton. That area is an old stomping ground for me. The mountain always played a central role in the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic when it was a stage race. I raced the four-day event in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, and 1998. It’s been 20 years since I was last on those roads and there are no blog posts to look back on and reminisce!

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The trails of north-central Massachusetts also have something to offer. This is a lovely part of the state, and Wachusett, at 2,005 feet, is the tallest mountain in Massachusetts east of the Connecticut River. That isn’t a major distinction, but the mountain’s proximity to Boston makes for a nice place to visit (hike and ski) and attracted a lot of trail runners this weekend.

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The North Face events are some of the biggest and most highly produced on the ultrarunning calendar. As Debbie put it, they have a “big money marketing bucket” to tap when promoting these races, and it shows. We are not a stranger to The North Face events. She did the Bear Mountain (New York) version of this race in 2008 and 2011. Amazingly, that 2008 edition was before our daughter was born! The series has grown since then, and in addition to New York and Massachusetts, makes stops in Washington D.C., Wisconsin, and California. However, the format has remained consistent, and the two-day events feature a wide range of distances races including: 50 mile, 50 kilometer, marathon, half-marathon, 10 kilometer, and 5 kilometer. They also do a marathon relay.

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The three longest races were on Saturday and had overlapping courses. The 50 mile course was pretty hilly, but still very runable. Debbie’s Suunto GPS registered 8,000 feet of elevation gain, which is modest for the 50 mile distance. The course consisted of a loop on the resort side of Mountain Road with two ascents of Mt. Wachusett within the DCR Wachusett Mountain Reservation, and then multiple loops on the opposite side of the road that included sections of the Mid State Trail in Leominster State Forest. She said the trails were a mix of singletrack and fire roads. She said the footing was tricky in spots and that overall, it was challenging, but not too hard. This race first launched in 2017, and we heard that the original course was more difficult with four ascents of Wachusett, and the cutoff times were too tight; resulting in a very high number of DNF’s.

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It appears that they made some adjustments for 2018 that worked. It looks like 117 runners finished the 50 miler out of about 154 starters, which is a normal attrition rate. The 50K had 176 finishers, and the marathon 86 finishers. There were 44 relay teams. I surmise that the shorter races on Sunday will attract even more runners.

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It was close to home (90 minute drive), was only a minor objective for Debbie, and it isn’t an iconic race; but she still wanted to try it. Over the last 20 years, I’ve only missed one or two of her races. I didn’t want to miss this one, but I couldn’t follow her all day long. Life is busier than ever and our kids have their own schedules too.

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So, she drove up on Friday afternoon and stayed with our old Team Horst Sports teammate and friend, Will Kirousis, and his family, in Leominster. They were great hosts. Will is a coach and runs Tri-Hard Endurance Sports Coaching. He grew up in Hubbardston and knows the roads and trails in that part of the state like the back of his hand. On Saturday morning, I had a bunch of “chores” to do at home, including “balancing” three months worth of checkbooks, looking after the kids, taking Dahlia to soccer, and handing Shepard off to family friends who he was spending the day/night with.

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When the soccer match ended at 12:45 P.M., Dahlia and I drove straight to Wachusett. We were hoping to catch Debbie at the last aid station, at mile 44.9 at the Rt. 31 crossing. We got there in time, but I consulted the race “Bible” and it said no spectators or crews were allowed at that checkpoint. So, we went straight to the start/finish area, scouted it, and then found a quiet spot in the shade, a little ways up the trail. We waited about 90 minutes for her to arrive. That was fun because we saw a lot of runners finish and had fun cheering for them. The weather was perfect for a June day. It was sunny and warm, but not too hot.

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We saw all of the top 50 mile women. They were bunched closely together. I had an idea that the race was tight, because I had been tracking them on the live results throughout the day. I knew that Debbie was running well, but that her pace had faltered a bit in the second half. She had slowed a bit when she reached Leominster State Forest when her average pace crept above 13 minutes/mile, but I was hoping she would rally and finish strong. It was fun to watch the top six women arrive within 40 minutes.

