I managed to get out for a mixed-terrain ride while we were in Indiana. I was feeling a little sluggish, so I set out on a short route I could easily extend if I wanted to. I was loving it, extended the ride several times, and ended up riding around 35 miles. Spring in southern Indiana was a couple weeks ahead of what we’re seeing here in NE Pennsylvania, and it was great to ride some of my old favorite routes, have some warmer weather and see budding trees, bulbs pushing up, and a few green areas here and there.
Archive for March, 2009
We just got back yesterday from spending about a week in Indiana. We visited our families, and I did some riding. I could’ve blogged, but I spent most of the week away from my computer, and it was a wonderful break.
Wednesday night, I went mountain biking with Dave at Brown County State Park. It was supposed to be a routine post-work ride, but there was some rain in the forecast. The radar didn’t look too threatening, so we thought little of it.
Shortly after we started riding, it started raining fairly hard. We really didn’t mind — it was warm enough that we were able to stay comfortable. But then we started hearing thunder. We counted 10-15 seconds between lightning and thunder and weren’t too worried when suddenly we saw, heard, and felt loud thunder and lightning, hitting simultaneously. We set our bikes down and walked away from them and waited for the lightning to clear up.
A few minutes later, we were moving again, but before long my brakes stopped working almost entirely. It was still raining quite hard and I had to stop frequently to clean my glasses and flush my burning eyes. I’m not sure what kept getting in my eyes, but it was pretty painful. I tried to adjust my brakes and get some stopping power, to no avail. I’m not sure what went wrong, as I have disc brakes, which are supposed to hold up in the rain. They didn’t — I had to ride with almost no brakes.
So, I did the only thing I could think of: I took a lesson from Fred Flintstone: I dragged my feet to keep my speed down. I had to make sure not to let myself pick up too much speed, or I wouldn’t be able to stop. During one switchback, I thought I was going to wipe out. I was going too fast and my feet were barely helping. I reached out and grabbed a small tree and held on tight. I was able to slow myself almost to a stop and make the turn.
Through all of this, we were having an absolute blast. And the trails were dry enough that they were just soaking up the rain; we weren’t causing any damage. We got to the end of the trail and I stopped to work on my brakes some more. I was able to get some functionality, so we opted for another lap, in the opposite direction. That lap was less eventful, and the rain even stopped for a few moments. But then it started again, and we finished the last couple of miles in near darkness, without lights. The descent back to the parking lot was harrowing, since we could hardly see.
I love it when a ride that could be routine ends up being completely insane. It was probably the most fun I’ve had on a bike so far this year.
Last March, I did a long ride that I really wasn’t prepared for (see Chain O’Lakes State Park). After a long winter, long rides early in the year can be very difficult. But I enjoyed that ride so much that on Saturday, I decided to do another early-season long ride. Of course, in this Pennsylvania terrain, a 40-mile ride is long. I seem to average about 10 mph in the mountains.
I had fun mapping out a route — but frankly I wasn’t sure I could handle it. It included a big climb to start, another huge climb on a gravel road about halfway through the ride, a jaunt through a bit of Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, and trips on several gravel roads. Of note, the Garmin Mapsource software (and therefore my GPS as well) can be quite useful because it indicates gravel roads, something I wish Google Maps did. And so far, their data about which roads are gravel seems fairly reliable. Here’s the map and elevation profile.
It was an abnormally warm day, pushing 60 degrees, with rain in the forecast. I was nearly certain it would rain — the radar was covered in green, indicating widespread rain clouds. So, I set out flanked in wool, prepared for the rain. I also took my old camera despite its non-functional display, not wanting to get my new camera wet. It wasn’t raining when I left home, and I felt a bit warm, but I was convinced this preparation would pay off.
Beginning a long ride with the Bunker Hill climb can be a little daunting, but it really seems to be the best way to get out of the valley. Still, starting any ride with an 800-foot climb hurts. And I was sweating more than usual since I was dressed for rain, which had yet to materialize.
After the Bunker Hill climb, I was on familiar roads for a bit longer. Soon I reached some new roads, and I enjoyed some beautiful scenery along the way.
For a while, the scenery was pretty, but not overwhelmingly so. Soon, I encountered some other cyclists. This has been a very rare occurence for me in this area, so I was surprised. There were four or five of them, all riding racing bicycles — much lighter and faster than mine — and I rode with them briefly, but we soon parted ways. Even if we hadn’t, they would have dropped me quickly due to their superior conditioning and faster bicycles. I briefly contemplated the advantages of lightweight bicycles, but stopped to photograph the very beautiful Lake Catalpa.
I rested for a few minutes, and enjoyed the scenery at the lake. I had done quite a bit of climbing, and at this point it started to pay off — the next five miles were mostly downhill. Not surprisingly, I didn’t take a lot of photos during this time.
