(Disclaimer: I was paid to help with the ride and I stayed for free at the hotel. On the other hand I was not asked or required to post anything about my experiences with the ride or hotel.)
As I posted earlier I'd been asked to help run a fun ride to help publicize the opening of a new hotel in Norwalk, the EVEN Hotel. Since the hotel sat in an area I knew pretty well, since I enjoy working with riders of all abilities, and since I felt it a personal challenge to do a good job, I thought it'd be a good fit.
One of the benefits was that I could stay at the hotel the night before the ride. I totally forgot to take pictures of the very futuristic lobby area so those will have to wait until I visit the hotel again, but the rooms were very nice for a $120-130/night room. I stayed in a more expensive sister hotel, by chance, before the White Plains Crit, and I thought the EVEN Hotel was a better value.
Unfortunately, because of the hustle and bustle before an event, even a short one, I was up until 2 AM working - riding part of the course with some of the folks, marking the course, then making more arrows and driving the whole course again (and putting arrows in whatever places necessary). This means I never turned on the TV, I didn't get to explore the room, and so I could only go by face value - what I saw was what I got.
TV, modern plugs, and efficient use of space.
You can see my laptop at the bottom of the picture above. I eventually had a laminator and a printer going as well. What I didn't realize is that I could have fit virtually all of it on the fold-down desk that has the words "uber-efficiency" on it. The laminator would have needed to go on the shelf where the orange water bottle sits but still, it would have worked out.
I didn't open the desk until just before I left.
Shucks. I could have used that space. It's a standing desk also, meant for use while standing, not while sitting. Awesome. I might have even turned on the TV had I been working at standing level.
Yoga mat, foam roller, some other stuff, plus wipes.
I didn't touch any of the stuff above. The floor looks like bamboo but I don't know what it is. For all I know it might be rubberized tile or something.
The door to the bathroom. Or the tracks for the top of it anyway.
I loved the rolling wall door thing.
The "backlit" mirror is cool, I really dug the indirect light.
The indirect light actually let me see my face without blinding me. I want at least one for the house.
EO stuff in the shower.
EO is one of the brands in the hotel that is a stand alone brand. They provided all the soaps and fragrance type stuff.
We need to redo our 20-ish year old shower and bathtub in the house. This looks nice and sweet.
The sink was functionally nice.
I thought Junior would love to play with the water coming out of the faucet.
I liked the open clean look. Also the hardware (Kohler, based on the logos) moved smoothly and easily. I want similar stuff in our house.
The ride is on the schedule!
Across from the elevators there's an event calendar type thing. The fun ride was on there! It legitimized the ride to me.
There is a pedaling theme here.
No, we didn't use this bike on the fun ride. The first hill would have been tough, although we could have brought a LOT of refreshments with us.
Optional conference room.
This was part of the grand opening stuff they set up.
The ride itself was basically a corporate fun ride. The marketing rider was a guy by the name of Matthew, he was my contact. He'd be riding and making sure the folks had a good time. I'd be another ride leader. This left us with two ride leader vacancies.
The hotel is next door to Podium, a cycling/training facility that sponsors a local USAC team. They sent over one rider, Mike H, who also ended up one of the ride leaders. I know Mike from when he first started racing, going through the Bethel Spring Series clinics a couple years ago. He's now a Cat 3 and a good solid racer, on and off the bike.
One of my long time friends and a long time helper at the Bethel Spring Series, David B, lives in the area. He also agreed to help out with the ride and joined us as the fourth ride leader.
On the morning of the ride I was up at 5 AM, after a few hours of sleep, and went to get the rental bikes checked over. Matthew and David would do minor fit adjustments (saddle height mainly) while I made sure the bikes were okay. When the first couple quick release skewers practically fell open in my hands I realized that the bikes weren't 100%. Shifting seemed off on a few bikes, and most of the bikes needed substantial air added to the tires. This meant a bit more work than expected (Matthew was told the bikes would be 100% when delivered).
The rental fleet ranged from a pretty new CAAD10/105 to mountain bikes that dated back to the early 90s. I actually smiled when I saw some of the bikes because I remembered selling the purple and pink two tone Specialized Hardrocks back in the day. It was in surprisingly good shape, as were the other bikes from that era. One promising bike, a Cannondale 2.8 Ultegra road bike, unfortunately had dry rotted tires and was unrideable. We used every single bike except the dry rotted tire Cannondale and two kids bikes. I think there were a couple people left behind because of the lack of bikes, which totally shocked me because I think they'd gotten something like 28-29 bikes.
