As I described in my last post, The Tour of the Battenkill is America’s toughest one day race and America’s “Queen of the Classics”. It’s a one day road race a la the spring classics circuit in Europe, which includes the famed Paris-Roubaix. Battenkill takes place in Cambridge, NY every year and similar to the rolling farmlands in Europe, Cambridge is, in a word, rural.
Given Cambridge’s size, we stayed in neighboring Saratoga Springs. Although Saratoga is known for its mineral springs and baths (which we sadly did not have time for), the thing you will notice throughout the town is horses – horse statues and horse photos everywhere! This is due to the big horse racing scene at the Saratoga Race Course. But, we were concerned with a horse of another color…..(horrible joke? Yeah, but I just had to make it).
After a long drive, many tolls, and an unfruitful quest for the oddly allusive Whopper Jr., we made it to Saratoga Springs and checked in to our room at the Hampton Inn and Suites. If you are wondering about the Whopper incident, don’t worry, that will be explained in a later post – an expose on rest stops. The hotel lobby, of course decorated with horse racing memorabilia and statues, was open and nice and lead us to the incredibly friendly older lady at the concierge desk. She gave us our keys, went through the usual spiels and then informed us of the noise policy – 4 warnings and you’re done. FOUR!?! Stark contrast to our ridiculous Philly encounter with the unnecessarily rude, pantless flight attendant. In addition to their friendliness, the Hampton Inn had an awesome free breakfast and the beds were very comfortable. I would highly recommend staying there.
A quick drive through farmland and a slightly sad mix of antique stores, empty store fronts and abandoned houses, and we were in Cambridge so that Andy and Ryan could check-in and pre-ride part of the course. That left me free to roam and check out the town.
Almost as prevalent as antique shops are the number of churches. Although I am not religious, I am a fan of religious architecture and art.
Two houses down from this church was a similar white church. If you turned right at the next intersection and walked for just a few minutes, you would come across another set of churches practically across the street from one another. One was not so interesting looking and of course had a giant pro-life banner out front…the other one was beautiful.
Cambridge was really flourishing in the early 19th century as an agricultural town. Besides having the farmland, the Rice Seed Company set up shop in Cambridge and was the second largest and profitable seed company at the time. As such, Mr. Rice was a “seed tycoon” and built a mansion for himself and his wife, which is now the Rice Mansion Inn, a bed and breakfast.
As a complement to the farmland and seed production, Cambridge was also home to the Cambridge Steel Plow Company, which manufactured the country’s first all steel plow.
To be able to ship all the farm products and equipment out, the town depended upon the railroad.
With the dependence on the railroad and the travelers that came to town on the trains, the town was in need of a place for the people to eat and sleep. Cue the construction of the Cambridge Hotel in 1885. Unfortunately, during the race weekend, the hotel was shamelessly splattered with event sponsor banners. Still, the building is exactly what you might imagine – something out of a western movie or a part of an Oklahoma! set.
The shops and diner (yes singular) that dotted Main Street were what you would imagine from an old, small town.
In my Friday Escape post about Cambridge, I mentioned a coffee shop called Uncommon Ground that I was hoping to stop in to. Luckily, the shop opened for the weekend because of the race. So, after some wandering, photo taking and a pop into the antique shop, I headed over to Uncommon Ground for a caramel latte.
Inside, as I waited for the barista to make my tasty beverage, an old man eating a banana struck up a conversation with me. We talked for a bit, when his wife (who worked at the cafe) came by to eat some more of her banana. She had evidently ripped a piece of the banana off, and then had pulled away for work. In her absence, the freed portion of the banana rolled away from the rest and was at the other end of the counter. She immediately observed, “Oh! My banana must have rolled away!” To which her husband replied, “Do you suppose that’s how cavemen invented the wheel? That they were eating a banana and part of it rolled away?” His wife just shook her head and walked away, so he turned his questioning glance toward me. I smiled and said maybe, but I really wanted to burst out laughing.
