Yet another ride I hear about each year but never participated in is the Highlander near Lake Canandaigua. Only a week away, and my last chance to save $10 on the entrance fee by registering early was slipping away so I locked in my details just a few minutes before midnight and the forecast was only for 20% chance rain which is no worry.
The next morning, the forecast changed to 40% rain, then a few days closer 60%, and a day away from the event there were warnings of an inch of torrential rain and 50+mph wind gusts mostly throughout the whole day. Great. Well, I had paid my $65 and didn’t want to bail on an epic ride of 100 miles with 9,000ft of climbing, so I embraced the forecast. I put a change of clothes in a drybag to carry up front, packed the usual gear in the back, and brought my jacket.
4:50am the alarm goes off and I already had the bike in the car and was ready to drive to the start. Last minute I thought to grab my spare derailleur and brake cable I keep wrapped up just in case. I get to the start and met Greg, also from Ithaca, though I don’t think we had met before. We started out shortly after 7am, and I was happy that he was riding hard and we set a great pace chasing after the Cat 6 racers and time trailers that seemed ill-planned for a day of relentless hills.
Just a few hills in, and I had trouble shifting to a fast gear on a descent. Must be commuter junk in the rear derailleur, I thought. I shifted around several times but couldn’t get to the 13, 12, or 11 easily. Then the cable snapped. Having only dealt with the new Ultegra shifter when I initially set it up, I was asking around for a tiny screwdriver to get the screw out, only to find that it’s the brake cable hiding in that spot. I found the derailleur cable hole, but only a few strands hanging out and unable to pull the cable head out.
The next few hills were tough. Climbing in 34×11 isn’t easy, but I figured if I could make it the 5 miles to the first checkpoint, they might have pliers to yank out the cable. After two hills of sprinting up to a hill, losing speed and then traversing until I could no longer stay upright, I had to jog up a few sections. I adjusted the limit screw to at least stay in 34×13 for the last hill, but that was little help. Thankfully, a volunteer at the next stop did have pliers, and I yanked out a folded-over and frayed cable head. I was so happy to have remembered that spare cable in the morning! A few minutes of fiddling and I was back with a full range of gears.
And then the rain came. We were on chipseal, but it was firmly packed, but at 30mph in driving rain, it was difficult staying in control. At least I knew we won’t be spending much time at 30, more like 6mph for the next few hills – Bopple Hill and Bills Rd. As much as people talked these up, I didn’t find them much worse than local “favorites” like Blakeslee or Mt. Pleasant. Either way, I would get into 34×28, and grind at my typical pace to the top. My knees weren’t thrilled, but they didn’t get worse either. I’m still more than content with my double, too.
Next up was my favorite climb – Gannett Hill Rd, with 700ft climbing in 1.3 miles. As typical during this ride, a few kitted-out racers on crabon bikes would sprint past at the start of a climb while I grind away at my typical pace. Shortly after, they blow up while I pass them on my 28lb bike, loaded with 2 bags full of clothes and gear, you know, just in case. I got a morale boost when some volunteers cheering people on from the side said that I was the most consistent climber they had seen during the day! A much appreciated rest stop was at the top, and I got a slew of questions almost rapid fire. Here are the answers in a nutshell: The front hub is a generator for my lights. It’s a touring bike, and a commuter, and a gravel grinder, and whatever else I need it for that day. 28 pounds, but it climbs like a goat. Comfy 32mm tires, but I’m not falling behind on the descents.
We then hit the somewhat fresh chipseal on the first flat section, and passed a few stopped riders that were changing flats. Then psssshhhh, as my well worn Pasela sprung a leak on a sharp rock shard. As I’m changing my tire, there’s still noise of a tire losing air, and Greg finds a shard in his tire too – good timing. Greg split left at the next town to get home early and before more rain hit (hope you made it!), and I continued along for the second half of the route.
More hills, more grinding, but the second half was much easier. I reached the end of a road as the wind picked up, and it went from clear pavement to branches all over the place in seconds as a huge gust plowed through. I got a small branch in each wheel at the same time and pulled off the road into a parking lot – JUST a moment before a ten foot long branch fell just feet ahead of me! The gusts were strong enough that I decided it was best to hide behind a van in the parking lot as I watched limbs get ripped out of trees. It only lasted a brief minute though, and I was back on the bike riding with another guy that swerved around the branch of doom. I chased up the next hill to reach a guy that had been on Highlander rides for the past 7 years which was impressive, and we rode together for a while. I don’t think I’d do any ride for several consecutive years, but I guess it’s a local favorite.
The last 25 miles might as well have been flat with one exception. I was surprised that even though there were hills on the side, the route stuck to the state highway by a river. If I came back and the route was the same, I might veer off to explore that hill next time. Gresa Hill Rd was the final push, and though it’s only 1.1 miles and 480ft up, at a century in, that was a big challenge for me especially as my sugar was dropping. The final rest stop was at the top though, with a great view of Canandaigua Lake, and only 5 miles back to the parking lot.
It was a great ride, and I’d like to do it again someday, especially if a crowd from Ithaca was going. The rain wasn’t all too terrible except for a few short blasts, but I finished the ride in fresh set of clothes. Oh, and there’s a free bottle of wine and a plate of dinner at the finish too! As a type 1 diabetic, I was having a rough week of roller coaster sugars going high and low too often, but this ride helped keep it all level, even if only for a day.
See the Strava data here: http://app.strava.com/rides/21319000#