Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Eastern PA 1000K, or, A Long Weekend's Journey into Accomplishment and Incoherence

Eastern PA 1000K Photos
[Edited to add: links to ride reports]
Tom's Ride Report
Emily's Ride report
Steve's Ride Report

Tom Rosenbauer, with the help of several saintly volunteers, ran the Eastern Pa Randonneurs 1000K brevet Friday, August 1st, through Monday, August 4th. As you may have already guessed, oh insightful reader, I happened to be one of the 19 audacious randonneurs who decided to take a crack at a 621-mile ride with the confidence-inspiring subtitle of "Endless Mountains". At the risk of spoiling the ending, I'll say right off the bat that I survived with no apparent injuries, and was feeling good enough that the mere thought of getting back on the bike does not inspire nausea, or even mild discomfort.

The riders were a well-experienced bunch; almost half of the complement was from the DC Randonneurs crew, with the rest of us a mixed bag from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and even Emily O'Brien down from Massachusetts with her fixed gear. (As a side note, I was delighted to see that Emily brought the fixie, as it gave me competition for the title of "Person with Bike Apparently Least Suited to the Ride.") As far as I know, I was the only first-year rookie in the crowd; that, plus the fact that this was a good 400 kilometers longer than any ride I had previously attempted, was enough to produce a butterfly or three in the stomach. On the bright side, one of the true joys of this sport lies in the almost unfailing kindness and helpfulness of the participants; a constant through my entire first series has been the encouragement and example of the veterans, and I doubt I would have made it this far without that support.

Day 1...
...dawned, if not bright, at least plenty early, as we were up at 3 AM to get dressed, scarf down as much oatmeal, bagel, and pastry as we could manage, and perform any last minute adjustments to the bikes that became necessary. I knew this was going to be a rough day, as the first 120 miles contained almost every featured climb from the entire previous brevet series, and there was another monster to deal with even later in the day, so starting off nice and easily was the order of the day. For about 10 minutes, anyway, until the adrenaline/testosterone cocktail kicked in. Heh.

No surprises, as most of the route out to Barryville was old hat by this point in the year. We punched out to the first controle near Cherryville, then climbed Little Gap (which I'm happy to report is no longer the arduous climb that it used to be!) on our way out to Cherry Valley and the long climb up Fox Gap. As usual, the relatively tight-knit group shattered during the Fox Gap climb, with the mountain goats rapidly fading in the distance while the rest of us mere mortals ground our way up the hill. Shockingly enough, Tom was NOT waiting at the top of the hill with Secret Controle sign, camera, and gallons of water; it turned out that we were going too fast, and simply missed his arrival!

A quick descent down to Portland, then over to Blairstown and the Gourmet Gallery controle via Walnut (always a fun and surprising climb) Rt 616, and Rt 94. There, while my wiser companions decided to stop and have a proper meal, I decided to push on to the next controle before eating heavily. (In hindsight, this may well have contributed to a fairly bad patch a few hours down the road, but I get ahead of myself.) I hyperventilated my way up the Milbrook climb, then slapped it into high gear for the descent into the Delaware Water Gap. After grinding my way up the hill on Old Mine Rd past Old Milbrook Village, the rest of the Gap passed uneventfully (except for the trail of rando paraphernalia I ended up collecting along the way; bottles and reflective anklets were apparently disinclined to remain with their owners that day...). Tom popped in just before the turn in Layton towards Dingman's Ferry, and topped off our supplies of water and bananas.

From Dingman's Ferry, the climb up Raymondskill Falls. Ouch. OUCHouchouCHOUch. It's not that Raymondskill Falls itself was so terrible, although it certainly wasn't good; it was the continued climbing and vicious rollers on Kessel and Sawkill that followed which REALLY hurt. Once I got to Twin Lakes, things calmed a bit, and I even slowed my heart down enough to enjoy a rather humorous hand-made cautionary roadside sign, to wit: "Warning! Slow Down! Dangerous Armed Rednecks ahead!" On the down side, my usual state of razor-sharp mental acuity had degraded to a tendency to stare at clouds and freewheel at 7 MPH; this is not accepted practice in the Manual of Style for randonneurs on a 1000K ride who haven't even hit 250K yet. Fortunately, the controle at Barryville was nigh, and a few thousand calories in both solid and liquid form did wonders for my powers of concentration.

