Team NYGTF started our 227 mile Fleche from Eric’s house in Boalsburg PA at 8:00 AM. The morning with bright and cold, about 27 deg F, but we anticipated a nice warm up because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – a true rarity in this part of the world. As we made our way northwest, straight up the center of Brush Valley along Rt. 192, we noticed we were battling a headwind. It wasn’t particularly strong (5 to 10 mph, I think), but it certainly added to the chill and slowed our progress. It was mildly discouraging because we were not due for a significant change in heading until we reached Lewisburg at mile 55. The first 35 miles were also spent going uphill too. Despite all that we maintained a respectable 14.5 mph average speed along that segment.
We made a brief stop in Rebersburg to find a way to do an information controle for the Endless Mountains 1240, on behalf of Tom Rosenbauer. We did find an easy to find, permanent historical marker that should be perfect.
Further up the road, we stopped for about 10 minutes at the small lake and dam at RB Winter State Park and took a few pictures. There were still some snow banks lining the road in that area. I enjoyed this part of the route… the pine trees, low traffic, and the fast section of road that dropped about 1,350 feet in 18 miles. Not enough of a slope to feel like a true downhill, but one that made you think….“hmm. I am riding along pretty good here…”. But regrettably the cold headwind put a damper on our speed a bit.
We stopped on the bridge crossing the west branch of the Susquehanna River at Lewisburg, where we paused to eat a bit and snap a few pictures. It was here where Jeff (who is an aquatic biologist) explained the difference between the ‘west branch’ and the ‘main stem’ of this 16th largest river in the USA (and one of the oldest rivers in the world; befitting that the Appalachians it runs through are amongst the world’s oldest mountains).
We then turned south following the river. We had our first controle in Northumberland at mile 64, and we then crossed the main stem of the Susquehanna. Around this time we actually could feel our fingers, toes, and noses again. The wind had left us, and wouldn’t be much of a factor for the rest of the Fleche. We continued on Rt.147, which, although it follows the river, is along its steep banks, and the road rises and falls along the ragged edge of those banks. This road had quite a bit of traffic on it and wasn’t too much fun to ride on. We controlled again in Herdon, and soon turned off of busy roads on to a nice piece of back road PA cycling heaven between miles 82 and 98. Absolutely primo scenery and roads. Doesn’t get much better….but then, it got a fair amount worse….
We had a pretty stiff 800 foot climb on Gap Street leading us to the village of Good Spring, where I gotta tell you the scenery and road quality was anything but good… and I would definitely not recommend drinking the water. Apparently there was a lot of past strip mining in this area, and evidence of the environmental damage was easily visible on both sides of the road for about a 6 mile stretch. There were a few “ponds’ of obvious acid mine drainage here and there. Sheesh. And the road.. oh dear lord, the “road”…. After getting on Rt. 125, we road the worst stretch of state route pavement I have ever experienced for about 4 miles. Imagine what riding over a crack the size of a bridge expansion joint every 10 feet at 22+ mph (this part of the road was distinctly downhill). At least we got through that forsaken area quickly enough….
Soon after that we stopped to have dinner at Randazzo’s Pizza in the slightly quaint town of Tremont. The food was good there and the locals were super friendly. Lots of questions. “Where you going? Huh, really, serious? That’s crazy! Tonight? In the dark? Where’d you come from? Really? Did you start a couple days ago? This morning!? No shit!” One particular, inebriated gentleman was so impressed he kept wanting to buy us food and drinks with his girlfriend’s money. She wasn’t as impressed with us as he was. He actually wanted to ride with us, but didn’t have a bike, or enough coordination in his present state.
When we left Tremont, we had a fast and fun ride down along Good Spring Creek, and then turned off into another, even more extended (58 miles!), primo stretch of absolute great back roads, eventually passing through Swatara Gap, and the little towns of Fredericksburg, Bernville, and Shoemakersville. Also thrown in there was a brief control stop in Lickdale, right after the Gap (you gotta controle the ‘corners’ of your route on a Fleche…). My only regret is that we did 2/3rds of this stretch in the dark – so obviously it was a little hard to appreciate the scenery. The roads were so much fun – a never-ending roller coaster of shallow rollers and twists and turns, that even in the dark, they weren’t even remotely monotonous. I am sure they would be even more fun in the daytime.
