May 30, 2005



The first day of summer is always special in New York's Hudson Valley and a former resident plans to return to celebrate the Summer Solstice in the ultimate way – by cycling 160 miles in one day from the George Washington Bridge to the New York state capitol lawn in Albany.

Alan Snel, a writer who covers sports business for the Tampa Tribune, plans to leave the George Washington Bridge on the New York side and pedal until he reaches Albany on June 21. Snel will leave around 4:45 a.m. that Tuesday and follow the family of Route 9 roads -- 9W, 9D and 9J – to Albany, which he hopes to reach by sunset.

Snel, 43, is a veteran long-distance bicyclist who grew up in Rockland County and lived in Orange and Ulster counties while working for the Journal-News in West Nyack and the Times Herald-Record, based in Middletown. Among his annual menu of long-distance rides is a 125-mile, one-day circumnavigation of Florida's Lake Okeechobee.

Snel will dedicate the bike ride to the memory of Bill Fox, a bicyclist from Middletown who died in a bike crash in Dutchess County in 2002. Snel met Fox at a Stewart’s ice cream convenience store one year earlier when both were on different long-distance bike rides that day.

Friends might not be able to go with Snel on the trip. But they can follow him along the way. Rosemary Evans, a second grade teacher at Gardnertown Elementary School in the Newburgh School District, will use the bike ride as a class tool to teach her students about Hudson Valley geography, math and social studies. Snel plans to call the class along the way to give the students a first-hand report from the road that morning.

I'm excited to announce that Side Salad has been chosen to participate in a joint media venture with for a live blogcast of the memorial ride.

Here's how Alan sums it up:

SAN ANTONIO, Fla. -- God, I can't believe I'm doing this. It's 1 p.m. here in Pasco County, about 30 miles north of Tampa, and it's 90 degrees and 60 percent humidity two days before Memorial Day.

My lungs suck in blasts of muggy air as I'm pedaling my Trek 1200 bike, kind of the Ford pick-up of road bikes in the Trek bicycle series. It's called hill work. And it's serious heavy lifting.

Yes, you read that right -- hills right here in Florida.

I'm a training masochist these days, getting ready for a bicycle journey of a lifetime -- a one-day, 160-mile Hudson Valley ride from the George Washington Bridge in New York to the state capitol in Albany to mark the first day of summer and remember a friend on June 21.

So here in the Tampa Bay area where I live, I'm trying to replicate conditions. I drive to San Antonio, about four miles east of Interstate 75, and park at a local park surrounded by Little League fields. I remove the bike from the car and bike to Lake Iola Road outside of this small town, which is tucked in by orange groves and new homes sprouting on the rolling hills. They remind me of the undulating terrain along Route 32 from Newburgh in Orange County to New Paltz in Ulster County.

I'm out on the hills now. Did I tell you it's feaken hot as I rise out of my saddle to slay another hill? I gently rock the bike from side to side and concentrate on pedaling circles with my feet.

I'm climbing hills here in Florida because there's no easy way to propel a bike 160 miles in one day -- which I plan to do on the summer solstice. In a world of glib, fast-talking salesmen, there's no convincing a bike to move forward with sweet words unless there's raw leg muscle behind the flip commentary.

That's why bicycling is the truth. And hauling ass up a hill as pure an athletic pursuit as you have out there.

So I figure what doesn't defeat me along Lake Iola Road as I head for Florida's State Road 50 will ultimately make me stronger to handle those hills along Route 9W and 9J in the Hudson Valley.

Up and down the road I go. Hammering up the hills in the heat, cresting the terrain, then flying down on the other side along this roller-coaster route. Down one stretch I nearly hit 40 mph. That's cool stuff, folks, for Florida.

This is physicality in action. But there's a lot of emotion riding with me, too.

Only a few days earlier, a letter arrived at my job.

The return address was "M. Fox" and it was from Middletown, N.Y.

Margaret Fox! She had received me letter and was writing back.

I had written Margaret about a month ago explaining that I was going to ride from the George Washington Bridge to Albany to celebrate the summer solstice in the Hudson Valley and pay tribute to the memory of her husband, Bill, an amazing bicyclist who died in a crash three years ago in Dutchess County. He used a bicycle to turn his life around and shared his love for cycling with anyone who would listen. I wrote about Bill and his tragic death for the Middletown Times Herald-Record in 2002. That's when I met Margaret. Bill, like me, had turned into a long-distance cyclist and two-wheeling evangelist spreading the gospel of bicycle life.

Her letter was uplifting. Consider some of her words -- they apply to a bike ride, or any pursuit, really: "Everything is an adventure -- an opportunity to be out in the midst of nature, seeing and experiencing what is often otherwise missed, and to be part of the colorful swirl of humanity."

Amen. Words to live by.

More emotion: other people are joining in on the ride.

My dear friend from Newburgh, Rosemary Evans (who just happens to be the best second-grade teacher in the world), is using the bike ride as a teaching tool. Rosemary has crafted a map for her classroom showing the route to teach geography and has arranged a chart of 160 books for the kids to read -- one book for every mile.

When I told my sister, Debbie, about Rosemary's book-for-every-mile assignment, she said, "Now, there's a teacher."

And I concur.

Then, there's my bicycling pal Chris O'Connell from Goshen. Chris will be catching up with me at a point along the trek and will bike with me for a healthy chunk of the route. Talk about hammering -- the dude's legs are tree trunks and he massacres hills with some of the most powerful cycling this side of Lance Armatrong .

So, even though it's hot as a furnace as I'm pumping up another hill, I think of all these folks connected to the ride -- and I smile. It sounds crazy. I'm laboring now and sweat is collecting on my forehead. God, it's hot.

And I am smiling. I'm thinking about some of the best friends a guy can have.

It's why I'm gonna be ready for June 21.

You'll be able to come along for the ride, too. Throughout the day on June 21, Snel will be calling in reports, which will then be posted to Side Salad.

Posted by Jeff at May 30, 2005 11:23 AM | TrackBack
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