I had a bit of a rough patch after Barryville; well, to be honest, I had about 25 miles of rough patch, possibly due to skipping solid food a few hours back at Blairstown. I had enough energy to be amused by possibly the worst name for a hair styling salon I'd ever seen: "Hairway to Heaven", as well as spend a few minutes communing with a mud-encrusted old turtle making his leisurely way across the Lackawaxen Scenic Drive; however, I couldn't really keep the speed over about 14-16 mph, which is fairly poor performance given that it was dead flat and even had a slight tailwind. Fortunately for me, I encountered Bill Beck before the last big climb of the day on the way to the Dunkin Donuts controle in Carbondale, so had his presence from which to derive some much-needed gumption.

From Carbondale (AKA The City at the Foot Of The Brake-Pad-Eating Cliff), we rode the final segment to the first sleep controle in Halstead. This was a fairly brutal section, due to our fatigue and a preponderance of fairly nasty sawtoothed rollers. On the bright side, the sunset was absolutely fantastic, we encountered a herd of bison in a nearby field, and I actually got use from my arm warmers (albeit by giving them to Crista, but still...). Once we reached the Colonial Brick Inn and Suites, a quick shower, pounds of Tom's fantastic lasagna, and a 3 AM wakeup call were in order.

Day 2...
...began far too early, as I choked down a banana and some oatmeal at 3:30 before wincingly pedaling out of the parking lot at 4. On the bright side, the day's elevation profile was fairly forgiving for the first hundred miles or so today, so we could expect to bank a bit of time this morning.
Another high point was when Denny, a friend from 'BentriderOnline and the RBR rally, rode out on his Giro 26 recumbent to meet me on the way to Sayre. It was nice to have a conversation with someone more-or-less at eye level, and to see a friendly face that I HADN'T already spent 250 miles or so riding with. We checked in at the controle in Sayre, the Dandy Mini Mart, then continued onward. Denny rode with me as far as the confluence of the Susquehanna and Sheshequin rivers, then took a couple of pictures and bid me adieu.

The rest of the journey to the next controle was uneventful; steeply rolling farm roads, primarily, with the odd farm dog and (quite odd) herd of longhorn cattle. The Acorn Exxon market in Canton was everything one could wish, including hot sandwiches made to order and enough tables to seat plenty of fatigued randonneurs.

[NOTE: it is at this point that my note-taking became even more sporadic, and my mental faculties to decline further, so I hope the reader will forgive a certain degree of potential inaccuracy in my recollections. You have been warned.]

From Canton, we began the longest stage of the route; 71 miles to the next controle in Mill Hall. I might also add that the relatively merciful nature of the day's terrain thus far was to undergo a fairly shockingly, almost Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque transformation to some of the most brutal terrain on the ride. Rt 414 beat the snot out of me, and pretty much everyone else as well, due to the unrelenting nature of the wall-curve-precipice-wall-curve-precipice pattern it took. By the time things leveled out (in Liberty, on Blockhouse Rd down to Pine Creek park), I was utterly knackered. Fortunately, Pine Creek was gorgeous, and mostly flat and downhill for the next few miles to Waterville.

In Waterville, we stopped for refreshments at a restaurant in the park, which contained an honest-to-goshen ice cream bar. This was to prove a problem, as I could not resist a refueling choice of vast quantities of ice cream, tamped down with a grilled cheese/bacon/tomato sandwich. I would like to note that this was to prove a poor choice in the immediate future.

From Waterville, the terrain took a rather alarming turn for the "up"; several miles of steady climb up to Haneyville at the top of the ridge. This wasn't so bad, except for the grilled-cheese-and-ice-cream combo trying desperately to claw its way up my throat; the subsequent 15 miles of ridgetop rollers was evil, and resulted in profanity, blasphemy, and detailed fantasies of vengeance being directed towards Tom. And that was just on my part...

Finally, the punishment eased up, and we made it to the Sheetz controle in Mill Hall. At this point, the ride was definitely taking its toll; while no-one seemed too dispirited, everyone was looking more than a little haggard, and there was quite a bit of concern over the last stage before the next overnight controle. At least two more big climbs were in store, plus an additional 15 miles of "traditional Pennsylvania terrain".