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Katelyn Tocci took the win. She was followed by a surging Karen Benway only three minutes back. Then, it was Stacia Broderick another three minutes back, then Kehr Davis, Krista Rynkowski, and then Debbie. Karen had a fantastic race. She has battled with Debbie in the past, notably at the 2012 Vermont 100. Kehr had an off-day. Debbie chatted with her during the race and we both chatted with her after. She said her legs were empty, which was too bad since she crushed it at the Mt. Tammany 10 (38 miler) back in March and looked to be on fine form. I’m sure she will be back at the top again soon. She is one of the best trail runners in New England and has been running consistently fast for many years.

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Debbie was in fifth for most of the day, but Krista caught her with about 12 miles to go, and then held her off. Debbie was joined by Pedro Grullon for the last few miles, and he helped motivate her to run hard at the end. She met one goal by breaking 11 hours, finishing 10:58:58, good for 25h overall. She finished as the third 40-44 year old behind Stacia and Kehr. Karen is also 40+, but technically in the 45-49 age group. All four are mothers and keep running well in their masters years.

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On the men’s side, the top three 50 milers were: Alexander Jinks, Bryan Kerl, and Victor Zuniga. The start/finish area outside the base lodge had a festival like atmosphere with refreshments, a pop-up store, ample space to hang out, and a variety of other entertainment options. It was great to see our old friend, Paul Young. Debbie got a chance to run with him. We spent a lot of time with Paul in the early 2000’s when all of us were alive participants in the New England Grand Tree Trail Running races. We also saw Fred Hawran, Curt Pandiscio, and Jack Pilla.

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Jack showed up in my 2011 The North Face Bear Mountain blog post too! He is one of the strongest masters runners in New England.

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Jack also did Hardrock in 2017 and is prominent in that write up too.

 

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Considering that I hadn’t been to Wachusett in ages, I brought a bicycle with me. In the early 1990’s, when I lived in Boston, I would frequently drive out to train on the quiet roads. I would ride multiple laps of the Wachusett Road Race course, or I would do multiple ascents of the access road to the top of the mountain.

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Debbie and Dahlia hung out at the race a little longer. Then, for old times sake, I did one lap of the old course and then rode the classic finish up the “one way” route on the access road climb to the summit. The roads were in good shape. The lovely “downtown” Princeton climb brought back good memories, and then the views from the summit were spectacular. It took me an hour to cover 14 miles or so, and then I packed up and drove home.

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Next weekend, we will be at the tallest mountain in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock, for the Greylock Trail Race, race number seven in the 2018 New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series.

Race Results

2018 Secret Squirrel MTB Race

Yesterday, Shepard and I did the Secret Squirrel MTB Race at Freetown-Fall River State Forest in Massachusetts. This was Race #3 in the Bubba Trophy Series. Unfortunately, we missed Saturday’s Belltown Throwdown in Connecticut, but that was because we were having our own adventure on Cape Cod with Boy Scouts Troop 25. On this National Trails Day Weekend, we still got outside. Heck, we were outside most of the time.

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Secret Squirrel was conveniently located on our return route from the Cape, so an early Sunday departure got us to the venue in time for Shep’s 9:00 A.M. Novice Juniors race. He did one 6.3 mile lap in the rocky forest. It was a great learning experience and he had fun. These trails are flat, but so rocky, that they are amongst the most challenging on the New England circuit. They make the worst sections of Case Mountain look smooth by comparison. Long rock gardens sections are broken up with a few fire road transitions, but even the “roads” are rough.

My race wasn’t until noon. It was my first time “pushing it” since my Reno wreck. I’ve made good progress over the last five months. I’ve done a lot of bicycle commuting, a little mountain biking, but no real “training.” This was my first race since USA Cyclocross Nationals, and the first time I got my heart rate elevated for a sustained period of time.

