Watching the world’s best marathoners compete in Beijing this summer may have inspired you to dust off your Nikes, but for many of us, pounding those 26.2 miles of pavement on foot seems like too much to even contemplate. Fortunately, the Valley offers another sort of endurance challenge: the long-distance bike tour.
In August, seasoned cyclists and Lance Armstrong wannabes alike rode in the fourth annual Great Hudson Valley Pedal, a six-day, 200-mile trek from Albany to New York City that included stops at scenic Valley locales like the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site and Red Hook’s Alison Wines & Vineyards. The ride is less daunting than it seems — although bikers pedaled 35 to 45 miles a day, they could do so at their own pace, with many of the 175 participants taking four or five hours to complete each day’s journey. For Keith Hudak, a Kingston resident and one-time competitive cyclist, the primary challenge was not the biking, but the camping; the 50-year-old had never slept in the great outdoors before. But the other riders — novice riders and experts, children and seniors, who together represented half of the 50 states — made him feel right at home. “The ride for me became more about the people riding with me than the tour itself,” Hudak says. “At the end, we were like one big family.”
If you missed the Pedal, you can check out another one of the area’s more popular bike tours this month. The Fall Foliage Bike Tour allows participants to enjoy Orange County’s autumn scenery (participants can choose to conquer a 15-, 25-, 40-, or 50-mile course) and donate to charity at the same time: The $30 entry fee will benefit McQuade Children’s Services and Orange Pathways, the organization responsible for the Orange Heritage Trail, a 10-foot wide path on the former Erie Railroad that, when completed, will extend more than 20 miles from the City of Middletown to the Town of Monroe. The tour kicks off and ends at the Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, where bikers will be treated to a healthy lunch and entertainment.
Bike tours such as the Fall Foliage trip offer a unique opportunity for a charity event, says Kristen Jensen, a vice president of McQuade, because they draw a vibrant mix of hard-core cyclists and families in search of a fun afternoon activity. “There are a lot of fund-raisers in this community,” she says, “and this is a very different one.” McQuade expects more than 500 riders for the tour, including about two dozen cadets from physical education instructor Jason Suby’s cycling class at West Point. The tour will act as Suby’s students’ final exam, an untimed test of whether his pupils have built up enough stamina to tackle 25 miles on a bike. Plus it allows Suby (who has volunteered as a mentor with McQuade in the past) and his cadets with a way to give back to the community. “If you’re going to have the opportunity to have a great workout and support a good cause,” he says, “that’s a win-win situation for both sides.”
A win-win is right. Biking in a group is safer than venturing onto the road by yourself, and tours provide company that otherwise might be hard to find. “When you’re riding along with a pack like that, there’s a lot of visibility [for cars to see you],” says Peter Malone, a biking enthusiast from Cornwall-on-Hudson who plans on riding in the Fall Foliage tour. And let’s not forget — while pedaling a bike a few dozen miles, even at a leisurely pace, is no easy task, it requires a fraction of the energy running does. Remember that the next time you’re sitting on a curb, trying to force yourself to start jogging, and a group of bikers whiz by.
The 2008 Fall Foliage Bike Tour will be held Sunday, Oct. 5. The entry fee for adults is $25 in advance and $30 day on the day of the event. Visit www.mcquade.org for more information.