The basic route was pretty simple; make my way to McKeesport via 2nd Avenue, then 837; shoot up the Mon River to Monessen, then hang a hard left and climb the hill up to Rte 51 and Perryopolis. Down the other side of the ridge to the Yough River in Layton, then wind my way through Banning to Smithton, pick up the trail to West Newton, then surface roads paralleling the river to Rte 48 and the Boston Bridge. Finally, wrap things up with 148 back through McKeesport, then pick up Bowman (AKA East Pittsburgh-McKeesport Blvd, AKA "that big frickin' hill") across the ridge and down to Braddock, then home by following the river back to town. Here's the route for posterity: Perryopolis Low-Trail Alternate Route
The first stretch from Brighton Heights to McKeesport was uneventful, with the exception of several small bits of equipment deciding that they did not wish to remain firmly fastened; notably, the rear fender mount, front headlight, cyclocomputer, and both tailights. So, I spent at least 15 minutes in the first 1.5 hours fiddling with equipment; however, I suppose this is to be expected with a newly built-up bike. And I did label it a "shakedown ride", after all...
As usual, cruising up the Mon along the river was pretty darn straightforward; with the exception of a small climb in Elizabeth on Center, it's flat or gently rolling the whole way to Monessen. Nothing of note to report.
In Monessen, I encountered the first of several unmarked roads, by missing the left on Tyrol Blvd. (This was to prove a recurring theme of my day.) After correcting the navigational eccentricity, I spun my way up the hill, occasionally engaging in low-speed challenges to myself ("Okay, I can get it to 2.5 mph and stay upright; what about 2 mph?"); said challenges being significantly easier to meet than, say, sprinting for a PR to the top of the hill.
A few more directional disfunctionalities, a construction zone on Findley, and a creeping (and mostly inaccurate) sense of being utterly lost later, I finally made it to Perryopolis; unfortunately, as I was plummeting down the hill towards the Yough River at the time, I retain nothing but a blurred impression of nice old buildings and a horde of ne'r-do-well youth that were highly amused by my bike.
Crossing the river was quite simple; a charming one-lane tunnel and bridge led to the tiny hamlet of Layton, plus a gargantuan hill that had unaccountably sprouted up on my path. Wait...that wasn't supposed to be there! Turns out that, in my optimism, I had foolishly assumed that the roads between the quiet little riverside patch towns would actually follow the river, rather than veering alarmingly skyward into farm country on the other side of some rather sheer cliffs. This was to prove the first time (not the last, sad to say) that I fumbled for the granny gear out of actual need.
Once I had fought my embarrassingly slow way to Banning, the going became much easier. Following the river to Smithton, and another enactment of the "missing the unmarked left turn" ceremony, I finally made it to the Yough River trail. "Ah, time for six miles of blissfully easy riding," I thought to myself. "Perhaps I'll even stay on the trail all the way to McKeesport, if I'm feeling lazy" I thought. "This will be a nice change of pace." HAH, I say to that callow and naive young fool.
The funny thing about the combination of limestone trails that are sort of dry on the surface, but still pretty soaking wet underneath, and relatively skinny high pressure tires, is that it becomes similar to this: riding in glue. The most demoralizing and painful part of the entire trip, bar none, was six miles of peaceful riverside trail riding. By the time I arrived at West Newton, I was praying for dump trucks and flung beer bottles as being better than this sloppy, miserable mess.
The remainder of the ride was straightforward, with the exception of a few more missed turns and extra miles. All told, I ended up doing about 113 miles, with a rolling average of 14.2 mph; this sounds like a perfectly acceptable brevet pace. More importantly, I found that nothing really changed after about mile 75, in terms of weariness; this bodes well for the longer brevets, so long as I can remember to keep consistently eating and drinking.
What I did well:
- Nutrition seemed to work well. Hearty breakfast, gu packs every half hour or so, and solid food every couple of hours seems like a good working combination.
- Hill climbing. I managed not to get macho about it; as such, even the relatively unpleasant hills near the end of the ride, although taken slowly, were no big deal. I paced myself well.
What I did poorly:
- Too much time spent fiddling with equipment on-ride. I need to tighten everything down properly and hit it with Loctite.
- Too much time spent off-bike, for refreshment and potty breaks. I probably burned 45-60 minutes at various gas stations, convenience stores, etc.