Monday, May 11, 2009

Crush the Commonwealth 2009

Edited to Add:
Fxdwhl's Photos, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday reports
dhd's ride report

Eric's results list

Short Version

Started 5:20 AM on Friday the 8th of May at Point State Park, with somewhere between 20 and 30 other riders. 390-ish miles and 35:64 later, I was first finisher at the Liberty Bell, and had well and truly shattered the previous record in the mid-40s. Rolling average was 14.5, time on bike was approximately 27.5 hours. One extended stop (4 hours) in Chambersburg, a couple of half-hour stops for meals, and probably a dozen 10-15 minute stops for fluid (either intake, output, or both) and quick refreshments.

Awesome ride. Hurt a bit, but awesome.

Long Version
My sweet, wonderful, endearing, noise-monkey of a daughter managed to restrict my sleep to roughly 3 hours before the ride began (for the nth night in a row), so I will confess to feeling a bit behind the proverbial eight-ball before the ride began. Being the stalwart rando-nerd that I am, I got up, indulged in a heavily buttered bowl of oatmeal and pint glass of sugared, lemony Lapsang Souchong, then staggered out to the garage to mount up. Last minute check: triply redundant lighting systems, enough spare layers to keep me warm down to below freezing, spare parts up to and including brake and gear cables, and about 3000 calories of bars, gels, beans, and energy drink mixes. fleet-footed steed felt more like a cart horse at this point, but I decided to pretend that I was just tired, rather than suffering from advanced Kitchen Sink Syndrome.

Headed down to the Point; was one of the first arrivals, but for Ben from DC. Amusingly enough, I was wearing the DC Randonneurs jersey that I'd earned during the 300K the prior weekend; Ben apparently rides with them on a regular basis, so was more than slightly surprised to see the club colors at 5 AM in Pittsburgh. We were shortly joined by Jeremy, down from Chicago. (Apparently there were two Jeremys from Chi-town, but I only met one, so I'll not assign them nicknames or numbers or anything like that.) As it turned out, Ben, Jeremy, and I were to spend much of the first day together.

More riders poured in over the next few minutes; at least a couple of dozen were milling around by the time we departed at 5:20. A quick jaunt over to PPG Place to pick up potential stragglers, and we were off on the neutral roll to McKeesport. It became rapidly apparent that we had riders with a wide range of average speeds, so Ted and I made the executive decision (i.e. "We're in front, so we decide") to stop at the gas station in McKeesport to regroup. From there, we headed to the trail, then did a final "social regroup" at the Boston trail head. Quite a few of the faster folks in the front were champing at the bit by this point, so the social stop rapidly unraveled, and the process of sorting ourselves into small, vaguely compatible riding groups began. Myself, Ben, Jeremy, Wes, Tony, Ted, Ken, and David went off the front; then the group further splintered into Ben, Jeremy, and me in the lead.

The less said about the trail, the better. That said, I'll now talk about how much I dislike that many miles of limestone: I dislike it lots and lots. To be fair, it was in better shape than I had expected and feared; the previous week's worth of rain had merely turned some spots into wheel-sucking phlegm, rather than the entire trail. Still, after the first 50 miles of trail, I was really quite ready to be done. Shame I still had 40 miles to go until getting off at Rockwood...

We stopped for a quick bite at the convenience store in Rockwood, then headed off for the first of many climbs into Somerset, followed by Bedford, a stop at Sheetz, and Breezewood. We were making good time, and were fortunate enough to find the approach to the abandoned turnpike before daylight had faded. Good thing, too, as it was hard enough for me to spot in the light. The turnpike and tunnels were truly cool; sadly, however, I discovered my tires' propensity for pinch flats on the other side of said tunnels, where the pavement had degraded into naught but gravel-filled potholes and islands of sharp-edged asphalt. Two flats inside of 20 minutes does not a happy Dan make.

From there, we rejoined Bike Route S towards Cowan's Gap and Chambersburg. By the time we climbed the Gap, Ben was starting to find the idea of pitching his tent very, very appealing, so we bid him adieu at the state park campground area. Jeremy and I pushed on towards Chambersburg, with an eye towards a 1 AM arrival. Unfortunately for me (and for Jeremy, as he was waiting for me), the fatigue started setting in hard. We made it into Chambersburg around 1:30, and decided that it was time for a proper sit-down meal. The Waffle House was a lovely choice, as the staff was friendly, the portions were reasonable, and the prices were no more extravagant than one would expect. At this point, discretion became the better part of valor, and plans to push on to York before sleeping were overthrown in favor of the Days Inn one block over.

