Bear Gap in Winter

EK’s bike enjoying the view from the top of Bear Gap.

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Why Do I Do This?

My wife asks me this all the time.  Well, occasionally, at least.  I think it’s because invariably when I get home from a long ride, and I tell her how the ride went, I tend to focus on the material aspects of the ride.  How I did physically, what the weather was like, what problems I had, etc.   So, to her, it often sounds like a bunch of pointless suffering.  That doesn’t mean there wasn’t an upside to the whole affair, it’s just that those upsides are harder to talk about – they are less concrete, and much more touchy-feely.  Dare I say, philosophical, or even spiritual?  And unless I feel like getting into an existential discussion, I don’t go there.

You can see it here on this blog too.  I am not dishing out a lot of deep thoughts, clearly.  But, you know, that’s not what this thing is for.  This is the modern equivalent of a diary for me, but only as it concerns the easily-relatable.  Sometimes I will read something I posted a while ago and I get a kick out of it.  That’s enough for me.  And if a few of you folks enjoy a photo or a ride report now and again, then hey, that’s all the better.  The other types of thoughts swimming around up there that I keep private, well that’s not because they are all that private, really, its mostly because I am too lazy to try to articulate them.  Articulatin’ is hard!

But still, something is compelling me to answer the question:  Why do I do this?

Because I enjoy the challenge?  Seek to test my abilities as a ‘complete’ cyclist?  Is this that whole ‘Type II fun’ thing, again?  It’s nice to look back at something I did that was hard.  Something I could have definitely failed at, but didn’t.  Is this a self-indulgent, ego-driven thing?  Sorta.  Maybe.  I’m not sure, really.  But in any case, it’s an bad explanation, because even when it’s not hard, I still find the ride rewarding.

Because I just simply enjoy riding my bike?  Well, it’s true.  I do.  BUT, I can get my ya-ya’s out in 2 or 3 hours.  I really don’t need to ride for 10+ hours.  Truth is, the physical enjoyment of simply riding starts to fade after 3 or 4 hours, more or less.  So no, that’s not really it, either.

Is it about communing with the natural world?  Yeah, it sort of is.  I, like most people, spend most of my time indoors.  Riding my bike is one of my few times to spend time outside, far afield.  Extended time.  Like all day.  That creates a different feeling than spending a few hours here and there.  Or spending all day in your back yard.   We may be on roads, but many of  them are remote.   And rando in Rothrock and Bald Eagle SPs  (that what this blog started out being about, after all) is even better.  There is a smell and feeling out there in the woods that’s somehow good for the soul.  But I could get that from hiking, or camping.  Something more civilized than riding a bike all day long.  Then getting up the next morning and doing it again….

Camaraderie?  A shared travail is always a positive thing, as it breeds goodwill.  Friends in rando are good friends indeed.  Hmmm.  Maybe this is the key.  I don’t really get this any other way.  Perhaps it is telling that I have never done a perm or brevet solo.  Not interested.

Well, perhaps it’s a combination of all of these things.  Not all of these are at work at the same time, or all on the same ride.  But collectively they provide enough motivation to get out there and do something audacious every once and a while.  And it feels right.  So I’ll keep doing it as long as I am able and willing.

Oh, as another form of explanation, this song captures a bit of the indescribable sentiment that I feel about riding my bike a long time.  Riding a bike up and over the road’s obstacles then coasting down the flipside is a little bit metaphoric for life itself, I suppose.  Is that deep?

You can do a lot in a lifetime, if you don’t burn out too fast. You can make the most of the distance, but first you need endurance, first you got to last….

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Long Springtime Ride Plan #3: Gravity Hill 200K

I’ve got another 200K permanent route in the works:  Gravity Hill 200K.    So named because the route goes right by (and optionally on as a side detour) Gravity Hill.

There are a couple other points of interest too:  Blue Knob, and the Flight 93 Memorial.  The former is very much on the route  (you climb up to the summit, where the ski area is located, and then you descend down through the State Park), but the latter is about a 5 mile out-and-back side trip.

