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Ralph Gardner Jr: Grocery Shopping In Third Gear

Ralph Gardner's backup bike
Ralph Gardner, Jr.

The food scene in the Hudson Valley – forget the Hudson Valley, I just mean on our road – has become developed enough that we can purchase everything we need to make an excellent dinner during our Saturday morning ten-mile bike ride.

Our first stop is Kinderhook Farm in Valatie, New York where we pick up everything from free-range chickens to bacon and steaks. From there it’s onto Little Ghent Farm, less than two miles away. They sell an excellent crusty sour dough boule as well as delicious cookies and cakes.

Our final stop is Jersey Meadow, a small family farm where we buy raw milk and eggs. We don’t typically purchase all of these goodies on a single bike ride; the pouch on the back of my bike only holds so much.

We may acquire one or two of the above listed items – if I’ve remembered to pack cash – but I’m speaking more aspirationally.

We do pass the aforementioned merchants on our loop. But when we’re ready to patronize them it’s typically more convenient to show up in a car.

Think of this travelogue as more of an achievable fantasy; rugged individualism for the post-modern era… to the extent that spending five to seven dollars for designer eggs and seven on a loaf of bread bears any resemblance to pioneer America.

However, as fortunate as we are to have food suppliers practicing enlightened farming practices on our route they aren’t the main attraction. Some mornings we buy nothing at all. We may stop to chat with Georgia and Lee Rainey at Kinderhook Farm, or Mimi and Richard Beaven at Little Ghent Farm as an excuse to take a breather from those challenging hills. Other times we just keep going, afraid that if we stop we might never start again.

Our primary goal is to get exercise in a more virtuous, mentally stimulating, and spiritually harmonious fashion than going to the gym and working up a sweat on a treadmill while watching the world erupt in flames on CNN.

And speaking only for myself – because I think it’s more of a guy thing – I also enjoy the simulation of flight one experiences heading downhill at high speeds on a steep country road.

I own two bikes, though one might qualify as a folly. It’s so weighted down with accessories that it’s no longer fun to ride. These include a small constellation of lights (including a couple that work off a generator) a transistor radio, compass, computer, directional signals, twin rearview mirrors and, of course, several horns.

That bike, these days, is typically reserved for house guests who are either in better shape than I am or too polite to complain.

I’ve resisted the gnawing temptation to pimp my other set of wheels – a Trek bike that boasts nothing more elaborate than a computer, bell and a small warning light. Not that there’s much use for flashers at 9 a.m. on a quiet country road.

And when I say “computer” I don’t mean that I’ve managed to affix a MacBook Air to the handlebars, though that might be worth considering. I’m talking about one of those compact devices that measures maximum and average speed, time of day, distance, etc.

Without it I’d feel almost as blind as if I hadn’t installed rearview mirrors, mostly because I’m always hoping to exceed my previous maximum speed and need some way to measure and document the accomplishment.

By the way, I never succeed in boosting my score. My top speed is always the same and serves as a testament to the grumpy laws of physics – 27.7 miles per hour on one loop, 32 miles an hour on our alternative route.

Going left out of our driveway takes us uphill, which is never an auspicious way to start a bike ride. However, at the top of the hill are open fields that provide long vistas of unspoiled countryside. We also pass a lake, farms, cows and horses.

Turning right and blessedly downhill one eventually hits a long straightaway – it’s at the bottom of that hill where I reach Tour de France velocity – with excellent views of the Catskills.

Speaking of the Tour de France, we’re not the kind of couple that wears racing gear – you know those body hugging, ultraviolet resistant, sweat wicking jerseys and padded shorts. We were t-shirts and khakis.

While both routes offer challenging hills – challenging for me, that is – I’m not going to suggest they compete with the Tour’s category 4 climbs and their 18% gradients. Or even that ten miles is testing the limits of human endurance.

Our friends Sue and Tom Carroll celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last fall by dropping by on their bikes. They were on their way from Maine to Key West.

For some reason, the incline leading back to our driveway is my personal heartbreak hill and I occasionally – make that mostly – walk it. Why press my luck when I’ve made it this far?

However, I always remount the bike once I hit the top of our driveway and glide down towards our garage in typically graceful and heroic fashion, spending the rest of the day in recovery.

By the way, I wear a helmet and I wear it correctly. My daughter, watching my return last weekend, had the audacity to suggest I had it on backwards. I’m pretty sure she’s wrong but I’m going to double-check before my next ride.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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