I was paused at the top of the big climb, donning my reflective "please don't hit me" apparel, when I was joined by Kelly and Mary on tandem, Andrea, and Greg. We formed an impromptu band, complete with twanging tendons for the strings, groans for percussion, and a bit of sucking air for the wind section, and picked up the pace. After punching through the last series of climbs, we found that Tom had redeemed himself; the approach to the sleepover controle in Lewisburg was via Rt 192, which turned out to be about 20 miles of fast downhill. It was amazing how much we perked up at that point, as we spent much of our time in the high teens and low twenties for the rest of the leg.

The Country Inn and Suites in Lewisburg was a palace, BTW. At that point, it could have been a hog pen for all I cared, but this was a truly nice little hotel.

Day 3...
...began with an utter lack of appetite, and a whopping 3 hours of sleep, so I was pretty much an animate corpse for the first hour or so. The legs to the next two controles, in Millersburg and Pine Grove, were fairly forgettable; I can say this because, well, I've forgotten everything about them. From Pine Grove, we had one more climb and crossing of the Appalachian Trail, then a vigorous ride through Lancaster farmland to the penultimate controle, the post office at Blue Ball. We (Chuck and Crista, Joe, Bill, and myself) stopped midway in the town of Reinholds at a fantastic Victorian railway depot that was converted to a restaurant; although the service was dreadfully slow, the staff was friendly and the food was good, so the lost time was considered well spent. A quick crossing on foot of a bridge under construction (allowing us to avoid a detour with 4 bonus miles!), and we were back on our way to Blue Ball.

In Blue Ball, we dropped our post cards in the mail box, then retraced our steps briefly on the way to Morgantown. One last stop at the Turkey Hill there for supplies, and we embarked on the final leg back to the hostel. Traffic picked up a good bit as darkness fell; lowlights included a set of fools on crotch rockets (AKA street motorcycles) who thought it would be fun to see how closely they could buzz us at some obscene speed. We persevered, however, and fought our way over to Rt 563. A mere 15 miles and one real climb later, and we were turning into the driveway of the hostel, worn down but happy.

At 9:35 PM on Sunday August 3rd, myself, Bill, Chuck, Crista, and Joe finished as a group. Pictures, handshakes, and pizza were distributed indiscriminately, followed by a shower and collapsing into immobile carrion on a bunk upstairs for 8 hours.

Good fun...I'd do it again, and feel pretty confident that I could pull off a 1200K without too much difficulty.

I highly recommend that interested parties take a look at Bill Beck's photos; he takes great pictures, and got quite a few in the course of this ride.

Lessons Learned
There are three opportunities for improvement that I should address.
  • First, climbing; although I'm not a bad climber at this point, it's still one of the most obvious areas on which to work to improve my overall speed.
  • Climbing leads naturally to my next point, which is descending; I'm fine dropping like a stone on a straightaway with good visibility, but I turn into a brake-riding weenie at the first hint of a curve or limited sight line.
  • Finally, I still have a lot of room for improvement at the controles; I spent way too much time dawdling at many of them, and could probably have shaved at least a couple of hours off my overall time (or gotten two more hours of sleep!) with no real difficulty.

I'm quite pleased with how well I held up with regards to overall performance, and I had very little aftereffects beyond tiredness and a bit of soreness/stiffness in the legs. Oh, yeah, and a hint of numbness in the feet, but nothing serious. I think a lot of that well-being is due both to youth and to the recumbent; I recover well, and the bike simply doesn't beat me up when I ride.


Jim said...

Great write up! Really enjoyed reading about the ride. That is soooo far! P38's are supposed to be awesome climbers - a great choice for riding in Pennsylvania!

Are you thinking of using the Baron for brevets?? I'm working up to my first on a Volae Expedition.

Reddan said...


I'm still seeing how the Baron and I get along; got a few adjustments to make still.

I'm currently planning to use it for fast centuries and shorter rides, and stick to the P-38 for the longer stuff. But who knows?

Emily said...

I really enjoyed reading your ride report, it was nicely descriptive!
Mine's coming soon...
Your bike can't have been that unsuitable; congratulations on your longest ride!

Reddan said...

Thanks, I was pretty pleased myself. :-)
I look forward to your report.

Emily said...

Okay, here's mine: