Thursday, October 25, 2012

PA 200k - The K-Hound Ride

Just past the middle of October my RUSA kilometer total reached an even 9800k.  Just 200k away from K-Hound status.  I'd ridden so many permanents lately that I had a hankering for a regular brevet.  As luck would have it the PA Randonneurs were hosting 200 and 150 kilometer rides on Saturday.  There is generally a good turn-out for their rides, and, I might even know some of the riders.  I informed the RBA, Tom Rosenbauer, I would be coming.  Remembering how hilly the PA rides are I checked the route profile only to have my stomach tighten when I saw the elevation gain to be over 10,000 feet.  Shortly after I received an e-mail from Tom confirming my entry and suggesting I bring low gears.  He was not aware that I've been only riding fixed-gear this year.  I felt committed to the ride but could not help being a bit nervous about it.

I undertook the drive to Quakertown early in the morning to arrive at the Weisel Youth Hostel in time for breakfast.  A nice array of foods were on offer including hot oatmeal. There were a few riders milling about that I did indeed know, although most of them were doing the 150k.  That option seemed very reasonable to me, but would fall short of the total I needed.  I remained committed to the 200k.  A regular PA rider, Johnathan, recognized me and inquired if I was riding fixed.  I confirmed that I was to which he replied with just two words, "Fox Gap", referring to the 1,000 foot climb that appears at mile fifty-five.  I simply shrugged admitting that I expected to struggle.
Riders milling about at the start. Weisel Youth Hostel, Quakertown, PA
I line up with my bike out in front of the building and chat with Chris, a rider from my area.  I would enjoy riding with Chris but she is on the 150k which is mostly on different roads.  Tom makes a few last minute announcements and gives us the off signal.  The group works it's way out on the hard pack dirt driveway to Richlandtown road.  The first miles are on reasonably gentle rolling terrain.  A nice warm-up for a rather perfect day.  The current temperature is in the fifties with the high expected in the low sixties.  At mile fifteen we make the first of several Deleware River crossings at Riegelsville, PA.  A left turn is made onto River Road after the bridge to parallel the river riding on the New Jersey side. We continue to Phillipsburg where we re-cross the river to Easton, PA.  The climbing begins in earnest passing Lafayette college. The rhythm of the fixed gear has not allowed me to match pace with anyone.  I'm riding alone somewhere near the back of the 200k riders, which is where I generally am in the early miles.  Typically I work my way further up the field later on by taking short breaks at the controls and picking up my pace as the day goes on.  I roll into the first control at Wind Gap, Pa.  There is no one there.  I am in and out in ten minutes heading for the top of Wind Gap, and the first of two Appalachian Trail crossings.
Crossing the Appalachian Trail
 I move well up Wind Gap snapping a photo of the A.T. sign while rolling along.  I'm relying on the cue sheet for all navigation as my Garmin froze up after only fifteen miles.  Things go along well until I miss-read a cue and pass by a turn on Cherry Vally Road. I ride ahead through a construction zone. I cover more than a mile before I realize my mistake and backtrack to the point of the error.  From there I manage to navigate flawlessly to the climb up Fox Gap. As I work my way up the two mile climb my focus is on attempting to stay up for the entire time. I make it about 75% of the way before walking becomes inevitable on a particularly steep pitch. About fifty yards later I find a driveway to re-start from and continue on the bike. Shortly I find myself walking again for another brief stretch,  Another conveniently located driveway provides my re-start point.  The road is heavily trafficked making traversing impossible.  I might have made it without walking had it been a quieter road.  I crest the mountain, crossing the Appalachian Trail for a second time,  and begin the fast descent down the other side.  I concentrate on spinning at maximum RPM.  After a few minutes I think to look at the cue sheet for the next cue.  It is an information control followed by a left turn at the TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN!!!  I am now almost at the bottom and I've passed by a control and a turn.  I need to climb all the way back to the top.  I can't believe I could be so stupid as to not have read the cue sheet before this point.  That is just basic navigation which one would think I'd have learned by now.  I find a spot to make a U-Turn and begin the grind back up.  Fortunately the grade is milder on this side and I do not have to walk. I find the sign-post, which is a "truck on cheese" warning.  I answer the question.  Then ride down 0.1 to the turn on Fox Gap Road which puts me back on course headed for the Portland control nine miles away.
Information control at the top of Fox Gap
 After the descent on Fox Gap Road the terrain is mild and pleasant.  Country lanes with low traffic are enjoyed for this short section.  I arrive at the town of Portland and make a left on Route 611 which is the main street through the tiny downtown area.  I've got a keen eye out for the control, a Citgo Mart on the right.  I pass a gas/mart on the right but the name is not Citgo, it is Jersey East, or something like that.  I continue on and am quickly riding next to the river with nothing ahead but trees.  The town is behind me.  After about a mile I realize there is only more of nothing, no market would be located out here and turn back to the town.  I stop at the Jersey East market asking the clerk if it was a Citgo at one time.  She confirmed it was and is still referred to as a Citgo by all the locals.  It's not the first time I have come across that type of cue sheet oddity.  I re-fill water bottles and head back out lamenting about all the time I've lost to mistakes on this ride, mostly my own. 
When not climbing there are always mountains to look at.
Leaving the control the cue sheet directs me back through the town. mostly along the river, to a bridge crossing which delivers me to Belvedere, NJ.  After a couple of quick turns I find myself following the river on Foul Rift Road. I  can't help but wonder why in the world anyone would name a road "Foul Rift"?  After a mile or so the answer comes to me in the form of a large cooling tower for a Nuclear Power Plant.  It's situated on the banks of the river right next to the road.  I get the joke.  There are some homes on the road.  I'm betting the residents aren't exactly in love with their address.  Sort of lacks that pleasant ring to it like say "Deer Run Road", "Shady Tree Lane" or "Apple Blossom Way".  I quickly cease thinking about these things as Foul Rift kicks up to a very steep, but kind of short hill.  I can confirm that being in close proximity to a nuke plant does little in the way of adding strength to one's legs.  I had always thought that the Incredible Hulk got his strength from exposure to nuclear radiation.  I assume one must actually be directly exposed to the reactor core to get the effect.  None the less I manage the hill without dismounting.  The remaining mileage to the control in Bloomsbury is pleasant and uneventful.  I arrive at the quiet general store needing only to re-fill a water bottle.  I have given up hope long ago of catching up with any other riders.  The extra mileage, combined with slow climbing and descending have relegated me to the position of Lantern Rouge.  At this point I'll be happy just to finish without too much riding after sun down.
The sun on it's way down.
 I'm out of the control within five minutes.  After only one half mile I hit Milford Road.  This last section is supposed to be quite challenging.  Milford Road kicks up very steep, then merges into Staats Road which is also quite steep and long.  I manage the climb by traversing on some of the steeper parts.  It's about two miles of tough grinding and I'm very pleased that I made it all the way without clipping out.  There is a pleasant descent down Sweet Hollow Road which soon after I cross the Deleware at the Milford bridge back into Pennsylvania.  After a brief run along the river on Route 32 I'm directed on Red Cliff Road a wall of hill which I cannot manage without walking.  This is followed by another steep kick on Upper Tinicum Church Road.  After some descending a turn is made on Geigel Hill Road.  This starts out very mild for a portion of it's three mile length.  Just as it lulls one into complacency it rears up to be incredibly steep.  Once again I find myself on my feet pushing the bike until the grade lessens.   After descending into the valley the terrain is mild until the last few miles of the route.  After a shorter manageable climb up Elephant Road I find myself at Lake Nockimixon.  I notice that the official time for sun down is just a few minutes away.  To comply with the rules I stop to put on reflective gear and turn on my lighting.   The finish is just on the other side of the lake. To get there requires one more climb on Route 313, which I've done many times before.  It goes by easily and I arrive at the youth hostel just minutes later.  There is still a small amount of daylight left.  Tom appears happy to see me.  With my arrival the finish percentage became 100%.  My time is 10 hours and 58 minutes.  I'm happy to have finished what is my most challenging fixed-gear 200k to date.  Also, I'm thrilled to have earned the K-Hound award for the second time.   