There are even a few covered bridges along the route (well about 300 feet off the route).  One is in New Baltimore, and another in New Paris, and other in Ryot  (which was burned down, but was was rebuilt).  Then there is the Dr. Knisley bridge, and the Snooks Bridge, which you will need to travel over.  Visible in this linked photo of the N. Baltimore bridge is the “Church of the Turnpike“.  Bedford county is rife with covered bridges, reportedly 14 of them.

Here is the RWGPS plot:  http://ridewithgps.com/routes/6654045

Oh, a mildly interesting snippet about Gravity Hill:

I’ll be scouting this sometime in the next month by car, and by bike by the end of spring.

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Long Springtime Ride Plan #2

I recently had my first permanent approved.  I started working on it (very casually) over a year ago.  I first mentioned it here.  I finally got my act together this late fall / early winter.

RUSA Permanent Route #2567:  http://www.rusa.org/cgi-bin/permview_GF.pl?permid=2567

RideWithGPS:  http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3710329

It’s officially named the Turn-a-Breeze 206K.  It starts in Altoona, a place name with a second syllable that sounds like tuna.  And then, at the halfway point, you find yourself in Breezewood.  So, I almost named it Tuna Breeze, but that seemed slightly too indelicate (or something) for a sensitive and serious rando crowd.  And so it became Turn-a-Breeze.  As in, you Turn a-round in Breezewood.  Well,  you sorta do anyways…

As the RUSA site ‘official’ description implies…  you start along the Allegheny Front in Altoona, and then the route takes you on a quiet and intricately scenic ramble through the rugged forests and rolling farmlands of the ridge and valley region of south-central Pennsylvania.

Translations:

quiet:  yeah, lots of the route is on farm roads; not many people or cars around.

intricately scenic:  there are lots of turns, and the route is quite pretty in most spots.

rugged forests:  there are a few Deliverance-esque locations here and there.  Nothing to get too worried about though.

ridge and valley region:  really, I personally think this is among the best places to ride in PA.  The topography is distinct and beautiful, with plenty of climbing and scenic vista opportunity, but with the ability to stick to rolling valley roads to keep some sense of humanity if you wish  to / need to (i.e. let’s keep  the climbing below 80 feet per mile, thank you very much…..).

If we ever break out of the snow, ice, and polar vortex weather mode that we seem to be in right now, I will get an inaugural ride report posted.

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Long Springtime Ride Plan #1: Trans PA

Hey folks, Crush the Commonwealth is on April 24th.  I know you all were dying to know that.  What is it, you ask?  Just google it, m’kay?

My feelings about CTC are a bit mixed.

In my opinion, the highlights are:  The abandoned turnpike at night. The route between Somerset and Cowans Gap is pretty great. Hilly as hell, but beautiful and fun. Ohiopyle is a treat too, as is the feeling of finishing at a notable place, after completing a fairly hard 620K-ish ride in April…in PA – this is not a minor feat.

….but the lowlights are:  Much of the route is on busy state roads, and the traffic light homicidal motorist laden route through Chambersburg, York, and Lancaster sucks pretty bad.  Riding on the GAP sucks, if the surface well, sucks. As in sucks out your will to live as it sucks your tires deeper into the trail….  (but the GAP is hard to avoid… so we live with it, and try to admire the semi-beauty of a still-bare springtime forest….)

Oh, speaking of York:

Really though, the lowlights mentioned above, combined with typically terrible weather  (craptastic is the word Dan B. invented to describe it….), makes for an annually iffy proposition.  I developed an alternate route, that keeps the good stuff, and removes most of the above mentioned suckdom. But its not the official route, so therefore is meaningless. I may fully scout and cue this and submit it as a RUSA permanent one of these days.  If I did, I could crush the commonweath on a nice route, on a spring weekend of my choosing.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Naturally, I’d pick a weekend with reasonable weather.  I’d argue the only reason to put up with total crap weather-wise is if the official event still holds a large degree of magic for you.  It still has some magic for me, but not enough to endure 20 hours or more of 30 mph headwinds and/or a 40 deg F + rain.

