Permanent Hell

This past Saturday I rode Tour of Happy Valley again – EK, myself, and newly minted randonneur Mike Lewis did the ride.   I should note we were doing it in reverse for the first time.  This way we would avoid the potential of 70 something miles of headwinds that the normal direction can inflict (erm, has inflicted in the past…).

All three of us ‘needed’ this perm to continue our respective R-12 streaks.  This was #8 for me, #4 for Mike, and #30-something for Eric.

The weather forecast was reasonably promising.  It included a somewhat chilly start at 20 degrees, with a warm-up into the low 40’s by mid afternoon (but with some clouds), and with a near-zero chance of precipitation.  For late November, that’s not great, but not too bad either.

We started at 7:30a in order to avoid the very worst of the cold, but as it turned out, it was only 13 degrees then.  But at least it was sunny and there wasn’t much wind.  We pretty much all had cold feet, faces and hands (but not dangerously so) for the first 45 miles.   On my torso I was wearing two long sleeve wool layers, one short sleeve wool layer, and a lightweight sorta-breathable shell.  On my legs I had a pair of thin tights with PI Amfibs over top.  Ski gloves on my hands;  winter cycling boots and expedition weight wool socks on my trotters.   And a wool balaclava, headband, and cotton cap on me noggin.  It was enough.

At 45 miles (after doing the out and back to Warriors Mark), I shed the short sleeve wool layer and the cotton cap, and put on lighter gloves (but stashed the heavy ones in my seat bag).  By this time it had warmed up to about 38 degrees or so.  Quite a rise  (25 degrees in only 4 point something hours…)!

Nothing much eventful happened on the ride out to the Buffalo Valley turnaround at mile 90, however the skies had turned overcast and we were intermittently sprinkled upon.  Not enough rain to get us truly wet or make us cold(er), but just enough to wet the road and make a mess of things.  It would sprinkle lightly for 5 minutes, then stop totally for the next hour or so.  Then the cycle would repeat.  You know, I just can’t seem to entirely avoid rain on permanents lately.  I tolerate riding in the rain, but I don’t like it one bit.  I am not a real randonneur, you see.  A real randonneur relishes in such challenges, right?  The more of a test of your skills, experience, and determination, the better, right??   I see half of you are nodding ‘yes’ and the other half ‘no’.  Huh.  At least I am not alone…

Anyways, we made it back over the Happy side of the mountain just before nightfall and turned onto the very quiet Pine Creek Road.  Shortly after that, Eric had a curious observation:  The road was crunchy.  Come again?  Turns out we were hearing the occasional isolated patch of textured ice as it would pass under our wheels.  So, upon discovering this, we all slowed down a good bit, and debated the origins of this ice while we gingerly rolled along.   You see, at this point, it had cooled down a bit, but we still had an air temperature of 35 degrees or so, and it had been above freezing for about the last 6 hours.   And none of the wet roads we had ridden on all day had given even the tiniest indication that they had ice.  Because they didn’t.  So, several theories regarding the origins of the mystery ice were exchanged between the three of us, and we all chalked it up to being a freak anomaly.  But still, we all got the obvious message that we needed to be careful.  Eric advised to avoid riding on the shiny parts of the road, but it all looked pretty damn shiny to me.  We all kept the speed down, tried to ride smoothly, and stay off the shiny bits.  What a plan!  What could possibly go wrong?

Sooo, we were heading down a gentle grade (right after Eric said that we would be ok if we were careful) and BAM, I hear Eric hit the deck.  I turned my head slightly to look in my mirror and this may have caused the slightest turning of the handlebars in the process and BAM, down I went too.  Eric hit his knee and hip, and I hit my elbow, but neither of us had any significant injury, thank goodness.  And our bikes didn’t seem to be damaged.  We got pretty lucky.  We picked ourselves up and inspected the road, which was a total sheet of very, very shiny ice.

At that point riding was out of the question, so we started walking down the road on the verge,  as it was impossible to even walk on that bit of road without tempting fate.  We tested the road intermittently and in places it was merely wet, and in others it was very slick.  We estimated that we were almost exactly in the middle of nowhere, but that in about 4 miles we’d be slightly more somewhere than we were then, which was the tiny town of Coburn.  This was kind of important because it’s easier for someone to come bail your ass out with their car when you can actually be located.  We all pretty much decided that there was no way to finish the ride.  It was regrettable since we were 107 miles into it, with time in the bank, so we were certain to finish the permanent so long as fate didn’t intervene.  But, of course, it very much did.

