Thursday, May 05, 2011

Crush the Commonwealth 2011

My house needs to be painted. Scraped, and scraped, and painted. Sounds like fun, right? Yeah, that's why I decided to Crush the Commonwealth (400 miles across Pennsylvania - "No support, no spectators, no prizes") instead.

I started ramping up my riding in February and slowly piled on the miles 'til about mid-April. Spent a two-week taper rolling around Tioga County feeling like superman, enjoying how small the hills - and how easy a 2-hour ride - had become. Way more fun than scraping and painting.

My pal Jimmy drove me and my bike down to Pittsburgh on Thursday and we spent the night before the race in a downtown hotel sleeping fitfully in the big city soundscape. Got up at 4, showered, chamois buttered, stepped out onto the balcony to check the weather and found it was 40's and raining. Yuck. Put on every piece of clothing I had and we headed to Point State Park for the 5am start. Being the gomers that we are, even with a GPS we had trouble finding the place. Ended up driving right past it at 4:58 and suddenly found ourselves going up an on-ramp to the Interstate, headed for Albuquerque. A few expletives later, we were able to exit off, circle back around and find the start point at 5:10. Fortunately, like all good bike rides, CtC started a few minutes late, like 5:11. Whew (thanks, Jimmmy!).

There were about 30 of us in the blinky brigade that splashed through the spaghetti streets of Pittsburgh that Friday morning. We stayed together for the 15 miles to McKeesport, then Eric (thanks, Eric!) pointed toward the Great Allegheny Passage trail and turned us loose. I rode with a goup of 6 - Dan, Lane, and I forget who else - for a couple of hours, making good time.

The Yough was roaring, and there was tons of debris on the trail from the recent rains. Eventually one guy got a stick kicked up into his front spokes. It jammed in his fender strut, locking up the wheel and down he went. He got right back up, no major damage done, and we were rolling again pretty quick. But soon the draft began to lose its appeal. The sticks were flying, and the pace was feeling a touch too hot, so I slipped off the back, trimmed the wick down a bit and settled into an all-day simmer.

The trail was starting to get kind of gooey from the rain and it was a relief to hit the pavement and Bike Route S at Rockwood around mile 105. I think I got ahead of some, or maybe all, of that group of 6 there as they took a stop that I didn't. I held a comfortable pace and kept my stops to a minimum - pee, refill bottles, buy some food to eat on the bike, and go. Climbing out of Somerset I caught a glimpse of two guys wearing rolltop backpacks up ahead. I was pretty sure they were the leaders. At one point we were on the same hill. On the next one they were at the top while I was at the bottom. Soon we were atop different hills, and soon after that they disappeared.

Rolled through Bedford and saw the sad old Cannondale factory sometime in the afternoon. Suddenly felt like I was running on fumes and found a Subway just in time. Couldn't eat that sub on the bike, but I bolted it down right quick and was gone. Hit the Sheetz in Breezewood, mile 173, and there were the backpack guys. I was still full from the sub, so just exchanged my smelly yellow water for some of Sheetz's fresh clear stuff. Found the abandoned turnpike no problem (thanks, Google Street View!) and the backpackers caught me just as we entered the first tunnel. Turns out they were the Tressler brothers, fastest in 2010 and course record holders. I asked if they were going to ride all night. They said yeah and I was sure another moment at the pointy end of the race would not come again for me. Not that that was ever the goal anyway. By the second tunnel they were out of sight.

Cowans Gap State Park was gorgeous in the twilight. The descent out of there was made even more thrilling by a deer hauling ass through the woods at nearly 40 to cross the road in front of me. She jumped the ditch, touched the pavement once right on the yellow line about 10 feet from me, cleared the ditch on the other side and clattered away into the underbrush. Holy cannoli.

After dark, I was surprised to come upon the brothers badass once again. They were just getting up and running after fixing a broken spoke as I tortoised by. Minutes later the hares retook their rightful lead. And minutes after that their blinkies were receding into the blackness ahead. It was the last I would see of anyone else in the race.