Latte in hand, I left the old man in his banana and the wheel quandary and headed outside to enjoy the sunshine on the patio. As I sat sipping my latte, a man come out of the cafe with a plate of salad, surveyed the already full tables, and resigned himself to eat his salad standing. I was taking up an entire table by myself, so I told him that he was welcome to join me. The two of us got to chatting and I came to find out that he was also in town for the race. Not surprising, lots of people were. But, he was not there to race or to support a racer….he was there to support the cafe. Common Ground is owned by a commune and since they knew they were going to be open for the weekend, which they normally aren’t, and that they would be very busy pumping racers with coffee, they asked some other members to come into town to help. And here I thought Common Ground was a play on coffee grounds and a message on diplomacy and getting along with your fellow man. Instead, it likely represents the ideals of the commune.
The man, who shall remain nameless, was very nice and I really enjoyed talking to him. Still, the idea of a commune is a little strange to me. Removing legal issues, the idea of pooling resources seems ok. It’s like a large family. But, there must be some spiritual component or something, because they all dressed and looked alike, and not in a consumer-driven, cookie-cutter jcrew way. All of the men had long hair pulled into a low ponytail and long scraggly beards. All of the women were very homely looking, had long hair pulled into ponytails, flowing long-sleeved blouses and either ankle-length skirts or fabric pants. I am NOT talking about a fashionable maxi skirt for the beach or the bizarrely back MC hammeresque pants. I am talking frumpy peasanty-looking clothes. It all seemed a little cultish to me, but to each his own…plus, my latte was really good.
Back in Saratoga Springs for the night, Ryan, Andy and I wandered the streets in search of food! Everywhere on the main road seemed packed, so we cut down a side street and found Gaffney’s. Gaffney’s was a great little neighborhood pub, had decent live music, and absolutely excellent pasta. All three of us were very impressed and surprised at how good our meal was. I highly recommend Gaffney’s.
On the drive over to the race, there were some last minute strategy conversations going on in the car. I’m not a racer and had nothing to add on this front, so I sat quietly and stared at the animals as we passed. Then the talk turned to nerves. Here was somewhere where I could jump in – I’ve seen my fair share of inspirational sports movies (probably my favorite genre of movie), and I can, and often do, easily quote Remember the Titans. So, I offered this nugget of advice, “Turn those butterflies into attack eagles!” Probably some of my best work – Coach Boone would be proud.
Here’s where I would love to post all of my sick photos from the race: large peleton shot stretching through the rolling farmland, racers both coming in and going out of a covered bridge, oblivious cow chewing his cud in the foreground as racers fly past him, up-close shot of two guys battling it out around the corner, and of course, Ryan’s awesome victory/pain face as he crosses the finish line….
Instead, I couldn’t see most of the course at all and I spent 45 minutes perfecting the magazine worthy finish shot for Ryan only to have my efforts wasted and foiled by my own idiotic move. As I waited for Ryan, the wind was picking up and tossing dirt and debris around, so I placed my lens cap back on. When Ryan rounded the corner and headed down the straight away toward the finish, I got excited and started cheering for him. I had already set up my shot, so no need to worry. He came closer and I bent over to take my perfect shot only to, you guessed it, have my LENS CAP ON!!! What an ass. I was pretty pissed. But, Ryan did great!!! 16th out of 50 in his category.
His friend Collin, who was in a different category got 4th and was super stoked!
Ryan’s other friend Andy also did well and finished in the middle of the pack in his category. If you’ve been to a bike race as a fan or a racer, you already know the importance of food and beers after a race! An Irish pub is an excellent choice, and our pub for the night was The Parting Glass. Decent burger, good beers.
Next morning, and not to be confused with Common Ground in Cambridge, we went to Uncommon Grounds in Saratoga Springs. Very good chai tea latte. Then it was time for our long journey home.
All in all, Cambridge and Saratoga Springs were pretty cool. Oh, and I have to add, a local dairy farm brought fresh chocolate milk to the race….I LOVE chocolate milk and this chocolate milk was stuff of legend. So tasty. I’m already looking forward to having more next year. I will also NOT be bested by my lens cap again and I will get a shot of the famed covered bridge. For now, here’s one that Ryan took of Andy with the bridge in the background during their pre-ride of the course – just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
See you next year Battenkill!