Eric found that he could ride his bike cyclocross style in the mud and grass on the side of the road, and fairly soon he was out of sight.  Mike and I tried doing that too for a stretch but decided that it was only going to slightly modify the reason why we would crash again, so we just kept walking.

I will finish the story with a set of bullet points:

  • We eventually made it to Coburn and arranged our 4-wheeled motorized vehicular salvation.
  • Mike and I had to stand on the side of the road in Coburn for over 2 hours during the wait.
  • A salt truck went by while I was standing there.
  • Mike and I had plenty of time to talk about the differences between Types I, II, and III fun.
  • We decided that the day had definitely now included all three types.
  • We also decided that we would let our R-12 streaks die.
  • Eric made it another 3 miles down the road to Millheim, where I believe he spent his wait time in a warm bar drinking cold beer.  (Edited to add:  and eating a burger and fries too….)
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About rothrockcyrcle

I am an endurance cyclist always looking for new ways to maximize fun and minimize BS.
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2 Responses to Permanent Hell

  1. Pingback: Rides and Pictures November 17-23 - Page 6

  2. From the point of view of riding companion, Mike. It’s funny how he remembered to include certain things I left out, like the bobcat and the creepy guy who wanted us to be his gimp, or murder victim…

    November 22, 2014‎

    November 22nd. Does the day ring a bell? My memory of that day is as clear to me now as it was 51 ‎years ago when learned from Mrs. Ebright in my 3rd grade class that President Kennedy was shot. But ‎after Saturday, November 22nd will evoke a new memory, sure to remain etched in my psyche for ‎years to come. November 22, 2014 was the day I signed up to ride Eric Keller’s Tour of Happy Valley, a ‎‎133 mile trek through the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania. I knew the morning would be too cold ‎for a bike ride but only 8 days remained in November and time was running short for me to complete ‎this month’s brevet in my quest for an R-12. Saturday would be my day to ride the Tour of Happy ‎Valley and that’s all there was to it. ‎

    The day started ominously enough. The 13 degree temperature at the 7:30 a.m. start time was 10 ‎degrees below The Weather Channel’s projection. Undaunted, Eric Keller, Tom Hovan, and I departed ‎Boalsburg on time. The course, a free route, consisted of two out and backs. The first half of the ‎opening 44 mile leg took us to a Warrior’s Mark convenience store, the day’s first controle. My toes ‎were cold by mile 5 and every minute or so during the first hour I had to use my glove to cover my ‎exposed face to keep it from freezing. We reached the store an hour and half later and replenished ‎our food and beverage supplies. We then mounted our bikes and rode 30 feet before Tom and I ‎simultaneously fell down on a two-foot wide sheet of ice that lined the parking lot entrance. I landed ‎on my elbow. The pain was excruciating, but I jumped up quickly and shook it off, acting like it didn’t ‎hurt, not wanting to look stupid. Why does one think other people who watch you do something ‎stupid will think it less stupid if you act like it doesn’t hurt? ‎

    Anyway, the temperature had risen to almost 30 degrees by the time we returned to Boalsburg. I ‎shed a layer of clothing before departing for the remaining 90 miles that would take us from Boalsburg ‎through Centre Hall to Millmont and back. Things were looking up as the temperature climbed to 40. A ‎large cat resembling a medium-sized dog ran across the road in front of us around noon. Tom said it ‎was a bobcat (I thought it was a mountain lion, only to be told later by a friend that mountain lions no ‎longer exist in Pennsylvania. Stupidity didn’t confine itself to poor decision making on this day). The ‎comfortable pace made conversation easy and I became fast friends with my riding partners, whom I ‎had met for the first time that morning. We conversed about many subjects but I stayed silent when ‎Eric and Tom (both engineers) started discussing laws of mass and motion, subjects far beyond my pay ‎grade. Still talking science, Tom asked me if I knew about Keller’s Law of Maximum Inconvenience. I ‎hadn’t. Essentially, the law states that when riding a brevet with Eric Keller, something will happen to ‎maximize the inconvenience experienced by participants. For example, you don’t just get a flat tire ‎when riding with Eric. You get a flat tire in the middle of the night during a driving rain storm. They ‎further explained the corollaries of Keller’s Law so that I would understand how it differed from ‎Murphy’s Law. I was enjoying the ride. The day was getting better.‎

    Shortly after this conversation, the temperature began to drop and a light rain began to fall despite a ‎forecast that called for 0% chance of precipitation. The rain continued intermittently throughout the ‎afternoon. As dusk approached, shiny spots started appearing on the road and our tires began making ‎a crunchy sound. “The road is freezing,” Eric said, despite an air temperature of 35 degrees—Nature ‎was yielding to Keller’s Law. We continued on, riding cautiously for a few more miles when Eric and ‎Tom went down within seconds of one another. I immediately rode to the berm and stopped. Black ‎ice. After Tom and Eric took inventory to check for broken bones and dislodged organs, Tom declared ‎that our brevet was officially over: Here, on an icy back road in the middle of nowhere, 25 miles from ‎the finish. We estimated our location as 3 miles from Coburn, a small town on the outskirts of ‎nowhere, which would become our destination. Eric trudged onward on his bicycle, riding the dirt and ‎grass off the side of the road while Tom and I began walking our bikes to Coburn. We later learned he ‎ended his ride in Milheim, a town 5 miles closer to civilization, where his wife picked him up and took ‎him home. ‎

    During our walk, Tom and I were discussing how to get home when a man in an old rusty pick-up truck ‎with the spare tire attached to the hood with bungee cords asked us where we were headed and if ‎we needed a ride. “State College,” I said, and he replied, “That’s too bad. Maybe you should just ‎bunk here for the night and finish your ride in the morning.” “No no, that’s okay,” Tom said when he ‎saw me considering the man’s offer, “We’ll walk from here.” He drove away and we continued ‎onward. No point spending the night chained to a basement wall, wondering when the man would ‎put on a butcher’s apron and pick up a meat cleaver. ‎

    After several phone calls, we hatched a plan to get us back to our vehicles parked at Eric’s house. I ‎would have my wife call her dad, who would pick me up in Coburn, take me back to my car, while Tom ‎remained in Coburn with the bikes. I would then drive back to Coburn to pick up Tom and the bikes. I ‎stopped in the middle of the road to make the call when I slipped on the ice and did a full backward ‎pancake, Cosmo Kramer style, landing flat on my back and head. My unstrapped helmet flew off of ‎my head when I hit the pavement. The crack of my head was loud enough for Tom to get out his ‎phone to call 911. I convinced him otherwise; telling him that my brain was operating at the same low ‎capacity it had been earlier that morning when I decided to ride this God-forsaken brevet. I then got ‎back on the phone with my wife and our plan was put in motion.‎

    We reached Coburn around 6:00 pm and waited at a church for over an hour. The town had closed up ‎for the night and there was little traffic, except of course for a dump truck that passed by salting the ‎road. My father-in-law arrived a little after 7:00 and took me back to my car. An hour later, I picked up ‎Tom and the bikes, and we were back at our cars by 8:45. Eric saw us from his living room and came ‎outside, where the three of us exchanged pleasantries before parting company. I arrived home at ‎‎9:30, showered, ate a wonderful dinner my wife had prepared for me, and relaxed in a state of bliss on ‎the couch watching TV.‎

    Given the day’s earlier events, it was no surprise that half an hour later when I tried to get up off the ‎couch, two debilitating muscle cramps in my quads dropped me to the floor on top of my sore elbow. I ‎lied there, writhing in pain, screaming loudly and scaring the dog, while barking orders for my wife to ‎get me Powerade and pretzels. Each time I moved to relieve a spasm in one leg, a cramp in the other ‎would set in with equal intensity. I finally found a position on the floor where my legs would not ‎spasm and I chugged a full bottle of the drink and ate pretzels with the ferocity of a concentration ‎camp prisoner. 10 minutes later the cramps subsided and I was back on the couch watching TV before ‎retiring two hours later to the bedroom, where I stubbed my toe before climbing into bed.‎

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