Well, the alarm went off at 5:30 this morning and I got up. I had almost everything already in the car, but it took time to take a shower, cook some pancakes, get dressed, and mount the bike rack on the back of the car. Despite my night-before preparations, I wasn't in the car ready to turn the ignition key until about 6:40. Not a big deal, as it's about a 40 minute drive to the ride, and it was quite foggy. Just as I start the car, the cell phone rings. It is my son, with his patented timing that's guaranteed to bollix up my riding plans, whenever I have them. He needs me to pick him up from the friend's house he stayed over at the night before. I'm now guaranteed to lose another 20 minutes.
Anyhow, I pick him up, and drive down to the ride. This is a picture I took out my car window.
I get down to the ride site, at about 8:05, listening to the only CD I have in the car (containing Earth Wind and Fire's hits from the 80's) to get myself a little bit pumped up. I find the parking area, but I have to drive through a terrible and lumpy field. I end up with a spot that couldn't be any farther away from the registration table, and the people who park next to me are polite enough, but we had to take turns to get our things out of our cars. I get everything together, and walk my bike (which has to be well over 35 pounds counting all the stuff in my trunk bag and my three water bottles) over to the registration table. (A big thanks to Poguemahone - a fixture on the SS and C&V boards - who let me have this really nice '85 Miyata 210 for way less than he could have e-Bayed it for)
I register, then try to find someone who doesn't look preoccupied with registering or holding a bike to take my picture. After a couple minutes I prevail upon a total stranger, who it turns out was there to take pictures of the event. I have a "still a little too early in the morning" expression, but I'm notorious for not photographing well, plus I need to get started. It's about 8:45!
I start out, not wanting to get in trouble early on. I'd heard from two friends who'd ridden before that there's a seven mile long climb right at the start. Sure enough, at exactly 1.00 miles, the grade starts climbing up. I settle in, content to take it easy at 8 mph up the 7% average grade. Once I get to the top, I want to still have fresh legs. Several groups go by me, including a trio of guys with "GAY.COM" in huge letters on the back of their shorts. I make no effort to keep up. Another gentleman who's in no great hurry settles in on my wheel, and I don't feel like the worst rider there for the time being.
The hill has some shallow as well as some steeper sections, and I'm closing in on the place where some friends of mine who know, had previously told me that Secret Service agents keep a close eye on. Camp David is off to the right, over the ridge. At that point, I hear an intermittent, "pfft, pfft, pfft" that seems to correspond with the rotation of my rear wheel. I look down, confirm I have a flattening rear tire, and find a spot to pull over. My cyclometer says 4.59 miles. Great! Fortunately, I'm carrying two spare tubes, a spare folding tire, a tool kit, and as you can see, a pump. It takes me about 20 minutes to change the tire - about 5 minutes of that is spent telling passing riders that I'm fine, and that I have everything that I need. I wished I had a sign. When I'm asked for about the 12th time if I need anything, I ask the guy if he'll let me use his legs to finish getting up the hill. He has a quick and frindly response, and shortly after that, I'm back on my way.
As I'm going up the hill, I'm actually making up ground on a rider who seems to not have the best selection of gearing for the hill. I catch him on the last section of hill after the turn. I ask him if he's using a compact crankset. He has no idea what that is. He tells me "I'm just a dumb Marine. Put me on the bike and I just ride it." Fair enough, but despite not knowing what a compact crankset is, he really doesn't seem dumb to me. Three riders pass us just before we crest the hill and begin a long downhill run. The Marine takes off like he's a jet and blows by them while I grab the third wheel. At the next hill, I catch him again, and when he hits the next downhill, he's not pushing it quite so hard. I pass him by a pretty good margin on the next climb and set sail down the next hill. I glance down at my cyclometer. It says 44. I lower myself a little bit more, and glance back down about 10 seconds later. It now says 47. I finally feel pretty good about something, and when I get to the top of the next hill, I see pretty scenery both to the left and the right. I remember promising to make a report, so I stop and take pictures.