Pulled into Chambersburg, mile 223, around 9:30pm. It had stopped raining hours before, but I was somehow still damp and getting downright cold and also weary of douchey Friday night drivers. Paid $45 cash for a motel room that reeked of cigarette smoke, but reckoned that after a full day in the saddle that odor could do me no harm, if you know what I mean. Cranked the heat, had a Schmiscuit dinner, a hot shower, and was in bed by 10:30. Out cold for 2 hours. Then tossed and turned for another 3. Stupid waste of time. Got up at 3:30, went to Sheetz for more Schmiscuits and bought some 2-cycle engine oil. In front of the motel I spritzed the grit from the previous day off my drivetrain with my water bottles, lubed the chain with that sticky oil, wiped it off with a washcloth from the bathroom (bad boy!) and was out of there by 4am.

Devoid of traffic, the sprawling nastiness of Chambersburg wasn't too bad. I tossed the blackened washcloth into a gas station trash can and dug into breakfast. Some climbing in the dark, then a nice descent along a creek as the sun was coming up. Made it to York, mile 280, around 8am. Started picking up some good tailwinds. Blew across the Susquehanna at 22mph without even trying. Stopped briefly in Lancaster to see Sheila and friends Erin and Tony. A quick kiss, a pat on the butt, and off I went.

The Amish farm country east of there was beautiful and at times the tailwinds were downright glorious. Stopped in New Holland, mile 316, for my last supplies of the day. Picked up some bonus miles when I got off course in Phoenixville. Somewhere along there I saw a guy up on an extension ladder painting the high gable of a house. I must have been getting tired because I thought that looked like a pretty nice way to spend a breezy Saturday afternoon.

Left Route S and hopped onto the Schyulkill River Trail at Valley Forge, 30 to go. The trail was nuts - packed with Freds, dogs on extend-o leashes, fit chicks in sports bras, and Cat 2 racers darting about. Even with a steady tailwind I could only hold about 17. But it sure was fun riding among them all knowing that I was the only one who had pedaled 360 miles to get there. As I got closer to the city things started to get more and more confusing. By then I was pretty fried and, not being used to riding in that kind of traffic, I floundered around quite a bit trying to find my way. Eventually I gave up on my planned route and headed for the cluster of tall buildings. Then I just started asking people how to get to the Liberty Bell. Got to the corner of 5th and Chestnut as directed and it still took me another 5 minutes to suss out which building actually had the damn bell in it. Texted Eric, actually Mrs. Eric (thanks, Mrs. Eric!), at 4:40pm and that was that. 386 miles, 35.5 hours.

Met up with Sheila and Melissa and had a delicious Stoudt's Tripel, with a veggie burger on the side. Slept in the car (thanks, Sheila!) on the way to Melissa's, showered (thanks, Melissa!) and then somehow I was the only one that stayed awake all the way through Kung Fu Panda. It took a few days to get back to "normal" again, and now the only aftereffect is a sore left knee (I believe this was caused by the bike ride and not Kung Fu Panda).

I had a blast and learned a ton, mainly that with good preparation and pacing I can ride way farther than I ever thought possible. And with better logistics I could have gone much faster. I spent about an hour just being lost, and didn't need to sleep nearly as much as I expected. Knowing what I know now, I could finish 3-4 hours quicker without even having to ride any harder. I surely want to try this thing again, and hopefully bring along some of my Tioga County crew to share in the fun. The headwinds of the east-west route don't appeal yet, so I'm keeping 2013 in the back of my mind. Until then it's time to watch from atop my paint-splattered extension ladder as the hills around my home slowly return to their normal size.

UPDATE 10/28/11:
With the help of my friend (and blog contributor) Eric Franck, my house is now the whitest one on the block. It's so bright the neighbors are complaining it's keeping them up at night.

OK, not really, but be sure to have your Rudy Projects on when you're in the neighborhood.


Lilace Mellin said...

We're on in 2013, Wank-Boy. I'll drive to Pittsburgh.

Lilace Mellin said...

Lilace didn't actually write that. Tanker did. Tanker know his way around beer, not computers.

Tom Oswald said...

Yeah, it was the "Wank-Boy" that gave it away. Tanker is welcome to drive as long as he looks out for Bambi's mama.