Thursday, May 5, 2011

Crush The Commonwealth 2011

The faces of midnight ultracycling, complete with nonplussed background normal people. Bill and Lane at the Chambersburg Waffle House.

Ah, Crush the Commonwealth. A lovely informal race 'twixt Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This was my third time participating, and I'm happy to report that it was every bit as much fun as the first two years.

Ride Reports and Photos
Eric G.'s report
Various reports in the CtC blog comments here and here
Tom Oswald's report

Short Version
  • 403.28 miles door to door, ~15.6mph rolling average, 33:24 total elapsed time for the race itself.
  • My group took second place...for the second year in a row, the Tressler brothers set the gold standard for Commonwealth-crushing, with an impressive new west-to-east record of 28:28.
  • No mechanicals, no serious physical ailments or cataclysmic bonking, no problems with other road users.
  • The weather pretty much sucked the entire first day, in a low-grade water torture sort of way.

Long Version
Before the race itself, a few last minute preparations had to be made. I had to change my nutrition strategy (Perpetuem for the next 36 hours? Blah!), rewire my dynamo light (What can possibly go wrong?), and pick up Tom in Altoona. All of the above were more-or-less successful.

Once Tom and I were back in da 'Burgh, we prepped the bikes as much as possible, staged everything for the next morning, and set alarms for dear-lord-o' clock in the AM. A few minutes of sitting around chatting (while I surreptitiously watched to see if my cats would induce a violent allergic reaction in Tom), and it was off to bed at the positively civilized hour of 10 PM or thereabouts.

Ride Start/Neutral Roll to McKeesport
3:45 AM. Yeesh. What a positively uncivilized hour to start a ride. While Tom coolly followed through on his preparations, I stumbled around half-blind with fatigue, eventually managing to shove some granola in my mouth and clothes on my body. We walked out the door, pulled the bikes out of the garage, prepared to clip in, and WHOOSH came the rain. The ensuing profanity, though muffled in deference to sleeping neighbors, was truly heartfelt.

Fortunately, the heavy bit of the rain lasted only long enough to ensure our utter soakage by the time we arrived at the Point. We were the first to arrive, apparently. Tom hung out under the bridge in the park, whilst I rolled up to the Smithfield News 24-hour inconvenience store for donuts and a cup of coffee. Saw one cyclist inbound, and a few more converging towards the park as I returned.

Once back, I was happy to see that several other friends were present. Lane G. from the DC Randos, Bill H. and Dan G. of the Pittsburgh Randos, and Frank "the Sophinator" (on his snazzy-to-the-nth-degree Baron with the custom-cut reflective tape flames) had arrived by then. Eric McKeegan rolled up shortly as well, and kicked off the festivities at 5:11 (the earliest time I can recall the ride starting).

We kept the neutral roll simple...straight up Second Ave to the Hot Metal Bridge, then 837 all the way to the McKeesport Bridge. It was a fast group this year, and we managed to keep a nice 15-16 mph pace the whole way. In McKeesport, Eric and a few others peeled off at the convenience store; the Tressler brothers vanished off the front so fast that they actually began to age slower than the rest of us, and the game was on. A bit of confusion regarding the initial route led to a hillier-than-planned road to Boston, but then we could settle back and enjoy 90 miles of pleasant limestone rail-trail.

GAP Trail to Rockwood
The GAP was so boring that you could just read my description from 2009:
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..
The only real addition I will make is to say that the 10 miles before Rockwood, which in 2009 were merely sticky, had this year degraded into a fine mix of kitty litter and Skippy peanut butter, basted with a fine topping of drivetrain-wrecking twigs.

Not too soul-crushing, all things considered. Stopped twice as much as planned (Connellsville and Ohiopyle), and was greeted by Travis (of Recumbent Journal fame) and camera crew at Rockwood. A quick stop at the convenience store, in fruitless hopes of finding a hose with which to spray the trail off the drivetrain, and we (myself, Bill, Lane, and Eric) were off for Somerset.

Rockwood to Somerset
I'd forgotten that Water Level Rd is not actually level. Aside from that, it was a quick and pain-free jaunt on blissfully dry pavement to the Sheetz in Somerset (albeit with a bit of a detour prompted by one of the numerous PA Bike Route Fungus decoy signs). There, we briefly saw the Tresslers before they next engaged their sublight engines and disappeared into the ether...we also saw Eric's buddies from Philly, one of whom was in a poor state. After a truly tasty Sheetz burrito and assorted sundry other comestibles, we girded our collective loins and set off on the hilliest portion of the route.