Checked into the hotel at 3, and were up and out the door by 5:30, for a total Chambersburg break time of four hours. Fortunately, once the legs had warmed back up, the ride began to trend much more in the downhill sort of way. In fact, once we'd started well on the way to York, I was feeling so good that speeds in the high teens and low 20s over the country rollers became the norm. I said my farewells to Jeremy, explaining that I wanted to take advantage of my burst of energy while it lasted; this was basically a semi-polite way of saying "It's a race, I'm feeling pretty good at the moment, and I'm outa here!"

While I intended to make the most of the perky period, I was a bit surprised to see how long it lasted...I was maintaining the same good speeds pretty much all of the way into Lancaster, and didn't really slow down until the last 20 miles of the approach to Phoenixville, Valley Forge and the trail head. I was hoping to make up some time while bombing down the trail; sadly, my tank was almost dry, and I could only maintain decent speed when I was chasing some guy on a tri bike. Then, once I reached the portion of the trail where it transitioned from pavement to towpath, I spent way too much time dithering on whether or not I should keep going, and where, and how, and all sorts of interesting mental vacillations. Finally continued on, and found myself smack-dab in the middle of a seething mass of humanity in honor of some rowing regatta. Average speed dropped to about 2-3 mph, and I found my normal love for all people giving away to vein-popping antipathy. Finally broke free of the press, with a good 20 minutes before my goal of 36 hours, and only 3 miles to go to the art museum. Then one of my patches from the prior night's flats gave way. I emitted copious quantities of profanity, then patched the patch, and continued on my way with a bit less time margin than I'd hoped.

Finally made it into town, and realized that I was simply not capable of reading the directions to the Bell. I knew it was Market and Something, so asked a native on Market which way I should go. Said native gleefully sent me in entirely the wrong direction, and I managed to make it all the way to 52nd before realizing that something was rotten in Denmark. Turned about, realized I'd utterly blown my 5 PM arrival time, and pedaled in slightly dejected, yet content fashion back down Market. Found the Bell, and called Eric, only to find that I'd forgotten about the 20 minutes of delayed start, and that I had managed to beat the 36 hour mark by a whopping 4 minutes. Go me!

Deena, the kids, and Uncle Micah met me at the Bell. We loaded up the car, headed to the hotel, had a lovely dinner at a local diner, and I fell face-down on the bed for about 9 hours. MAN that felt good.

I will happily do this ride again; I'm curious to see how much worse westbound from Philly will be. Of course, I seem to recall Eric making some mention of C-T-C EXTREME, with a there-and-back route, if anyone broke 36 hours. *AHEM*

Lessons Learned
  1. Schwalbe Durano tires (formerly Stelvios) are very nice, fast, smooth-rolling tires that work great on pavement and even on packed limestone. Sadly, they pretty much have the strength and resistance of feta cheese when it comes to warding off pinch flats on abandoned sections of the PA Turnpike. Also, the sidewalls are so thin that even a few feet of rolling on flats abraded them to the point where threads were coming through. I like 'em, and will probably use them for fast road rides, but I think I'll need to investigate other options for future rando and mixed-surface stuff.
  2. Bring two tubes for each tire size you carry. I carried only one of each. Patching pinch flats in the dark falls under the heading of royal suckage.
  3. I still need to find some techniques to better handle fatigue (other than the obvious, "Lie down and close your eyes for a while" option), as it hit me pretty hard on Friday night. Caffeine doesn't do jack, mostly because I use it too much on a daily basis already; chewing gum was better than nothing, but didn't have a great effect; reciting/singing/chanting to myself made the dozies worse.


Alan said...

Congrats! Great Job! Etc! Seriously, that's pretty awesome.

I shall now type "minses" so that I may post this comment.

steevo said...

Adding EXTREME to anything makes it better.

Duncan Watson said...

Congratulations. Nice work. What size Duranos were you using? I am currently running 1.1" (28mm) on my bike and considering moving to 1.5"(38mm).

Sounds like quite the ride!

Reddan said...

Duncan: I'm using the 28s as well.

John Don said...

Nice, Dan, way to go. Congrats!

1.991km said...
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Patrick S. O'Donnell said...
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Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

I've enjoyed your write up. Way to go!!! I didn't know such a ride existed. In September 1985 at age 20 I bicycled from the fountain there in Point St Pk to City Hall, Philly in 22 hours, 40 minutes. The distance was only 306 miles as I took the Lincoln Highway (US 30) pretty much the entire way. I was my first triplecentury. Being from Pennsylvania going between the two largest cities by bicycle in a day was a dream for a short while until I made it happen. Going from Ohio to New Jersey (trans PA) in a day I've yet to realize.

reverend dick said...

I find sunflower seeds (in the shell) gives my body something to do and keeps me awake as well as topped up with salty fat.

That ride sounds like fun in all the wrong ways.