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My left leg still has some issues. The broken bone (fibula) is healed, but I still have pain related to the soft tissue damage and built up scar tissue (fibrosity) that is reducing my range of motion. I’ve been doing therapy to restore the fine motor control in my ankle. It is appropriately sore after yesterday’s effort. Time will be the best healer for this injury. I should be feeling even better by September when cyclocross season begins.

No photo or video would do the Freetown course justice. You just have to experience what it is like to bounce from rock to rock. I was able to ride 99% of the worst sections, but had to occasionally get off. I used my standard rigid Seven Sola SL singlespeed with Niner carbon fork. That’s a pretty harsh setup for a course like this, but it is all I ride. Each of the most difficult sections of the course are named, like sectors of pave in Paris-Roubaix. Here is a description in the words of the Race Director:

You may or may not have seen that people have varying opinions on what “mountain biking” is.  As far as we’re concerned it’s a wide spectrum, and we live on the challenging end of that spectrum.  That being said, this is the fastest and most fun Freetown course that we’ve ever designed.  We start off with the absolute fastest and longest hole shot in NEMTB history, yet somehow the most technical fire road in New England.  Then you’re immediately pummeled by “Screw You Roadie” which leads into “Little Landon Africa” which is super fun.  That’s where the course meets “Pukwudgie Ambush” which is where the Novice class finally sees a rock garden, because Novice skips the first two tech sections.  Then you get some more fire road before hitting a tech trail that takes you to “Bring the Payne” which is really just “The Demotivator” backwards but without the big impossible rock garden.  Then you hit a little more tech before a fire road that leads you to a grassy field finish that may or may not have a Red Bull Flyover that will give you anxiety in front of your friends as they cheer you through the finishing arch if you don’t crash in embarrassing fashion right in front of it.  Then it’s over, unless you’re an Expert and you have to do it again.

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Each of the named sections had a sign marking the beginning and end of each section, complete with the name of that section.

I did the two lap (11 miles each) Expert singlespeed race and pretty much brought up the rear of the field. I wasn’t dead last, but I was pretty close. I started slowly and steadily and attempted to maintain my pace. It would have been nice to have even lap times, and break two hours, but I did a 1:01:42 and then a 1:05:48. I rode within my limits and didn’t take any risks that would have resulted in a fall. It felt good to hammer a bit. Three miles into the second lap, I caught my only rider of the day. Peter Geloso had dropped back and gone into “coasting” mode. He won the singlespeed race on Saturday at Belltown, and was “blown” from the effort. I don’t fault him for cruising in at Freetown. We chatted a bit and then I kept going while he finished about three minutes behind me. I’ll see Pete again at the upcoming West Rock Super Prestige Series. My goal is to get my fitness back to a level where I can battle him on even turf.

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After a weekend away from home and two nights camping out, Shep and I packed quickly and hit the road. We returned to Connecticut through Rhode Island, stopping in Providence for a late lunch/early dinner at Tallulah’s Taquiera which was conveniently located one block from Like No Udder. We’ve been to the Like No Udder ice-cream truck, which was parked out front, but hadn’t been to the shop. It’s been on my “to-do list” for a while now, and was the perfect plant-based reward for a good effort in the woods.

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I’ve got some work to do to get back in shape before cross season, but I have 12 weeks to increase the intensity, and then four months of cross to build my fitness for a return to the national championships, which are in Louisville in December. That’s something to shoot for.

Race Results

2018 Soapstone Mountain Trail Races

After 34 Soapstone Mountain Trail Races, 20 of which Debbie has run and/or directed; and of which, at least 10, that I’ve blogged about…I’m thinking of something interesting or provocative to write that wouldn’t be redundant.

