I like to ride my bike.
I like to ride my bike a lot. I especially like those types of rides that take you into the unknown. New roads, new challenges.
So with my 45th birthday looming I set about looking for a challenge. Mmm The weekend before I had ridden to the state line between Pennsylvania and Ohio. That was a nice, relatively flat century. I know, how about I head South and cross into Maryland!?! Ohh look at that, with some time on little back roads I can also cross from Maryland into West Virginia before heading home!
Looks like around 140 - 145 miles and "MapMyRide suggests around 8,000 ft of climbing. Nice! I've done rides of this magnitude before, sure it's been a while. But just last weekend I did 75 one day and then backed up and did 105 the next; and a few weeks ago did a hilly almost 130 miles with Pablo and Ken. Yeah, I'm ready.
The basic flight path is to head South from the 'burgh to Uniontown, up into the Laurel Ranges (the one big climb of the day, a Strava Cat 2), roll over some rollers and then drop into Maryland, take some back roads from there into West Virginia, and then basically retrace my steps home. Simple.
That delicious iced coffee I grabbed In Uniontown gradually seemed like a bad idea as I tackled the Cat 2 climb heading up into the Laurel Highlands. This shot is from about halfway up. Uniontown in the distance.
I was feeling pretty good at this point. +50 miles in, had been pushing into a stedy 9-10mph headwind, but still "on top of the pedals" as they say. This climb though, it was a wake up call. Made me dig a little deeper than I had anticipated.
The rollers. Damn! These aren't ordinary rollers! You know the type where you can jam it in the big ring across the bottom and carry most of that through the rise, if you're strong, and/or using a compact you can probably keep it in the big ring and muscle it over the top? Yeah, these weren't like that. Not at all! Each one was magnified 3 to 4 fold. The climb out usually started around 10-12%, instantly washing off all speed, and they rarely got to be less than 8%, and they were long! This photograph was typical.
They started to wear me down, in spirit as much as in the legs. Especially with the knowledge that my way home was back through them....
Anyhoo... finally find my turn and head down into Maryland. Ahhh some nice deserted country roads. Kind of pretty actually. And then here's the sign I was looking for
That was it, all that I could find as evidence that I crossed into the state of Maryland. The roads down here sure were pretty though.
That headwind was also starting to pick up, I was really going to need it to remain true and not change direction or my ride home was going to be very, very tough.
Then things went wrong for a bit. I rode past a sign indicating quite clearly that we were at the end of road maintenance for one county, and the road fell apart. I mean within a mile it was more a goat track than a road. I'd have second thoughts taking my car down there; but this was the way home so.. I figure this is about when I crossed into West Virginia.
This is the better section of dirt road, near the Federal Prison (more on that in a bit), but it shows how exposed it is out there. That house on the right looked abandoned, a long, long time ago...
Then I lost cell phone reception. No Google map, just the sun for direction, head North and I should be good. Oh it's noon, no shadows. Oh well.... Solider on, from memory there should be only 2-3 miles of this and then I am on route 26. Well, some time later, I am low on water, the Garmin is showing 110 f and there's not a drop of shade anywhere and I know I am lost.
And then I come across this
Seemingly in the middle of no where, a Federal Prison, high security to look at it. I meandered up to the guard gate and was met with a surly dude who was sure about only one thing, I should not be there. I kept asking for directions and he kept replying with "you should not be here". After repeating this 3 or 4 times I decided on a change of tack and asked "if I go that way will I get to route 26?". He said yes, far too quickly walked back into his air conditioned guard box and made it clear that we were finished, though I thought I heard "you should not be here" one last time...
So I headed off in the randomly chosen direction confident in nothing other than I was now out of water and not going back to ask him for any!
A few miles later - it's all relative at this point; because of the road/track conditions I was barely able to ride at much above walking speed for most of it - I came across some shade. Ahhhh that's nice. Even better, a check on my phone tells me I have reception again! Google Maps is back!!! And down through that covered section of road is route 26. I'm well off course, but soon to be back on my way again.
Back on a surfaced road and soon I am back up to speed and before I know it crossing back into Pennsylvania.
I could not find the companion to this, but this sign shows that I was in Virginia... Personally I'd rather they spent less money on fancy signs and more on at least street signage if not on their streets...
From there I found the first place that sold water, stocked up, downed my first coke of the day and started to head for home - 70 miles away. Back over those "rollers" and then down into Uniontown where I stopped for a meal (no Pablo, not a roast chicken, though I did have a chicken sandwich from Subway).
About now I started to feel the ride. 50 miles to go and I am getting a little saddle weary ( a polite way of saying that the skin had opened up where my right leg meets my torso and I had a bump forming where my sit bone met the saddle). In short it was starting to hurt to sit down, a lot.
At least I had that tailwind though. Quite your bitching, put your head down and ride son.
About 20 miles from home I started to fall back on the coke + chocolate bar trick. As much as to stop every now and then as anything else. By now I was starting to cramp a little, but was mostly just tired, and then there's that saddle weariness thing...
In a strange way, climbing became easier if I shifted up into the big ring and climbed out of the saddle. So that's what I did, and then feathered the pedals down the other side. Once I got into a good position on the saddle I was still able to turn things over okay. My garmin is set up to record split times for every 5 miles and I am kind of chuffed that my quickest split was from mile 135 to mile 140.
Finally I am back in my general neighbourhood and with one last hill to tackle. If you look it up on Strava you will see that I averaged an incredible 2.2 mph up the 0.9 mile 5.4% climb. That should tell you all you need to know about my state as I rolled into our front yard :-)
Here's a link to the Strava download. Summary: 155 miles, 11,093 ft gained, 11:32 moving time.
So here I am the next day. A little proud of myself for completing that ride yesterday. More than a little sunburned. Not too leg sore, though my rear end does not want to go near the bike just yet, maybe by Monday. And I am already planning my next major adventure.
The highest point in Pennsylvania is Mt Davis, looks like a 160 mile round trip with about 10,000 ft of climbing. Sounds like fun, no?