After that, I spent a while on PA Route 309. I was a little worried about this as 309 is quite a busy highway in the city, but it was not bad, and there were wide shoulders most of the time. I was still glad to get off 309 and onto quieter roads, but 309 was quiet doable out there. The surrounding mountains got bigger as I entered the Endless Mountains region of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The route I planned had me riding up one of them on a gravel road. When I sketched the route, I wasn’t sure if I’d feel up for doing this, and planned a couple of ways to bail out if necessary. But my legs still felt fairly fresh, so I decided to go for it.
I took a couple of meandering side roads before running into Dietz Mountain Road. This was the bad boy — a gravel road with a huge climb. I was pleasantly surprised to find the gravel surface was quite smooth, and the road was not muddy. I could hear a small stream rushing alongside the road. I passed a few houses here and there but overall this area was sparsely populated. The climb started out very gradual, but got steeper as it went along. Over the course of just under a mile and a half, the road rose some 500 feet. I had to stop a few times along the way — it took me 25 minutes to ride less than a mile and a half. At this point, I was really wishing I had not assumed it would rain. The rain hadn’t materialized, and I was extremely hot as I climbed, and climbed, and climbed.
Aside from having to stop, I rode well. During this time I thought back to the people on racing bicycles and now I was glad I wasn’t riding one. I simply could not have done this part of the ride on a racing bike. And I found solace in this remote, quite area. The grade steepened and switched back, trying my endurance. I smiled as I realized I was nearing the top, and churned my way up.
It felt great to reach the top. I was tired, but it felt rewarding. I was just hoping that it was mostly downhill for a while. I couldn’t quite tell. I looked at the GPS and was shocked at the intricate patterns of topographic lines I saw on the screen. It was some wild terrain. I turned onto Wilsey Road.
Sure enough, it turned out I had a bunch of downhill riding ahead of me. I would have really enjoyed a speedy descent, but the scenery was too much. I took my time and stopped several times during the descent to take in the scenery and snap some photos. I was hoping all that climbing would pay off with some views, but I wasn’t expecting anything quite like this. It was actually a bit eerie, as the road passed quite a few derelict homes and vehicles, left to decay and apparently abandoned. The panoramic views were occasionally littered with such scenes, leading me to wonder: who could have lived out here, and did they really just go, leaving everything behind?
The views just kept improving as I got increasingly unobstructed looks at the surrounding mountains. It was difficult to pay attention to what was ahead of me, with the views off to the right.
As you can see, all that climbing paid off in a big way. Not only were the views tremendous, I had the road to myself, and the setting was very quiet and peaceful. I lingered in several places, happy to trade a fast, adrenaline-fueled descent for these serene moments.
After these incredible views, it only took a few minutes for me to reach the base of the mountain, and PA Route 292. I rode on part of 292 before, and felt confident it would make for good riding. I was right. It felt a bit like a highway, but I only saw occasional cars. The scenery continued to be very good, but nothing as stunning as what I saw on Wilsey Road. I ran out of water and had been counting on refilling my bottles in the small town of Vernon. Well, there wasn’t much of a town, it was really just a speck on the map. I had to wait until I got to Center Moreland to get more water. It was only a couple of miles away, so it wasn’t a big deal, but there was quite a bit of climbing between them. In fact, most of the rest of the trip would consist of some rather large ups and downs too large to be considered rolling hills, or to take advantage of momentum to carry me far up them. At this point the Long Haul Trucker became a bit of a liability as it was a real slog up those hills.
The rest of the trip was quite scenic as well, taking me on a couple more gravel roads, by an orchard, and some other lakes/ponds.
I could feel darkness was coming fairly soon. I had some lights with me, but not enough for full-on night riding, so I shortened my route a little and tried to get back as quickly as I could. The GPS makes it a lot easier to take short cuts as I can see which roads go through, or turn at a 90-degree angle, etc.
I was home before it truly got dark. This was an incredible ride — beautiful, but brutal. The rain never did materialize, something I was happy about, but it just meant I was quite warm the whole time. I underestimated how brutal the climbing would be. I knew there were a couple of monstrous climbs, but I tend to underestimate the terrain between them. Nonetheless, I look forward to more long rides, and more exploration. I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg as far as the Endless Mountains are concerned, and that was the most beautiful part of my ride; I need to venture further into that area.
All told, I rode just under 40 miles, with over 4100 feet of climbing. I was gone over 4 1/2 hours. When I lived in Bloomington, at my peak I would average around 16-17 mph. Not so here, the mountains add a whole new dimension to riding that is at once rewarding and humbling. It can make it a bit daunting to go for a a ride, but this ride reminded me that it’s worth the effort.