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I guess the best thing I can come up with is that my eight-year-old daughter, affectionately known as Little D, had to use the potty (yep, #2) for the entire length of the 6 kilometer Jerry Stage Sampler. I knew this because we discussed her, or rather our, options; and I think the feat of the race was that she insisted she could “hold it” to the finish. And she did. However, it made her miserable, (and slow) and it pained me to watch.

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If any runner has suffered a similar intestinal malady, then you know. This is not something that can be described. Only the shared experience of doubling over as you inch your way towards the finish, or your destination, is enough to comprehend what she went through. The gift certificates and cow bells (our new unique age group awards) may have went to others, but she gets my “run of the day” award.

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“I don’t have to go,” she declared before the race, which is typical of her morning regimen. This sounds like one of our ordinary every day conversations, but this time it had consequences, and she paid the price. She vowed to not make the same mistake next race. Time will tell whether or not her prognostication holds true.

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Hopefully, none of the other 207 finishers shared her misfortune. From the looks on the faces of those finishing the 24 kilometer main event, they were suffering, but it wasn’t from bowel problems. It was the new, longer course; the humidity, and the muddy trails that took their toll on the legs (and bodies) of these runners.

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For the first time in several years, the 24 kilometer course had significant changes. Last year, the Shenipsit Striders noticed that a landowner whose property the course traversed, was posting “No Trespassing” prior to the race. We set a plan to reroute the course so that it would avoid the controversial property.

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This meant that we had to introduce a longer (more true to the stated distance) route that had a short overlapping section, more hills, and more singletrack. It also allowed us to make the first 5 kilometers (or so) of the course, the same as the “Sampler.” One of the key features of the Sampler has always been the infamous “sandpit.”

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This meant that all runners got to do the sandpit with its 45% gradient and loose footing. One improvement for next year is that we will increase the time between the two race starts. 10 minutes didn’t prove to be enough, as the front-runners in the 6K caught up to the back of the packers in the 24K. Still, everyone appeared to enjoy the challenge of the sandpit whether it was their first time or not.

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Last year, the Sampler was renamed to honor the late Jerry Stage, the only other Race Director that Soapstone has ever had. Debbie was Jerry’s understudy for several years, and she gradually assumed more duties, eventually taking over the race from him around 2003.

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She ran her first Soapstone in 1999, the same year that we met, and she has been a devoted trail runner ever since. In addition to succeeding Jerry as Race Director, she inherited the club presidency from him too, and with the help of others, revived the Shenipsit Striders to welcome a new family friendly generation of trail runners.

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Debbie kept the Soapstone gig, but passed the leadership of the club to John Agosto. John led the club for several years and then was succeeded by David Merkt. This new version of NipMuck Dave (the younger), is still the dedicated Race Director of the NipMuck Trail Marathon, having taken over from the original, NipMuck Dave Raczkowski.

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Dave subsequently passed the torch of the presidency to Emma Palmacci, who is doing a fantastic job leading our club. Yesterday, she was at the finish line congratulating all of the runners.

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Truthfully, Soapstone, like all Shenipsit Striders races, has always been a team effort, and this year, our beloved running club supported her more than ever. It is not a secret that she is in the early stages of a succession planning process to ensure that this legendary race continues long into the future. Only its sister race, the aforementioned NipMuck (currently at 35 years and counting), has more seniority amongst New England trail running races.

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In addition to all of our club mates, thanks goes to race sponsors who offered varying levels of support: Horst Engineering, Tailwind Nutrition, Rein’s Deli, Bevin Brother’s Manufacturing Co., HAE Now, and Nature’s Grocer.

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There were many volunteers, especially our fellow Shenipsit Striders, and some stalwarts from the Northern Connecticut Land Trust. In recent years, proceeds from the race have benefitted the land trust, the Reddington Rock Riding Club, and the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA).

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This was race number two in the 2018 Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series.