Somerset to Breezewood
It was on this stretch, specifically the long twisty descent into New Baltimore, that I finally remembered that cycling is fun. Part of the glee was remembering climbing that monster last year; part of it was merely due to a fortuitous parting of clouds and enjoying of some watery sunshine for the first time in weeks. I caught up to Lane and the gang here (shockingly, the fat guy on the 'bent fell behind on the hills out of Somerset)...we paused briefly in Bedford at the Giant Eagle for a bathroom break and some fluids, before making our way through Garret to the short hilly transit to Breezewood.
In Breezewood, we paused at (surprise! surprise!) Sheetz for refreshments; not only did we see Travis again, but, whilst casually marvelling at the pace the Tresslers were keeping, we were told by a nearby woman that she was married to one of them. Heh.
Thankfully, we had made good time thus far, so we were confident in our ability to get through the abandoned turnpike tunnels before dark. It was a long haul from Breezewood to the bustling metropolis of Chambersburg, so we made sure to top up on food and water.

Breezewood to Chambersburg
As we prepared to leave Sheetz, it became apparent that making a left turn across three lanes of traffic onto Rte 30 was a fool's errand. So, scofflaws that we are, we made highly illegal use of the shoulder to ride contraflow for a couple of blocks, until we could break free of the press of traffic and cut over to the proper lane.
A quarter-mile down Rte 30 is Tannery Rd...the goat path to access the abandoned turnpike starts at the corner there. (Note to trikers or users of wheelchairs...the access to the turnpike is, uh, not ADA compliant, to put it mildly. We all chose to hike-a-bike rather than even attempt a pedal-powered ascent of the gravely morass.) Once at the top, we had the blissful (and novel for all of us) experience of tackling the Pike-To-Bike in full daylight, rendering the crumbling pavement of no real account, and with two high-powered dynamo-driven LED headlamps lighting the tunnels as if it were by automotive high-beams. Absolutely luxurious.
Once we left the Pike, we were a bit dismayed to find that the surface on Pump Station Rd was almost as bad as the surface of the Pike; fortunately, it was only a short jaunt to rejoin Rte S at Hess Rd, whereupon the road surface improved dramatically.
We rolled across the undulating countryside as darkness the time we reached Burnt Cabins (the start of the climb to Cowan's Gap), night had fallen, and we had all donned our various reflective doodads and powered on our light-emitting-diode thingies. Amusingly, the climb up Cowan's Gap was far easier than I recalled, I suspect hitting it a couple of hours earlier than last time, in better physical condition, may have played some part in flattening out the hill.
After clearing the Gap and plummeting down the other side (a muffled yee-haw or three may have escaped my lips at some point), we made our way to Rte 30 and Chambersburg, stopping only occasionally to pee behind the odd Dumpster. In Chambersburg, we had a lovely breakfast at the Waffle House, then made our way down the road to the Days Inn where I had cleverly reserved a room. "Clever" is a relative term, because I had reserved the room for two people, one of whom wasn't even in the current group of four. Ah well...I left a key at the front desk for Tom, told the others to leave a bed clear for him, caught a blissful hot shower and clean pair of shorts, and collapsed into a heap of carrion for a good 90 minutes. Heaven, in budget-hotel form.

[Note to readers: as usually happens when I don't type up a ride report in timely fashion, the latter bits degenerate into a blurred list of convenience apologies in advance.]
Chambersburg to York
Upon awakening in reasonably non-surly fashion, we staggered across the street to Sheetz, fueled up on various overpriced, over-processed delicacies, and began the long climb up 30 to Michaux State Park and Rt 234. While a bit unpleasant in the throes of early morning malaise, this particular climb is a notable landmark; once we turn off 30 onto 234, and conquer a couple of short orchard climbs, the route is pretty much downhill all the way to Philly. Burning along 234 in the high teens and low twenties was a glorious relief after yesterday's slog.
We stopped at (NOT Sheetz!) a Rutter's 24-hour convenience store midway between Chambersburg and York, mostly to take advantage of their restroom. I was starting to enter a bad state where I knew I should eat, but didn't want to put anything anywhere near my mouth...Lane's suggestion of a random parfait proved to be a good one, as choking it down re-activated that switch in my head labeled "Food==Good Idea."
After passing through York proper, we stopped again at the Maple Donuts on 462. At this point, I was vacillating between sticking with the group and going on ahead, as hitting my 32-hour target was still within my grasp. I decided that, since we'd ridden the entire thing together thus far, I'd be happier sticking together and finishing with the group in 33-34 hours, rather than going solo for barely sub-32.

York to Morgantown
In hindsight, I'm really glad I stuck with the group. While passing through the gorgeously scenic riding country in Lancaster, I found myself blowing up pretty good on Weavertown Road. Not a full-on bonk, but at least a close relation. Limped into Morgantown and made a beeline for the first mini-mart I saw (Turkey Hill, in this case), and shoveled a fairly disgusting amount of crap down my throat, washed down with several varieties of fruit juice, milk, and carbonated beverage. Bonk averted, we continued on our merry way, on the final leg of the route before the trail.

Morgantown to SRT
The approach to Valley Forge via Phoenixville was reasonably pain free. There was a bit of confusion and bonus mileage near the turn for Coldstream Rd; also, the first trailhead encountered on the route is NOT the correct one...the correct one is about 1/4 mile further down the road, and involves acres of parking lot; the incorrect one involves fighting off wolves and portaging your bike over old minefields. You Have Been Warned.
Anyway, we finally found the trail. With a brief pause to pee (modesty be damned...those other trail users can't possibly see anyone peeing behind a tree of a good 4" diameter...), we set off at a nice mellow pace down the SRT. Time-wise, we were on track for a comfortable 33+ hour finish, so no-one was feeling any pressure to rush. Besides, the SRT, in nice weather, on an early Saturday afternoon, is heavily trafficked enough to make rushing ill-advised. (Unless one is a tri-dork in the aerobars, in which case you apparently are automatically issued a dispensation from riding with any concern for or awareness of other trail users.)

Liberty Bell
Rolling up to the Bell was almost prior CtC endeavors had accustomed me to feeling an utter wreck upon completion. This time around, while I was certainly tired, I didn't feel the overwhelming urge to dive head-first onto the grass and pass out for a few hours. We milled around for a bit, took a couple of photos, then diverged on our respective merry ways.

Left to right: Lane G., me, Eric G., Bill H. Photo credit: Eric G.'s camera in Lane's buddy's capable hands

The remainder of the weekend can be summarized as follows: meander through Philly to the hotel out by the airport, call home, SHOWER, amble over to Denny's for ~4000 calories, amble over to WaWa for a pint of Ben&Jerry's, amble back to hotel, stare at TV for a solid 30 minutes, sleep, wake up, have breakfast at hotel, have second breakfast at Denny's with Tom and Penny, drive to Altoona, swap cars, drive home with Tom, kiss kids, kiss wife, pet cats, sleep. A fine way to end the weekend.

Lessons Learned/Thoughts for the Future
  • I'm developing a case of randopaparazzi envy; after riding with so many gifted photographers in the last few years, I'm feeling the lack. I want to investigate proper techniques and equipment for on-ride photography.
  • It was refreshing, and rather pleasant, to finish CtC without feeling utterly shattered. I was certainly tired, but, unlike prior years, wasn't wiped out; also, with the exception of a very mild bit of tendinitis in the left ankle, I've had no physical aftereffects whatsoever. Perhaps a bit of introspection as regards conservation of effort compared to results is in order.
  • The biggest mistake I made this year was to not more carefully monitor my nutrition. 'Twas not the end of the world, but there were several low patches that, in hindsight, were almost certainly due to inadequate food intake.
  • As counterpoint to the nutrition theme, I relied significantly less on pseudo-food in the form of Perpetuem; I used it for the night-time stretches, but that was about it.
  • I need to dial back on the "gone all weekend" rides a bit...I want to see my family once in a while, and especially don't want the various projects that Owen and I have started to lie fallow.


MG said...

Excellent report!!! AND if you need any advice on randopaparazzi systems, Felkerino and I are happy to help.

dennyv said...

Dan an excellent read. You make it sound almost like fun. Now spend some time with the Kids, they don't stay that way long enough.
See you on the road.