Epilogue, Plans and Goals
I've done far more solo riding this year than ever before.   The fixed-gear is isolating, unless riding with other fixies.   I enjoy riding with others, but have learned to appreciate being alone as well.  I'm not reliant on companionship to enjoy a long day on the bike.  I've become proficient at controls.  Managing to  keep my time off the bike to a bare minimum on most rides.   Due to an affliction known as ADD I've not been the best at navigation.  When I ride a new route, alone, it is highly possible, even likely, I will  make an error adding additional miles to the distance.  Usually it is a miss-read of the cue sheet that causes this.  I've since purchased a Garmin and am slowly learning how to use it.  Hopefully, this will help, but it is not a simple device to use.  At least not for me.  

It was satisfying to reach the K-Hound level again this year.  With the difference being that I have ridden only fixed-gear for every kilometer in 2012.  I am planning to travel to Texas next month for a 600k hosted by the Lone Star Randonneurs, the original K-hounds.  I'm much looking forward to meeting them, and riding with their group. 

To finish off the year I hope to ride at least 1,000 more official kilometers which will put my all time RUSA total to 40,000, which is known as the Mondial level.  A finish of the Dallas 600k will complete a second SR Series for me, this year.  Two thousand more fixed-gear miles by the year end will bring my total to 14,000 for 2012.  The R-12 quest is still intact with 45 consecutive months accumulated so far.  The P-12 stands at 22 consecutive months.   All of it is lots of motivation to keep me riding as the weather turns colder.