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The race saw many top performances. Check out the results link for details. Tim Van Orden was the first male finisher of the 24K. Bonnie Lathrop was the first woman. First place overall in the 6K was Mary Johnson, which is pretty cool.

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Once again, we held the kids race and had some eager participants. Like our kids, many of them are sure to graduate to the Sampler as they gain the stamina and confidence to run longer distances.

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Our son, Shepard, was 5th in the 6K. He was only 33 seconds off the pace of his uncle, Steve Simko, (my sister’s husband), which is a gap he should close by 2019. If it wasn’t for a wrong turn, he may have closed that gap this year. Steve actually thought Shep was in front of him because he didn’t see him go the wrong way. While Shep and Steve were waging their battle up front, I was at the back, with Dahlia, enduring her “epic” struggle.

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I can’t imagine a year when we aren’t at Soapstone, but that day is bound to come. It won’t be in 2019, as Debbie accelerates the succession plan, but some day, maybe. In the meantime, we will continue to thrive off of the community that we have built.

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The feedback has been mostly positive. There were some wrong turns. There were bumps. There were bruises. There were a lot of muddy shoes. I even saw some muddy faces, but that mud wasn’t hiding the smiles. They shown through.

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If you love your trail running, then show up for race number three in the Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series, the Goodwin Forest Trail Runs on 03 June. Goodwin also happens to be race number four in the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series.

Lastly, registration is almost full for the Livingston Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run Adventure at REI in West Hartford this Thursday the 24th of May, which will recount  Debbie’s amazing run in the San Juan Mountains.

Race Results

Race Photos (SmugMug Gallery)

Singapore & the Luisella H. Cosulich

It’s been a few months since Debbie and I returned from our Hong Kong/Singapore trip, but I’m still sorting through photos. The reason for the trip was to attend the YPO Global Leadership Conference/EDGE in Singapore.

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It was our second time visiting Singapore. We also visited in 2012, the last time the YPO conference was in Asia. That time, we brought our young children, but this time, we were on our own.

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I already wrote about the Metasprint Duathlon, but I wanted to share some other highlights, including the incredible visit we made to a tanker fueling ship. That trip was arranged by our friend, Tim, from the sixth generation of the business owning Cosulich Family.  Their firm, Fratelli Cosulich, are leaders in maritime industries and have a significant Singapore operation. Refueling other ships, particularly tankers, is one of their business operations.

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We joined a group of friends from the USA and Italy (where Tim is from, and where Fratelli Cosulich is headquartered), on an amazing adventure to the Luisella H. Cosulich, the ship named after Tim’s mom.

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We boarded two small tenders at the Port of Singapore for the 15 minute ride to the Luisella. She was anchored off-shore amongst a fleet of other ships. She was tied to the larger tanker that she was refueling. I was in the first tender to board, and Debbie was in the second.

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One of the amazing things about Singapore is its maritime prowess. From the roof deck of our hotel, the Marina Bay Sands, you could see ships anchored all the way to the horizon.

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One of those ships ended up being the one that we boarded, which was a harrowing experience. Tim had some previous experience taking other small groups to the ship, but they were able to mount a ramp along side of the ship and you could easily walk up from the tender.

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On the day that we went, a stiff breeze was blowing and the sea was choppy. This meant that we had to board from a rope ladder that was lowered from the deck. The fact that the Luisella was tied to the the larger tanker in addition to being anchored, meant that she was stable.

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It was the the tender that pitched wildly. Boarding proved to be a fun, but nerve wracking challenge. Debbie was fine with it, but I was recovering from my broken leg, had only been walking without crutches for two weeks, and didn’t want to get hurt.

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In the end, everyone in our group did fine and we all successfully boarded the ship. The crew were fantastic. They looked out for our safety. Once aboard, we split into two smaller groups and toured the vessel. It was really cool. I asked a ton of questions. We saw the deck, the crew quarters, the engine room, and the bridge.