Most of the riders were casual, although a few were what I'd call enthusiasts, mainly on mountain bikes. If they were serious about cycling they hid it well - no one except David, Mike and myself used cycling shorts and no one had cycling shoes. About half were unfamiliar with modern bikes, so the integrated shifters threw them off on the road bikes, and even the flat bar bikes had unfamiliar controls.
On the other hand everyone was super enthusiastic about the ride. It might have been the culmination of three years of work to get this hotel concept off the ground (the Norwalk EVEN Hotel is the first one), but whatever the reason there were a lot of smiles, a bit of nervousness, and a lot of energy just begging to be unleashed.
About half the group before the ride. Mike and David are to the left.
When I plotted the course I realized that the only way out from the hotel would involve a steep hill. It was short but still, it was steep, and I wasn't sure how people would do on sneakers on regular pedals. I also had to find a way to get back over the same ridge to get back to the hotel.
Therefore the ride had a sort of theme built into it. It started with a tough beginning, rolled along with some enjoyable mid stuff, had a final test, then ended with a fast and fun descent back to the hotel. I compared it to a movie - the opening exciting scene, the regular stuff in the middle, the part where you think the good guys have to struggle, and the final triumph.
Someone removed a number of arrows between about 1 AM and 7 AM so we had to regroup a bit more than planned at the beginning, but overall the ride went well. No one got hurt, no one fell over, and everyone made it back to the hotel in one piece.
I didn't have any expectations at all because I hadn't met pretty much any of these people before this morning. Therefore I didn't know what to expect, how they would respond to adversity (aka "hills"), and just their attitudes in general. Overall I was pleasantly surprised - the folks were all very nice, thoughtful, cheerful, and, importantly, enthusiastic. I was particularly impressed with the determination of the riders when it came to tackling the hills.
I told at least one rider how to shift into lower gears on the first hill, and thanks to modern cassette ramp technology (and properly adjusted drivetrains) everyone got into their lower gears for the first hill and we were up and over that fine.
Explaining how to shift on the first hill.
Some rolling terrain followed and that went by quickly. The hills really challenged everyone, me included, but the flat and downhill stuff everyone loved.
I'm not sure who but someone wanted video and photographs so every now and then a vehicle would pass us with guys holding cameras leaning out of various windows and sunroofs. I felt very conscious of the cameras. I think most of the footage with me starts with the camera on my back while I'm yelling, "Car back, wow this guy is close, move right, oh, hey, it's you guys again."
I hope they got some good footage. My helmet cam battery died (I seem to have issues with one of the three batteries I have and I had the wrong one in the Contour I used) so I don't have footage of most of the ride. The footage I did have seemed to be shot over everyone's heads. For races I aim the camera sort of high since I ride much of the time with my head hung low. I guess in fun rides, especially ones that I'm leading, I tend to keep my head up much more than I do in races.
Before the ride I had helped fit one rider to probably the nicest bike out there, a CAAD10 with 105, probably a year old and with virtually no miles on it. The rider came up to me on the second hill, the hardest one of the ride, and very calmly told me that the gearing felt a bit high. The calmness really struck me because it was an absolutely critical point of the hill, one where even I was wary of toppling off the bike. Even though there was an undertone of worry the way the rider talked to me really impressed me because I'd expect most people to be yelling in panic at that point.
At any rate I glanced down and the poor rider was in the small-small, a 34x11 or so. For the steep hill - I'd use a 39x25 given the choice - it was an enormous gear, especially considering the non-cyclist nature of the rider and the sneakers and platform pedals.
"Push the big lever in on the right side. That will get you into lower gears."
The rider reached and found the smaller lever, the one that would ultimately put the bike in the 11T.
"The other big lever," I continued.
The rider grabbed the main lever and the chain quickly moved across the cassette.
"Is that better?" I asked.
The rider nodded.
I looked up. I'd slowed down to help this rider and now I saw that two riders were sprinting to the very top. We needed to turn right, there was an arrow there, but I wasn't sure if they'd see it.
"I need to get back up there. Will you be okay?"
"Yes, now it's fine. Thanks!"
I gathered myself and sprinted up the hill like it was the finish of a race. I managed to get to the top as the other rider made the turn.
As we got to the end the riders relaxed. With the second tough hill out of the way they felt like they'd accomplished something and I could see the smiles broadening. After the short drop down the last descent we rolled into the hotel parking lot, cameras recording the moment for posterity. Some folks cheered for us, like we'd done a big ride.
And in a way it was.
For me it was an 11 mile ride, not much at all in the scheme of things. But for them the ride represented just a bit more than that. It had been a three year journey for the hotel folks to get the EVEN Hotel off the ground, from inception to grand opening, and now they were going to see the fruits of their labor. I think that the ride triumph symbolized that, and that's why I saw such big smiles.
Of course it could be that they just had fun riding bikes again.