So, anyways, here is the alternative route (still being worked on):  http://ridewithgps.com/routes/6762091

Code name:  Trans PA.  (yeah, name concept shamelessly copied from Trans Iowa)

Anyone game to scout this thing come April?  I would anticipate an overnight in Shippensburg, by the way.

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Unsolicited Advice

Even though nobody here asked, the following is a random list of randonneuring advice, based on my own experiences and personal opinions, that I’ve dispensed at various times:

  • Ride a reasonably fast / efficient bike.  Rando is hard enough without additionally burdening yourself with a slow machine.
  • That said, you should probably start doing rando on whatever bike you currently have now, then upgrade later if you feel like it, instead of starting off by buying a new bike for this use.  Think about it – how are you going to really know what bike you’d like to use for rando if you have never actually done any randonnees before?  Get a few permanents, populaires, brevets, etc. under your belt first. Then you’ll be in a much better position to know which bike and accessories to invest in.
  • Practice the skills that are unique to rando.  Long rides in training are for testing out fueling and pacing and bike fit, not really for developing endurance, per se.  Learn night riding skills.  Learn cue sheet and/or Garmin route following skills. Learn by doing.
  • If you doubt your endurance for long rides, don’t train long and slow, also train short and fast.  The latter builds fundamental cardiovascular / aerobic fitness that is absolutely key for having endurance.
  • Maintain your bike in good working order. Start long rides with everything checked over and adjusted.
  • Become a complete cyclist – this means riding in all weather, day and night, and knowing all of the techniques of cycling in all terrain, traffic conditions, etc.
  • Know how to work on your bike.  Have the ability to fix your bike when it breaks.  Can you fix a flat tire in cold weather in the dark?  Can you improvise a bit, if necessary?
  • Learn what foods work for you on the bike, especially on long rides. Stuff that works on fast, 2 hour rides may not be what you can tolerate eating after 6 or 8 or 10 hours. Don’t ride an hour or two before you start eating. You should be eating in the first half hour.
  • Learn what ultra-endurance pace feels like and have the discipline to ride at that pace for the majority of the ride. This is a pace that allows you to carry on a conversation without gasping. It’s a pace that allows you to breathe through your nose and still be able to get enough air.
  • Ride on reasonably reliable equipment. Stuff you can trust. Don’t ride the lightest, thinnest tires or low spoke count / delicate wheels that are scared of a little gravel or potholes.
  • Don’t make a bunch of changes to your equipment, position on the bike, etc. right before a brevet. Everything needs to be tested, proven, and gone through at least a few dry runs first.
  • Figure out how you are going to carry the stuff you will need to see you through reasonably foreseeable weather changes and problems with your bike. On the other hand, don’t let paranoia lead you down the path of carrying a bike shop worth of tools and parts and a full wardrobe of clothes. Find a reasonable balance.
  • Figure how you are going to ride at night safely. Early season 200Ks will either start or end in the dark, unless you are pretty fast. Looking to longer brevets, you need lights with sufficient run time, or the ability to charge them.  Have both a backup headlight and backup taillight.  Consider a small light on your helmet for looking at cue sheets, digging stuff out of bags, fixing a flat, etc.  Is your bike festooned with supplemental reflectives?  Do you have ankle bands?  A good reflective vest meeting current RUSA requirements?
  • Know the course you are going to ride before your ride it. Study it on mapping sites (ridewithgps is my favorite). Learn how to navigate by cue sheet. Learn how to read one produced by the RBA in your area. Don’t let others navigate for you. This is a learned skill so you have to practice. Don’t do this for the first time on your first brevet. If you are using a GPS, thoroughly learn how to use that device ahead of time.
  • Always ride your own ride. Don’t foolishly chase others down who are stronger than you. This sometimes ends people’s rides. Not immediately, but a few hours later after they have blown up / bonked spectacularly.
  • Realize that on any long ride, you will have some ups and downs. The downs will not last forever. When you feel like giving up, realize that it’s entirely possible to totally turn things around, and after a surprisingly brief period of slow riding and eating / drinking, you’ll wonder why you ever felt like quitting.
  • During a randonee, be aware of your time cushion.  The number of hours you have to ride in order to get a hour of rest, and still meet a 9.3 mph overall average is found by the following formula:    # of hours riding at X mph = 9.3/(X-9.3)   So, if you have a moving average of 13 mph, then you only need to ride at that speed for 2 hrs and 31 minutes before you have built up a 1 hour time cushion.   Another way to look at things is to calculate your estimated moving time and stopping time. I find that routine refueling stops are about 25-30 minutes long (and a lot of randos are more efficient than I am), and I need one of those about every 45 to 60 miles. When controles are closer together than that, the stops can be a bit shorter.
  • For tires, I recommend not going with something super bulletproof.   The assumption there is that you aren’t a physical suffering type of masochist.  I wouldn’t go superlight either.  The assumption there is that you aren’t a flat fixing type of masochist.  Where you fall in the wide middle depends on your personal feelings about flat changing vs. speed potential.
  • Tire recommendations?  In 559, I like 1.35″ wide Shawalbe Kojaks. In wide 622, I like Vittoria Voyager Hypers (32, 35, and 38 widths available). They are reasonably efficient tires that are also pretty flat resistant.  A spare tire is rarely necessary, so carrying one is probably a waste. Do carry some boots, though.  Similarly, its probably not necessary to worry about broken spokes.  Although a fiberfix spoke doesn’t cost or weigh much. Also, if you don’t go below 32 spokes, you can usually keep riding with a broken spoke, especially if you run disc brakes and have good clearances in your bike frame.  A chain tool and spare link is probably more likely to be used. But a lot of folks don’t bother to carry one. I usually do. Maybe I will bail someone else out someday.
  • When trying to optimize your gear setups or clothing, don’t ignore aerodynamics.  Even on slow, hilly routes, aero drag is the single biggest consumer of energy.

What’s your advice, folks?  Please share your hard-earned pearls of wisdom.

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Merry Christmas!

I am indulging my resurgent interest in upright bikes.   But even there, my preferences are decidedly off to the side of the bell curve.  Santa is bringing me the following in about 6 weeks: TSR30DB_Seperable_Lrg Although mine will be burgundy.  It’s a Pashley-Moulton TSR-30.

( details here:  http://www.moultonbicycles.co.uk/models/TSR30.html )

I am getting the separable version, in particular, as it only adds 100 bucks.

Ok – what’s this for, then?  Well, the heart wants what it wants. Or doesn’t want, as the case may be. I started off trying to find a nice used one, but Moultons are so rare that isn’t really much of a money saving affair.  For a marginal amount extra, I can get a new one, with all modern components, etc.  My wanting a Moulton is completely irrational, I must admit. I don’t really have many solid plans for it. I will still do audax and touring on my recumbents. So peak performance and comfort is not it’s mission. I don’t do much traveling with a bike, and no commuting, so the separability / portability issue is (while nice), not a major issue for me either.

I guess I want one simply because I like how they ride. I would only use it for 2-3 hour routine pleasure rides. And the Moulton would provide some interest and variety. But I can’t entirely rule out using it for the occasional 100K perm pop or even a 200K perm or brevet.

I did get to try a space frame Moulton circa 1993 (I think) at a century ride.  I just rolled into the finish and were at a station where they had food and such, and right behind us was a fella on a Moulton. We got to chatting about his bike and he offered me a test ride. I only rode it for about 5 or 10 minutes but I loved it.   The handling, overall feel, and ride quality (smooth, efficient) of the of the combined effects of the space frame, small wheels, and suspension was unique, and totally awesome, dude (hey, it was the early 90’s).  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine.

I let a lot of years go by, I haven’t forgotten about them.  Only somewhat recently have I had a resurgent interest in uprights, and in decades past I didn’t have the money to afford one. This is a time where means and desire have finally converged. This picture will give the uninitiated a better idea of the frame design: moulton-tsr-27

Pictures to follow in February when I get it on the road….

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