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Getting back into the tenders proved to be only slightly less challenging. The effort was successful in raising my heart rate. Once back on shore, I was happier. We had to show our passports when we entered the country again. Technically, we were in international waters, and we needed to pass through security before entering Singapore again.

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In one afternoon, I soaked in the nuances of the shipping industry and the role of the Luisella in refueling the much larger tanker ships that transport oil on the ocean. It was a great way to see the grittier industrial side of Singapore, a stark contrast from the glitzy retail of Marina Bay. Debbie and I were both thrilled with the experience.

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The ship adventure was on Saturday and the duathlon was on Sunday. We returned home on Monday.

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While we were in Singapore, we had two fantastic meals. The first was at Meta Restaurant, where we had an amazing seven course (plus two “snacks”) vegan meal. Meta turned out to be on of the best fine dining experiences I’ve ever had. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2017. The service was awesome.

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Our second Singapore date night was at EMPRESS, one of the Privé Group’s restaurants. We had a beautiful table and another vegan feast to celebrate the last night of our trip.

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The service was also fantastic. Afterwards, we took a leisurely stroll around Marina Bay on our way back to the hotel. It was a fun way to wrap up our two weeks in Asia.

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Good day at #mountgreylock @trailrunningmom ran her 20th consecutive Mt. Greylock Trail Race. I did the 5K with the kids and then rode to the top. Trophies went to Deb and Shep. #trailrunning #cycling #shenipsitstriders #teamhorstsports 🏃‍♀️🚴🏽⛰ 🏆
Good to be back at #windingtrails for the Summer #Triathlon Series. #mountainbike #trailrunning #sunset
Livingston Family firefighters. 🔥 👩‍🚒 🚒 When @trailrunningmom “smoked” the obstacle course AND added some push-ups for good measure, the Chief pulled out his business card and made a pitch for her to join the squad. I thought I was the competitive one, but she can turn anything into a competition! The kids had a blast too at family day.
From race directing to @thecubscouts directing. Proud day for our son, @trailrunningmom and the rest of #cubscouts Pack 157 Den 5 as they earned their Arrow of Light. Four of her boys are moving to @boyscoutsofamerica #scoutsbsa after five years of fun and learning.
Little D and I ran the @shenipsitstriders #soapstonemountaintrailrace Jerry Stage Sampler 6K with a bunch of other crazies! Tackling the infamous Sandpit with its 40% gradient and slick conditions was great fun. #trailrunning #shenipsitstriders #teamhorstsports 🏃‍♀️⛰
Start of the @shenipsitstriders 34th annual #soapstonemountaintrailrace This is the 15th year as Race Director for @trailrunningmom #trailrunning #shenipsitstriders #teamhorstsports ⛰🏃‍♀️
REWARD: Less likely to be $1 billion and more likely to have hops 🍺 or grapes 🍷 in it. Best suited for those in CT. On Monday at the end of my #carfreecommute to @horsteng I realized I lost one of my two custom orange/black @dillpicklegear panniers on the way. Within an hour, I retraced every pedal stroke in reverse. My route was Bolton to Manchester to S. Windsor with sections of @eastcoastgreenway and #wickhampark The only item in the bag was a brand new @lifeproof iPhone 6s nuud case in Hot Pink. That’s another story, but it was on clearance and I got a deal! It was in the unopened mailer/package ADDRESSED TO ME. I rode the route again on #biketoworkday today and no luck. At this point it is going to have to find me. So sad. I still can’t believe I couldn’t find it which means someone has it. Maybe they are a #goodsamaritan But no luck yet. Keep your eyes peeled!
After a full day at the CFM( Safran and @geaviation ) supplier conference, I explored the emerald green urban oasis known as #burnetwoods The sights, sounds, and smells (other than the dead possum) were delightful. @cincyparks #trailrunning #cincinnati
@trailrunningmom had a great week! She topped it off on #mothersday by spending some quality time with her favorite @disney character.

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