Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bicycling On Long Island: The Great Peconic Loop

Another beautiful Sunday was ahead of us and the weather was just begging for a long ride. It seemed like it was a good time push the boundaries a bit so we opted for a ~110 mile ride, which will henceforth be known as the "The Great Peconic Loop". Matt, my former student accepted the challenge and for both of us, this was going to be the longest single ride ever. Matt's maximum for this year (and ever) has been a 30 miler the week before and mine was ~60 miler just a week ago. My longest single ride ever may have been something on the order of 80 miles but that must have been solid 15 years ago. Regardless, I felt ready for the century distance and Matt claimed he was as well.
On Shelter Island.

It was around 35F (~2C) in the morning and it was supposed to be sunny and comfortable 50F (~10C) by the early afternoon. I have already biked well over 200 miles this year in weather colder than this, so it was not a major concern, but the roughly 20 mph (~30 kmph) NW wind was going to be unpleasant. The plan was to head out from Stony Brook University campus through Riverhead and Southampton to Shelter Island and then through Greenport, Sound Avenue and North Country Road back to Stony Brook. Last year, I did a a shorter variant of this ride with Millicent, starting and finishing in Riverhead. And I think that ride should from now on be referred to as "The Small Peconic Loop".

Elevation profile of the ride. Flat all the way.
Yeah, get plugged by god. It's good to start the day with a laugh.
River Road, just before turning onto Route 24.
The ride was going to be more or less flat (this is Long Island after all) and we assumed (correctly, it turned out) the wind and the physical and mental fatigue will be the biggest challenges. We started out rather late, just before 8am. My worries that 347 will be already buzzing with high volume traffic were fortunately unfounded and we quickly proceeded east. Armed with fresh knowledge from the recently purchased Ultracycling Book we tried to pace ourselves. It turned out, this was more difficult than we thought and our average speed hovered between 17-19 mph. By the time we hit Grumman Blvd and River Road we were pretty much feeling invincible and the thoughts of finishing the ride in about 8 hours were crossing my mind. At the intersection of River Road and Edwards Ave, we paused briefly for a snack but the break got unintentionally extended when Matt noticed his handlebar bag hanging too low and was essentially resting on - and rubbing against - his front tire. Upon even closer inspection, he noticed one of his brake cables must have gotten stuck in there too as the rubbery coating was rubbed off of it in one place. There was no way of fixing this on the spot so we moved a few hundred yards to a Hess gas station with a severely understocked minimart. Our hopes were that the minimart would have some kind of bungee cords that would help with the positioning of the bag. No such luck though, but fortunately some (very nice) guy in a truck must have overheard Matt asking for the bungee cords and kindly donated one to him.

The ride down route 24 was smooth and fast with very light traffic and we didn't stop until just before the Sears Bellows County Park on Bellows Pond Road where my GPS decided to go for a flight. The screw that holds the clip that attaches to the handlebar thingy got lose from the vibrations and the unit fell off of the bike at solid 25 mph and hit the asphalt. This has happened before and GPS has always survived. I even left it on the roof of a car a drove off - effectively giving it a chance to hit the ground at 50 mph. Kudos to Garmin I suppose for making such a indestructible device in spite of the destructive efforts of their idiotic owners.
Looking towards the Shinnecock Bay from the canal bridge.
Anyway, we hit 27 which was buzzing with traffic but eventually a bike lane appeared which made life slightly easier for us. Even then, some imbecile driver in a truck seriously underestimated how fast a road bike can go down hill and squeezed his substitute for masculinity in between us because our bike lane (and our right-of-way) interfered with his right turn. We made another short stop on the bridge overlooking the Shinnecock canal where boats can cross from the Shinnecock Bay (and the Atlantic) into the Great Peconic Bay. After snapping a few pics we followed the Montauk Highway (CR80) to the former Southampton College which which was acquired by Stony Brook University, turned into a satellite campus and then almost completely shut down shortly thereafter. After crossing highway 27 we passed through the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Tuckahoe Road. This was a weird experience because in spite of this short bit being very picturesque, we felt like we were trespassing.
Something nutritious for the road.
On Long Beach, en route to North Haven peninsula and Shelter Island.
Shelter Island South Ferry.
In Noyack we stopped at a Deli for water and some twinkies and then navigated mostly empty roads all the way to the North Haven peninsula (very picturesque) where a bike lane and bike route signs appeared again and led us all the way to the Shelter Island South Ferry. The ferry ride was short and sweet although for the first time we noticed the wind. Also duly noticed, for the first time, was the beginning of some leg muscle fatigue. The ride across Shelter Island was a breeze although I noticed my left knee started hurting a bit. Not much, just the kneecap really but still, it was getting persistent.