Along this stretch, though I was starting to get seriously cold. It was only about 40 degrees, but at this point, after 14 hours on the road, and a slightly sweaty afternoon, my body was starting to lose heat. I started dreaming of hot chocolate at the upcoming Kutztown controle. There, we stopped for a good while for a major fueling. I had another egg sandwich and french fries and a couple bananas. All of us were starting to freeze sitting outside while eating. I put on every piece of clothing I had with me, and even stuffed a french fry grease stained paper bag down my jersey. Jeff and Dan got creative in an attempt to warm up their feet – using plastic bags from the convenience store on their feet (but still inside their shoes).
Getting lost, episode 1 – About a quarter-mile after we left the Kutztown Sheetz controle, we had to make a right on to School Road. We blew right by it and went about a mile down a gentle hill before we came to grips with our error. I noticed the error on my Garmin right away but the cue sheet insisted we had to go 1.3 miles before picking up School Rd. In any event, we backtracked, found School Road, and all was again right with the world.
Getting lost, episode 2 – No more than a couple miles later, we had another bout of confusion on how to get to the climb up Ruth Road. Well, we took Short Road like my Garmin told us instead of staying on Oakhaven Rd like the cue sheet said to, but Eric knew either one would work based on his memory of the layout fo these roads. And it did all work out, but this highlighted a bit of a conflict. The GPS route on my Garmin 500 didn’t entirely jive with the cue sheet. And when the cue sheet wasn’t clear, we were starting to opt for following my Garmin. This was something I was not particularly keen to do, since it had started behaving badly in previous couple hours. Multiple times it said we were off course when we weren’t. And these weren’t 10 second hiccups. These were off course indications lasting 10 minutes or more. Plus, the whole thing locked up twice. Forcing me to reset the device (which resulted in a corrupted .fit file for the ride…a bit of a bummer….). So we were getting to the point where we weren’t trusting the GPS or the cue sheet. Not good.
Getting lost, episode 3 – Well, crap. Do bad things come in threes? Not long after leaving the Gilbertsville controle, we were supposed to leave the combined Rt. 73 / Rt. 663 and bear left to stay on Rt. 663 proper, which would take us on a straight shot northeastward to our 22 hour controle (at a 24-hour diner in Quakertown), only about 20 miles away. Leaving the Gilbertsville controle, we were on schedule – with a full hour plus to spend at the diner. But instead of picking up 663 where we were supposed to, we errantly stayed on Rt. 73 heading southeast, for about 8 miles. We finally realized the mistake in the little town of Schwenksville. Dan used his Iphone to figure out that if we backtracked a mile, and took Rt. 29 north, we could pick up Rt. 663 again, getting back on course.
It turns out that Rt. 29 is a very hilly road, and our added mileage, 20 minutes of navigational funk, and slow progress on 29 was destroying all of the time we had planned for stopping at the diner, and then some. Not only that, it was looking unlikely that we would make the Diner by the start of the 22nd hour, and we feared disqualification as a result of that. So Captain Eric hatched a plan. We would find an alternative 22 hour controle on-route that we could reach by 22:00, get receipts to prove we were there at that time, and still demonstrate that at least 25Km were ridden in the last two hours.
The Quakertown WaWa on Rt 663 just west of town was the perfect place. Easy place for make a very brief controle stop right on the route. We all refueled very quickly, and before the other three of us were quite ready, Eric took off for the penultimate control at the Dublin post office. Eric was going a little slower than the other three of us, so we planned on catching him, and the other three of us did rejoin a little bit after passing through Quakertown.
After riding through some mega rollers (small mountains, more like it) on 663, we finally made it to the Dublin post office at 23:25. Crap. We’re running out of time. We all signed the post card as quickly as possible, dropped in the box, and took off.. We were all in a mild state of panic. We only had to go another 5 miles, but they were through some of the same very hilly terrain that was so slow going on the run out to Dublin. But we stayed focused and ground out those last few climbs at a steady pace, rolling into the finish at the Weisel hostel with 7 minutes to spare. Whew! Done and done.
I should note that our 3rd and final navigational snag was subsequently reported on the PA Rando’s message board as a 30 mile detour, but that isn’t quite right. It actually it was about a 30K mistake, but in any event, regardless of distance, it sucked. It felt like 30 miles because the entire course deviation was downhill, basically. And that’s why we were riding so fast on that segment. I just thought we were all starting to get our 5th wind or something. Naw. Just a downhill.
Since all’s well that ends well, I now think of our snafu as a blessing in disguise because it now makes for some good, interesting memories.
Summary: All told we did 242 miles (only 228 or so officially), 13,700 feet of climbing, 14,300 feet descending. 18:09 moving time for a 13.333333333333 mph moving average. And most importantly, except for the last 3.5 hours where we were worried about an official finish, it was a whole lot of FUN. What a concept!
Jeff’s Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/94813562@N07/
A few selections below: