Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crush the Commonwealth 2013

I did Crush the Commonwealth in 2011 and had a great time. I learned a lot too and knew that if I gave it another shot I could do even better. So my 2013 CtC started back in January. About 1/2 dozen extra pounds had insinuated themselves on my body over the last few years. I starved them off and got back down to a lean, mean buck twenty-five. I put in loads of miles in the cold, mostly alone, but sometimes with Jimmy and Josh. By the time April came around 4-5 hour rides on both Saturday and Sunday was the norm.

On Thursday Eric drove me down to Pittsburgh, deposited me at the Days Inn and left to spend the weekend drinking beer and mountain biking with John. I laid low in the motel room fretting over The Weather Channel and eating a GetGo sub nearly the size of my thigh. Slept like crap. I got up before the alarm at 3:50am, showered, ate a ProBar for breakfast, and headed to the Point. I wasn't sure how rideable my chosen route was going to be, but at 4:30am it worked out OK. I nipped around the west end of Mt. Washington, crossed the Fort Pitt Bridge and rolled up to the starting point with plenty of time to spare.

It was pleasantly warm that morning and the neutral ride on the new trail to McKeesport was peaceful and chatty. I learned that only half of the badass Tressler duo was there and that the rain wasn't supposed to start 'til around noon or 1pm. Then we hit the GAP trail and a few guys bolted off the front. I chased for a bit then backed off when it was clear that bridging was going to cost way too much. Gavin caught me and we both had the same idea: get to Rockwood and off the trail before the rain starts. We moved at a pretty good clip for a while. When we stopped to pee a group caught up to us. When they stopped to pee we kept going. We swapped pulls, making good time; going quite a bit faster than what was prudent, but it would be worth it if we could get to pavement before the trail got soaked. Gavin was very strong and a couple of times I wanted to cry uncle. Then I sat up to eat something and lost his draft. With a mouthful of cheese crackers I couldn't say anything and in an instant he was gone. I pushed on into the headwind alone.

Then the rain came; not the big front that was due, but a little pre-storm shower - just enough to turn the trail to peanut butter. The last 10 miles took about an hour. I could see Gavin's fresh furrow clearly, but not any other tracks so the guys ahead likely timed it well. I bought snacks in Rockwood and enjoyed the pavement for a while. There was a bike outside Sheetz as I rolled through Somerset. The hilly stretch from there to Bedford was harsh - strong crosswinds and quartering headwinds for miles and miles. The heavy rain started while I was refueling at Bedford. I put on my jacket and set off into the deluge. It was warm so I stowed my gloves to keep them dry.

The rain had eased up and it was a good 15 degrees colder by the time I pulled into the Sheetz at Breezewood. Gavin showed up about 5 minutes later - guess I'd leapfrogged him at Somerset. I gobbled a Schmiscuit, tucked another warm one into my jersey pocket (that felt really good!) and left to get through the the tunnels and off the old turnpike before dark.

Climbing up the embankment, I could see only one set of tracks in the dirt. The first tunnel was in pretty good shape, but the second one was littered with debris. Just as I was nearing the end there was a startling noise, like an animal - something with claws - scrambling along the wall beside me. I sped up. It sped up too. I sped up more. When I shot out into the open it stopped. Then I discovered it had been the sound of my tubeless rear tire slowly losing air and spitting sealant. The cut was too big to seal so I put a tube in and kept going. The tire bead didn't fully pop up onto the rim in one spot, making the ride annoyingly bumpy, but it was working so I didn't want to take the time to stop and futz with it.

Cowans Gap was nice in the dark, with the peepers peeping and the smell of wild onions wafting around. The road into Chambersburg provided a stark contrast - nasty with trash, truck spray and roadkill. I got more Schmiscuits at Sheetz and kept moving. The climb past Caledonia State Park and beyond seemed endless, but the following descent in the dark on wet roads was pretty fun.

Strange, but East Berlin smelled like dog food - is there a pet food processor or some such there?

Though there were still way too many red lights, York was relatively easy in the middle of the night. I saw a bike outside the Sheetz there. I had just enough food to get to Lancaster, so I decided to slip on by. Sheila was staying with a friend in Lancaster and she got up a 4am just to come out to the street and cheer me on - she must really like me. We had planned to meet at the downtown McDonalds so I passed up a bunch of food options on the way in. But then the McDonalds was closed. Bummer. I had been looking forward to a warm Egg McMuffin and a hot coffee - my first caffeine in 5 days. All I had left was a Little Debbie oatmeal cream pie and just the thought of eating it made me queasy. I pressed on in search of something I could stomach.

The Turkey Hill east of town was a glowing oasis. I zipped in and resupplied. I wanted to pee too but a woman had the only bathroom tied up. I decided to just get rolling and hold it 'til I was out of town and could pee along the road somewhere. I headed east for probably 2 miles before it slowly dawned that something was wrong - there was way more sprawl than I remembered, and no Route S signs. Damn. I turned around and rode 'til there were signs again - right in front of the stinkin' Turkey Hill. I had been so focused on getting in there I totally missed the turnoff. That cost me at least 15 minutes and now I really had to pee.

The Amish country was lovely in the pre-dawn hour, and even more enjoyable once I dumped off about a half-gallon of piss - putting all the local draft horses to shame, I'm sure :). The birds were singing, the roosters were crowing, and I couldn't see any of the horse shit I was likely running though. I grabbed some food and a Coke at New Holland just as it was getting light. The roads were drying up. I thought about putting on the dry socks I'd been toting, but I didn't want to take the time. I was on track to beat my goal of 30-32 hours and maybe be one of the first few finishers. I'd been coping with wet socks for the past 18-or-so hours, so why not a few more?

I had to stop one last time to abuse the toilet of the Dunkin Donuts at Morgantown. Feeling grateful (and about 10 pounds lighter), I bought a coffee and a glazed donut even though I didn't really want either. I poured the coffee into my water bottle and continued on, trying to choke down that donut on the fly. I got through most of it, and held the last bite in my mouth for a long time. But I felt like if I swallowed it I was going to puke, so I finally had to spit the gob out on the side of the road.

That next stretch, 23 toward Phoenixville, was torturous. I had little strength left, so there was no rolling those rollers. It was all grind up, coast down, grind up, coast down. Repeat ad nauseum. I was so fried I missed the turn onto Coldstream Rd., even though I already knew that was a potential problem spot. Then I got tripped up by some other wacky signage near Valley Forge. Those screwups probably cost another 15 minutes. But I finally made it to the SRT and ran for home.

By "ran" I mean limped along at 16mph with a squeaky chain and a still-lumpy rear tire going thump-a-thump-a-thump. My judgment and reaction times were off, causing me to nearly clobber a few joggers, but I finally got to Kelly Drive. Traffic was mercifully light that time of day and I made it to the Bell and checked in at 10:36am. I wasn't sure how I had stacked up against the others, but was happy to have beaten my time goal.
Tom Oswald at the Liberty Bell
At the Liberty Bell

Sheila was waiting there for me and drove us home. It felt amazingly good to brush my teeth. I spent the afternoon alternating between snacking and napping, ate dinner, then slept for another 12 hours. The next day I was hobbling around like a 90-year-old man. Then when I saw on the website that I had been the first one done it put a little spring back in my step.

Chapeau to everyone that tackled this thing. You all are tough! It was especially cool to see three women start and finish well. Also, thanks to Eric, Adam and whoever else helped put it together. Your hard work is appreciated. I hope to ride with you all again sometime.


Michael A. Rosswog said...

Hell of a ride man. Congratulations!

John Majors said...

Congratulations, Tom. Awesome accomplishment!