Waters of the Peconic Bay.
Minor bike maintenance onboard the ferry.
North Ferry terminal on Shelter Island.
Leaving Shelter Island.
Minor handlebar adjustment onboard the Shelter Island North Ferry.
The second we hit the route 25 in Greenport, we were hit by the predicted headwind. It was not consistent (for now) but the gusts were dropping our average speed. Matt's stomach wasn't feeling well so we took another break at 7/11 in Southold. The worst wind came when we turned north on Manor Lane just east of Riverhead. Now the wind was both constant and strong as we struggled to keep the speed above 10mph. But we had a vision of the scheduled break and pie at Briemere Farms and this kept us optimistic. Turning west on Sound Avenue helped with the wind a little but we were still struggling to keep the speed up. Briemere Farms appeared on the right side of the road few miles sooner than we anticipated and we were just about ready for a break. I was surprised at the amount of people milling around as well as at the line that started well outside the building. I knew this place was a local favorite but still, this early in the season, it surprised me. Matt found a flat piece of rock all warm from the afternoon sun and laid down - at this point totally disinterested in the famed Briemere pie. He mentioned something about razorblades in his stomach, so I assumed the pie was out of the question. I made it eventually inside and got an apple tart and a cup of hot apple cider. The cider was truly fantastic and hit the spot. The pie, that's another story. The apple filling inside was delicious but the crust was way too rich for my taste and I found it overwhelmingly fatty. The taste of shortening or butter almost completely overpowered the apples inside. I was probably sporting a massive calorie deficit at this point and so I didn't feel guilty about eating it but the fatty burps came back to haunt me 45 minutes later. The pie selection was impressive, true, but the expectation of local charm was instantly replaced by a feeling of mass production bakery. I mean, just by sitting outside and watching people leaving the store with multiple pies almost constantly you can only imagine how many pies need to be baked to keep the demand satisfied. This is merely an observation, not a criticism.

Who would have thought a rock could be so comfortable.
Easy to lay down ... not so much to get up.
Hot apple cider and apple tart at Briemere Farms
Hot apple cider and apple tart at Briemere Farms.
The rest of the ride on Sound Avenue was just a consistent struggle against the wind, which, combined with building fatigue kept dropping our average speed. Mentally we were still strong, and kept pushing until we rejoined route 25 and eventually 347. The traffic on 347 was quite heavy (it was almost 5PM) so we opted for turning off of 347 in Rocky Point and taking North Country Road instead. This got rid of the traffic but left the worst climbs for the last 10 miles. There were three hills one after another, starting at the intersection with Pipe Stave Hollow Road, the middle one probably being the worst. We pushed through though, mostly because we had no choice and were so close to the finish. The rest of the ride was uneventful and we got back to campus shortly after 6PM. 


  1. Well written my friend. It was great fun mixed with great pain. We will have to do this again, but extend the mileage to a ride so epic it will be dubbed "The Epic Peconic Loop" or at least, " The Mildly Greater Peconic Loop". Many lessons learned, more to discover in the future!

  2. the video didn't work.

    i can't wait to try this ride. too bad the pie place doesn't sell by the slice. great pictures and narrative!

  3. Pekne napisane :) skoda Matovho problemu so zaludkom :(

  4. Very cool Matt! I like the elevation profile although it looks a bit deceiving. Do you think that I can handle something like this after some training? Nice photos.

  5. As usual, I enjoyed reading this travel blog (both the words and scenic photos) and came away impressed with your ability to bike such a great distance in rather harsh early Spring conditions. Although I must say, the selection of a twinkie seems to be at odds with your athleticism! I have never been to Shelter Island so enjoyed the account of your travels to and back. The greatest distance I have ever biked is 30 miles before encountering leg fatigue but that was in a rural area upstate. I am just too nervous biking on Long Island with so many cars. You may recall, you had recommended a GPS device for me in a previous blog but I have yet to do any biking this season. Keep the travel blogs coming !!

  6. Hi Anda, thanks for the nice words. Funny you should mention Twinkies. I have decided to give them a shot after the ultracycling book I mentioned in the post mentioned them as a good source of energy and fat on long rides (and 420 mg of much needed sodium per Twinkie!). So we gave them a try. I was very surprised to find out that during these long rides the common biggest problem is eating enough to keep the energy levels high.
    The traffic on Long Island is a big turnoff for me too but if you head out with the first on Saturday and especially Sunday, the roads are quite empty. Here is the official map of recommended cycling routes in Suffolk County:
    and here is Nassau:


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