Monday, April 30, 2012

Crush the Commonwealth 2012

Short version

DNF (mental) in Bedford, after approximately 230 miles. No significant physical or mechanical problems, no failures in packing or preparation. Just lost interest in perseverance for the sake of perseverance.

A darn hard year all around...half the field of 25 DNFed, including several (all?) previous first finishers who rode this year.

Finishing times (Congrats to Eric and Gavin for a strong ride and new east-west record!)

Garmin tracks(courtesy Tom Hovan): Bell to Morgantown, Morgantown to Breezewood, Breezewood to Bedford. [Tracks open in new window]


  • Two segments remain perennial favorites: Amish country from Morgantown to urban Lancaster, and 234 from York to Rt 30 east of Chambersburg. Lovely, rolling, low-traffic roads, ideal for cycling.
  • Rolling towards Arendtsville, when the skies converted from oppressive grey to patchy, puffy clouds against a sun-drenched blue sky...that provided quite a lift to the spirits.


  • A steady headwind until nightfall really cut back on progress the first day. I had hopes of making it to Somerset (or at least Bedford) before potentially crashing for the evening, but barely made it to Breezewood by midnight.

Long version


(It's amazing how much space a couple of 'bents suck out of a hotel room.)

Unlike two years ago, when I was foolish enough to drive a full-sized U-Haul through downtown Philly during Thursday afternoon rush hour, this year's initial logistics were quite painless. Tom drove out to Pittsburgh and picked me up early Thursday afternoon; we then returned to his place in Altoona, grabbed his bike, gear, and patient wife Penny, and set off for the Best Western City Center Hotel, a measly 2 miles from the Bell.

Upon arrival, we scouted the nearby WaWa for suitability of early-morning ingestibles, did a few last minute preparations, and eased off to bed nicely early. Of course, I managed to wake up roughly every hour on the hour, convinced that I was late, but that is only to be expected.

The alarm rang at mumblemumble o'clock; we staggered across the street, discovered that the WaWa menu at 4 AM is significantly less extensive than one would wish (no breakfast sandwiches...I was CRUSHED), and made our way back to the hotel. Final checking of bikes and loading of crap, and Tom and I pedaled off Bell-wards to meet the cream of the crop of Commonwealth-crushers.

The Bell to Morgantown

A reasonable starting time, only 10 or 15 minutes after 5. After a few minutes of mildly disjointed pedaling through town, the arrival of A) the trail and B) my memories of frantically chasing the Tresslers happened at roughly the same time. This time, I kept the testosterone in check, and rode contentedly chatting with Eric and others until the end of the neutral rollout. Aside from a minor bobble at a fork in the trail, navigation on the Schuylkill all the way to Phoenixville was quite pain-free. That said, exiting the trail and hitting Route S during the height of morning school, commuter, and landscaper traffic is not the high point of the route.

Heh...almost forgot. I nearly wiped out myself and Max...there was a short steep little hill ahead, so I figured I'd just power up it to preserve my momentum. Got about halfway up, then realized there was a stop sign at the top...a few more feet, and realized that there was a bus pulling out into the intersection right the freak in front of me. So, I took evasive action, which basically consisted of slamming the brakes, losing all momentum, and cutting in front of Max in a gear so high that I could barely turn the pedals over at that low speed. Oops!

Aside from minor idiocies like that, the transit to Morgantown was uneventful. Tom and I settled into a groove, trailing Eric and Max by a few minutes. We pulled into the Morgantown Sheetz just as the lead group was pulling out.

(Max, Eric, and Tom loving life outside the Morgantown Sheetz.)

Morgantown to York

The day was still awfully grey, and the air temperature seemed to be dropping just a bit. Fortunately, through sheerest luck, I had guessed well with regards to garb, so only had to add toe covers for extended comfort.

From Morgantown through New Holland and all the way to Lancaster is one of the prettiest stretches of the route...lovely rolling low-traffic roads, marred only by frequent piles of *ahem* Amish buggy exhaust *ahem*. Lancaster itself is fairly uninspiring, but passes by fairly quickly. Then, it's straight west on 462 through Columbia (home of the deservedly world-famous Turkey Hill Experience) and across the Susquehanna to Wrightsville and Hallam, on the outskirts of York.

As we were getting a bit short on water (and in dire need of a bathoom break), we stopped in Hallam, a bit short of the original planned Turkey Hill near Roburrito.

(Changing it up...this time, we stopped at Rutter's)

York to Chambersburg

Getting through York itself was fairly uninspiring...narrow streets, impolite motorists, and the odd jog right-then-left to stay on what was nominally the same street. We did spot one CtC-er just ahead...perhaps Alec, although I wasn't sure, and he had ducked into a Hess station before we caught up.

On the far side of York, we made the right onto what is probably my favorite road of the route: 234. Once away from the city, it's an absolutely delightful rolling country road, all the way through Arendtsville before it turns rather precipitously upward. At the same time, the cloud cover cleared, and I suddenly remembered that I really like riding my bike.

(This was when I remembered that I like riding my bike.)

We did enjoy a lovely portage of a stream where a bridge had been removed...fortunately, the construction crew had put in a flimsy wooden footbridge, so we didn't even have to get our delicate toesies wet.

