It's 3 pm on Sunday afternoon, and I'm standing in the main exhibit gallery of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. I'm wearing biking shorts, my bright red jacket, cycling shoes, and I have a wicked case of helmet hair. But I fit right in. Most of the people visiting the museum today look just like me.
That's because I just completed the 22 mile "Tour de Aldrich" and I'm now attending the "Bike Rides" Exhibition ... all put on by my new favorite museum: The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art!
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is a small gallery in the quiet little town of Ridgefield, Connecticut ... three hours from Boston.
Ridgefiled sits in a beautiful area of rolling hills and historic old villages, right near the New York border. When I read online that the Aldrich Museum was staging a new exhibition dedicated to bicycles, and organizing a bike festival at its opening, and sponsoring three organized bike rides that day, I decided I just had to be there. I drove down on Saturday afternoon with my bike in the back of a large rental car (a Chevy HHR), spent the night at a Marriot Courtyard in nearby Danbury, and then headed to Ridgefield Sunday morning. It was a beautiful day ... sunny, in the mid-70's.
There were three rides to choose from, all leaving at noon from a school near the museum: Novice (13 miles), Intermediate (22 miles), and Advanced (27 miles). I decided on the Intermediate ride, still being new to the group ride experience.
When I registered for the ride on Sunday morning though, I had a few moments of hesitation before officially selecting the 22 mile route. Driving into town, nearly every road I passed had the word "hill" in it! Great Hill Road, Tanton Hill Road, Prospect Hill Road ... what was I getting myself into? And the map handed to me at registration sure seemed to have a lot of squiggly lines on it...
But I reminded myself that I'd ridden farther than 22 miles many times before (although I usually stop every ten minutes to take photos for my blog!). I just needed to conserve energy, rest on the downhills, pace myself, and most important ... just have fun!
The ride was organized by the Aldrich Museum and the Sound Cyclists Club, who did a great job right from the start. I would estimate there were maybe a hundred people or so there.
First we divided into the three groups ... Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced ... each behind our ride leader. Interestingly, our Intermediate group was the smallest (about 15 people), which was kind of nice. The 13-mile Novice group was by far the largest, and the Advanced group had maybe about 35 people.
Before we all left, a lead organizer gave some guidelines for the ride, reminding everyone to follow the standard traffic rules. But he also went over tools for riding effectively as a group ... yelling "car back" when a car was coming up from behind so that we could be sure we were riding single file, telling us how to vocally indicate to other riders when we were passing each other, stopping or slowing down, or pointing out hazards in the road (like "glass!").
Then our 22-mile group leader introduced himself. He was named Herb, a tall man with a nice steel-framed road bike. He reiterated the rules of the road and reminded us of the average speed we would be riding (12-13 mph ... which takes into account going faster than that on the downhill sections and slower going up).
At noon, the main organizer asked the Advance group to head out first, since they would ride at the fastest pace -- and then five minutes later my group was off! I settled in about fourth from the front.
Now, I would have loved to have taken photos during the ride ... but of course that would have been incredibly unsafe. So I kept my camera stored away in my seat bag. But later that afternoon when the ride was over, I went back and drove the entire route by car, stopping wherever I could to take pictures along the way. So the photos you'll see here will look a little empty, but just imagine them with about five or six other cyclists in front!
The ride was beautiful. We made our way down narrow, hilly roads through deep forests and past beautiful homes. In some areas the leaves were still fairly green, but in others the fall colors were really starting to show.
The group got fairly stretched-out early on, which was fine ... we had two "sweepers" (as they called themselves) who were organizers riding within the group to assist or ride with anyone who fell too far behind. But I stayed with or close to the ride leaders from the beginning to the end. It wasn't a race -- I just felt most comfortable riding near the front.
It's amazing how your senses instantly take on a heightened awareness when you begin a group ride. Everything is in motion ... you, the bike, the fluctuating distance between you and the other riders, and of course the scenery. For the first few miles, we passed through narrow roads filled with greenery and farms, cycling up and over a fair number of small hills. The route was well-marked throughout, with signs at every intersection ... and best of all, there were very few cars.
After about 9 miles or so, we stopped for 5 minutes to regroup and then headed out again. This was real rolling countryside now, with beautiful fall foliage ... and one steep hill.
Just before the halfway point, the ride looped back into town through a more densely populated residential area. Again, there were hills throughout, but they were fairly gentle.
By the halfway point itself, I felt great. I was loving the scenery, enjoying the company, and having a smooth ride. Around mile 15 or so, I was riding just behind the leader when we both nearly missed a sharp turn in the route. So we stopped and waited for the others to catch up to warn them.
At that point we then entered into a very affluent part of town, with huge mansions and tree-lined streets. It was beautiful. Golf Lane had some of the steepest hills of the ride ... but the downhills afterwards were wonderful, so there were plenty of chances to recover. At around mile 19, we took a quick moment to regroup one last time, and then off we went for the final stretch.
We all truly rode at our own pace at this point, and I was still feeling very good ... zipping down the road behind the two leading riders. But little did I know that the last two miles would be the hilliest of all!
Knowing the end was near though, I kept pressing forward ... up and over the hills on a road that weaved through some beautiful forest scenery -- until finally we were on Main Street! Just ahead lay the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum and the end of our ride.
Riding down Main Street and then turning into the Aldrich sure was a wonderful feeling.
A volunteer congratulated me at the Aldrich's entrance and welcomed me to the "Bike Fest" -- which by this time (2 pm) was already in full swing.
Getting off my bike, I chatted with some of the other riders and the ride leaders. We had talked a little during the ride ... but not much. We were mainly intent on simply cycling. So it was nice to stand and get to know each other for a bit. One woman had just returned from a cycling trip through Italy (for fun, I signed up to receive the tour company's catalog when I got home).
There were bicycles everywhere at the Bike Fest, which took place in the museum's parking lot. Some were locked up, but most were not (small-town life sure is different than the city). I rolled my bike into the festival area, stopped by some of the sponsor booths, and watched a bit of a stunt rider doing tricks. I was then going to find a place to lean my bike so that I could check out the exhibit inside; but not having a bike lock with me, I decided I would ride to my car, put my bike in the back, and then drive back to the museum. Being a subway-riding-city-person, it's just not in my nature to leave my bike outside unlocked, no matter how safe it seemed!
So I rode the short distance to the school where two hours earlier I had embarked on the 22-mile ride. I put my bike in the back of the car...
...drove to a parking lot across the street from the museum, and returned to the exhibit...
As someone who loves modern art and cycling, experiencing both combined was an incredible thing! The museum had two of Lance Armstrong's beautifully painted Trek bikes, as well as bicycles enhanced by contemporary artists, video art on bike themes, and commercially produced bikes that truly did look like works of art (Cannondales, Sevens, Parlees, and other brands).
Here's a PDF of the online catalog from the museum's website.
After spending about an hour or so at the exhibition, I drove the entire 22-mile tour route by car to take photos (while listening to the end of the Patriots game on the radio), stopped in a Dunkin' Donuts to change into non-cycling clothes and buy an iced-coffee, and then hopped on I-84 to begin the three-hour drive home. The trip flew by, with so many great memories of this exciting and inspiring day to keep me company.
So a big thank you to all the folks at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Sound Cyclists, and the volunteers for creating such a fantastic event!