I wrote, but didn’t publish this a couple of weeks ago: I took the afternoon off today. It’s been one of those winters. Snow covers 90% of the ground in mid-March, and the forecast for the next couple of days includes rain, snow showers, and temperatures in the single digits. But today, today there were blue skies and temperature in the 50s. I had to ride. I hauled the Specialized out of the basement, with its cantilever brakes, low gearing, and wider, 28mm tires. It’s my mud bike, and my commuter, and it had a new-used rear wheel that was straight and set up with an 11-28 cluster, a tooth larger and a tooth smaller than the previous cluster. I had no particular destination in mind. I stopped and visited my friend Patrick. I rode past a winery, then took a dirt road because I’d never ridden it. I crossed the Housatonic, and because it was a nice day and I wasn’t riding the trainer in my living room, turned left onto the harder of the two hilly options. And then I rode another climb, just because, and knowing full well that its down led to a brutal up. It was a day to celebrate.

Fast forward to today. It’s still a half-winter of a spring out there, with snow patches on the lawn and mud on the roads. I worked from home and treated myself to a lunch ride, knowing that the weekend promised rain. Again, I took the Specialized, this time after having upgraded my brake shoes to Cool Stops from Harris Cyclery. Even though Sheldon Brown had been dead for years, his advice is still worth seeking. Like my Gatorskin tires, I doubt I’ll ever use anything other than Cool Stops again. The rain started early – I wasn’t to the bottom of Transylvania Road before I felt the first drops. Even wet, the Cool Stops stopped me on the insanely steep ramp that feeds onto 67, the one where in the past I’ve had to put down a foot to stop in dry conditions.

It’s a testament to the brutality of this past winter that riding in the rain and in the 40s didn’t seem at all cold. Could also be it’s a testament to the hills I set out to ride. I blew up Flag Swamp to the top, flying up a dirt climb that last spring had sucked the life out of me. Yeah, those hours on the trainer were all worth it. At the top, I turned onto West Flag Swamp and climbed a short hill to a private spot to take a leak. It was only afterwards it occurred to me I had the GoPro on my helmet and had filmed the act. My first porno! Then back down to Mallory, and down Mallory and onto the clay and gravel of Garnet, for a long sweat up its gritty steep to the top of the mountain again. Flag Swamp and Garnet are two of what I call the 8 Sisters, the roads from the valleys to the top of Purchase Hill, roads that are part of my plan to train for the 2014 D2R2. This year Paul and I, and Ralph, a guy I’ve met only on FaceBook, are signed up for the 160K, 14,000 feet of climbing, version. Last year, Paul and I only did the 115K, with its 9,000 feet of climbing, and it was the hardest day I’ve ever spent on a bike. The best, too, but I’m a little worried.

But the D2R2 is months away, and I was at the top of Purchase Hill, and I took the payoff of the descent down the packed dirt of West Flag Swamp, across Mallory, and on down East Flag Swamp as my due for having climbed two of the Sisters. Damn, I love this shit. What is better than screaming down a long hill on a bike you’ve put together yourself for exactly this purpose? Not much. Not even my first porno.

About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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