After passing through Arendtsville, we started the first major climb of the day...a nice steep multi-stage extravaganza up through a succession of apple orchards. Despite the winds and chilly temperatures, I was capable of producing quite a sweat on that climb. We crested the ridge, then meandered our way to Route 30 West and a long gradual descent to Chambersburg. Finally, after what felt like an interminable stretch of Rt 30, we arrived at the Sheetz.

(Sheetz in Chambersburg, when the DNFing began. Dan G and Tom H looking as stalwart as one could expect.)

I ended up hitting the feedbag pretty hard here...I don't recall exactly how much I consumed, but it started with a loaded burrito and order of onion rings, and went on from there. This choice to load my digestive system was to come back and haunt me later, as my alimentary canal began to feel more akin to an alimentary weed-choked ditch.

Eric was feeling fairly craptastic, so decided to stay behind and call for a ride. Dan G. had pulled in just a moment behind us, so he, Tom, Max, and myself rode off into the sunset together.

Chambersburg to Breezewood

From the Sheetz, there is another long stretch on Rt 30 before turning off to Fort Loudon and the Cowan's Gap climb. It's long, and tedious, and frankly lacking in any real merit other than smooth pavement. As we were heading down this stretch, I became aware of an unfamiliar feeling...I was getting really, really bored with the ride. It was a novel previous rides, I've had physical problems that led to a strong desire to quit, but never before such an overwhelming degree of ennui when I was feeling physically fine. Troubling, especially given that we were not yet halfway through the route...

We finally got off 30, and climbed up to Cowan's Gap in the dark. (Aside: the Cowan's Gap climb is far more pleasant in daylight.) There, we were dismayed to find that the bathhouse was not yet open...fortunately, a friendly park ranger came over to investigate these late-night cyclists, and directed us to a well-concealed secondary bathroom where we could empty our bladders and fill our bottles.

A plummet down the far side to the hamlet of Burnt Cabins (you know there's some history there), and we fought our way to Pump Station Rd and the entrance to the abandoned PA Turnpike. Although I was still deeply in the mood to chuck the whole ride out the window, I was happy to discover that the turnpike road surface, so torturous in the past on my 28s, was quite pleasant now that I was rolling on 35s. That said, it was slow going, and we didn't make it to Breezewood until midnight. Breakfast at Perkins was enough of an enticement to keep us in motion for an extra hour, though.

(Dan G. and Tom H., looking like badly-reheated Death in Perkins Restaurant)

(Max and myself, also at Perkins, but making more of an effort to simulate life.)

Given how toasted most of us were, and that the temperature was to drop below freezing, the decision to catch sleep at Breezewood was an easy one. The Gateway Motel attached to the travel plaza fit the bill nicely, especially since it meant we could walk 50 feet to the attached restaurant for breakfast the next morning.

Breezewood to Bedford

Sleeping in until 7 felt absolutely lovely, and gave the temperature time to climb above the freezing mark. The breakfast at the TA Plaza Restaurant, while not of the highest quality I've ever had, was a fine way to fuel for the morning.

After breakfast, we saddled up and started over the hills to Bedford. It was every bit as bad as I recalled...a couple of breakneck-velocity descents into deep valleys, followed by painfully slow climbs winching ourselves back out of the gravity well. However, as they must, all good things come to an end, and we found ourselves in Everett with only a few minor rolling lumps to overcome on our way to Bedford.

On the outskirts, we stopped briefly to confirm plans. Tom was definitely out, and, well, I didn't even try to resist the temptation to indulge in a convenient escape. Dan and Max bid us farewell, and continued on towards their rendezvous with Destiny (where Destiny is synonymous with the Dividing Ridge climb and 90 miles of limestone rail-trail).

Tom and I coasted down to the Sheetz on 30, called Penny, and spent a pleasant time chatting and eating until she arrived. We were amused to note, as we loaded the bikes, a few flakes of snow drifting from the sky...'twas lovely validation of the relative wisdom of our choice.

From Bedford, it was a mere hop-skip-&-jump back to Tom and Penny's place in Altoona, where I changed back into the previous day's civilian clothes. Tom drove me back to the 'burgh where I spent the rest of the weekend playing with my kids.


So, given that this is the second event in two weeks at which I graphically demonstrated a lack of interest in pushing myself through difficulty, what does the near future hold?

I'm still kicking that around in my head. At the moment, I'm thinking seriously of ditching the rest of my planned Big Rides for the year...the 400K, 600K, the There and Back Again 200Ks, and the 1000K. I'll still plan to volunteer on the rides, of course, but I'm really not sure that I want to do any extended riding. Perhaps a period of 200K or less may be advisable.

Lessons Learned

  • The 700x35 tires made the abandoned PA Turnpike segment far more pleasant than previous years' 28mm tires. I suspect they would have made the GAP more bearable as well.
  • I still carry too much fake food. Even if I'd completed the ride, I probably had at least two or three pounds of crap that would not have been consumed.
  • I need to work out better on-bike food access. Previously, on the P-38, I had a small bag immediately in front of the seat, which was perfect for on-bike munchies. I couldn't arrange something similar on the Meta, so ended up doing a lot of fumbling with my waist pouch. This led to me eating less than I should have while pedaling.
  • At my current level of experience and fitness, boredom is more of a challenge to overcome than a few measly hills and headwinds. ;-)

No comments: