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Old 05-20-08, 07:04 AM   #1
Neil_B
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Hell in Harrisburg

Sunday I traveled two hours to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capitol, to ride in a group training ride for Team Clydesdale, our team for the MS City to Shore this September. Meeting me were Ben and Herb, two Team members and Bike Forums posters.

Meeting us also was the rain. I first turned the car wipers on by the time I'd reached the Turnpike exit for Hershey, and the rain was a steady downpour by the time I'd reached Ben's house. Despite the weather, we decided to set out. Herb, like the good Boy Scout, was fully prepared to ride. I hadn't brought any rain gear, and Ben didn't own any. So Ben hastily constructed trash-bag rain ponchos for he and I, and shortly thereafter the three of us set off.

Our destination was Harrisburg's Greenbelt, a series of parks, paths, and roads that encircles much of the city. I began to have problems immediately, as the rain intensified and my confidence in my riding ability diminished. I walked part of the first major hill climb because I'd hit a red light and I didn't feel I could get a safe start continuing uphill. Being cold and underdressed for conditions didn't help.

Nor did the course. Once we crossed the Susquehanna River and entered Harrisburg, I began to feel more confident. Here was a paved bike path, and the ride along the river was very scenic, with some spectacular views of the mountains around the city. I could enjoy this, despite the rain beading on my glasses and pinging on my trash-bag covering. And then.....

"This is now the mud portion of the ride," Ben announced.

The Harrisburg Greenbelt was constructed piecemeal, like many bike routes, and so trail conditions varied from place to place. For the next few miles we rode on pea-sized crushed stone, made sloppy by the rain. The path was made 'interesting' by the Greenbelt planners with lots of sharp turns. I wasn't interested in those hairpins; I'd rather be bored and safe, thank you.

Shortly thereafter we passed a bridge spray-painted with a "death to pigs" logo. It took me a moment to reflect that the spray-painter probably didn't have pork in mind. Our guide began to explain just how much crime took place in this area. "So, this is the urban adventure section of the ride, Ben?" I asked.

Once out of the 'Hell's Kitchen' part of Harrisburg, we stopped at an underpass and had a team meeting. The rain showed no sign of letting up, and as I was squeezing water out of the arch supports in my cycling shoes, we decided to cut the ride short. Our plan had been to ride 50 miles, circling the Greenbelt twice. Once was going to be enough today, we decided. So off we went, riding through puddles and overflowing ponds in what could be called the streamcrossing part of the ride. The rain picked up, banging against my trash bag covering. I got drenched on one street crossing from spraying water, and when I put a foot down at a stop light, I found the middle of a small stream.. "Something wrong, Neil?" Herb asked me as I tentatively climbed uphill from the crossing. "Yeah Herb, I just got half the Susquehanna in my right shoe."

Climbing the hill, Ben warned us "there's always broken glass at this gate, so carry your bikes over it."

"So this is the cyclecross portion of the ride, Ben?" I asked.

Off we went, crossing streets and turning back onto gravel as we passed through a local park. One hairpin turn nearly caused me to fall. For the rest of the ride I dismounted and walked through sharp turns. One place I didn't dismount was at a 10 per cent downward grade - it came with little warning, and I didn't trust my MTB shoes to keep me from falling on the rain-slicked surface. "This is the roller-coaster portion of the ride" I thought as I headed downhill.

Meanwhile, the rain was letting up. However, I was so busy dealing with the technical aspects of riding under these adverse conditions, and with catching up to my companions, that I didn't notice. By the time I'd climbed out of a local nature center and gotten back onto Harrisburg's streets, the rain had stopped completely. The final portion of the ride was back on the path along the Susquehanna, and shortly thereafter we were back at Ben's place drying off and congratulating ourselves for riding 29 miles through that mess.

As usual, I wasn't pleased with my riding, although my companions thought it was fine. Ben's choice of a route was probably influenced by his experience riding a mountain bike; I'd never have thought a thin-tired road bike, such as Herb and Ben ride, would have handled as well as they did on gravel and mud.

Thanks to the horrible weather, I have no photos during the ride, and the only group photo of the riders is on Herb's cellphone. Until we figure out how to get that posted to Bike Forums, here are three photos from the Greenbelt to hold you over. After I left Ben's place I headed back into town and took some shots. First, some interesting statuary along the river.



And two photos of the sun setting on the river.



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Old 05-20-08, 07:50 AM   #2
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Hell in Harrisburg! Thought you were going to expound on our great state government. As to my feelings I have the following bumpersicker on my truck. "PA = The Worst State Gov. in the USA"
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Old 05-20-08, 09:35 AM   #3
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Great travelogue Neil. More like a triathlon though, don't you think?
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Old 05-20-08, 09:37 AM   #4
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Great travelogue Neil. More like a triathlon though, don't you think?
I left out the part about riding into an underpass with water four inches deep. Guess who felt so unsteady he had to dismount there?
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Old 05-20-08, 09:38 AM   #5
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Hell in Harrisburg! Thought you were going to expound on our great state government. As to my feelings I have the following bumpersicker on my truck. "PA = The Worst State Gov. in the USA"
Ah, excuse me, but there are some of us from Illinois reading here.
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Old 05-20-08, 12:14 PM   #6
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Ah, excuse me, but there are some of us from Illinois reading here.
YES SIRREE!
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Old 05-20-08, 12:22 PM   #7
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A real character builder, yessiree.
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Old 05-21-08, 12:58 PM   #8
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You were in my backyard and didn't stop in for pie?
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Old 05-21-08, 01:07 PM   #9
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the narrative was amusing now, although you probably weren't so chipper during the ride itself!
congratulations for pushing through and finishing.
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Old 05-21-08, 08:50 PM   #10
Neil_B
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You were in my backyard and didn't stop in for pie?
Ben and I had ice cream at Rakestraw's instead.
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Old 05-21-08, 08:51 PM   #11
Neil_B
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the narrative was amusing now, although you probably weren't so chipper during the ride itself!
congratulations for pushing through and finishing.
Thanks. I was in surprisingly good spirits, except for the time I nearly fell.
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Old 05-21-08, 08:53 PM   #12
Neil_B
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Great travelogue Neil. More like a triathlon though, don't you think?
It could have been one. I had 'high water' marks around my ankles thanks to the muddy pools I stepped into.
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Old 05-21-08, 10:10 PM   #13
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the comment about "half the susquehanna river in my shoe" was especially easy to envision!
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Old 05-22-08, 08:13 AM   #14
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Hey, at least you made it across the Susquehanna. That's more than General Ewell's army did.
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