I'm stopped for almost two minutes, and it seems odd that I haven't seen my Marine pal. I wasn't climbing that much faster than him. I continue on, working my tail off getting up hills slowly, and then trying to stay in control going down them. I do not enjoy this sort of riding. At about mile twenty, I come to a turn, and I see quite a few riders coming from the other direction, also making the turn. I start looking for the rest area, because I thought the cue sheet said it was at mile 22. The miles pass. 23, 24, 25, then finally a little past mile 26, I see a rest stop. I pull in, take care of business, refill with gatorade and water, grab a banana and half a PBJ, and I look at the course map that they have posted. I see where the first rest area is posted, but they're pointing at the second one, and taking about the road just beyond it. After staring at the map for a while, it occurs to me what happened, and everything suddenly clicks. I missed a turn, and had been following the 77 mile route instead of the 105 mile route. I completely missed Antietam, and understood why the "dumb Marine" never caught me. He didn't miss the turn.
For about 10 seconds, I contemplate going back, but it is now 10:49, and I'm averaging less than 13mph due to all the climbing. With the backtracking, I'd have to cover over 35 miles - over two hours on more friendly terrain. Nope, I'm now in amongst a throng of riders, I'm on track to finish about the time I had anticipated finishing on Friday night, and I am not really enjoying the succession of crawling climbs and screaming descents (well, okay, I do enjoy the descents, but i'm a realist).
Off I go. A few steep, but not too long hills. Then a shallow hill, but not too long and with the wind. I'm doing twenty going up it. Just as I started to feel better, we made the turn, and began the other long climb. I'm able to manage this one entirely on the middle ring, but it lasts about half an hour - going 11 on the shallow parts, and 8 on the steeper ones. The hill goes on for almost ever, then flattens out, and then up she goes again. The course turns, and the guy who's waiting at the turn says "Yes, this really is the top". Another long screaming descent that winds down through some wooded areas had me on edge, and grabbing on the brakes in some of the hairier turns. I'm outpacing a guy who has at least 50 pounds on me, and we wind up in a little town. We manage to avoid making a wrong turn onto the bypass, and after a couple less dramatic ups and downs, I came to another picturesque spot. I stop, move my water bottles around, and take another snapshot.
Back down another hill, around a couple corners, and "poof" - we're in Pennsylvania. The road surface turns a little less nice, but with my wide tires I don't much care. There is definitely a difference between how roads are routed between PA and MD. I am much more used to how they run them in my home state. I don't mind the little extra distance that buys me shallower climbs. I'm loving it for about 4-5 miles, until we turn and there's a steep hill. My legs are still unhappy from the long climb about 30 minutes ago, so I'm down on the granny ring and trying to just keep things smooth to the top. There's about a mile of hill at 8-9% grade, and now a little ways ahead I see the crest of the hill. I go over it, and to my great dismay and horror, I see this.
That, my Foo friends, is a 14% grade. It is the last thing I want to see, so I do what any sane person would do. I dismounted, ate a Clif Bar, chugged a little honey, and chased it with some water and eload. (Just a quick aside here. If you ever have issues with your legs cramping up on longer rides, you owe it to yourself to pester your LBS to get you some of this stuff. A friend of mine from Toronto sent me 2 kilos of mix, and it has made a world of difference. Problem is, almost nobody carries the stuff.) I thought of just the right words to describe the mentality of the person who chose the route for this ride. I shared them with a guy I blew past going up this hill after I took my little break (only because I had the granny ring). "Sadism is alive and well, and can be found at the Baltimore Bicycle Club." I informed him - after being sure he wasn't wearing a BBC jersey.
Shortly after this hill, we came to this covered bridge. The light conveniently turned red as I came to it, and went back to green after I zipped my camera back into the bag.
Soon thereafter, we got to the next rest stop in Fairfield. Between Fairfield and the next rest stop, the roads became a little more typical for Pennsylvania. More gentle ups and downs. Before long, the route went through the Gettysburg battlefield. I could have taken about 50 pictures there, but I wanted the ride to be over, so I just took these two.
Shortly after exiting the hallowed ground, we crossed over route 15, and there were actually some reasonably lengthy flat stretches to go along with the more gentle ups and downs. I rolled into the final rest stop, crammed down some cookies and Gu and refilled my water bottle with my final dose of eload, and asked one of the volunteers "How evil is the last section of the ride?" I was relieved to hear them tell me there were no more big climbs. Feeling much better, and having some nearly flat roads, I found myself clipping along at 20-22 mph. There were some hills, and there were stretches where the wind was blowing head-on, but the last 18 miles were my favorite ones of the ride. For about the last 10 miles, I was leapfrogging some fellow in his 20's. I was pulling him up the hills, and eventually started a conversation with him. He told me he was from Frederick, and that last summer he'd gotten hit by a car while riding. He was just starting to get back in form after struggling through the winter and spring. We stuck together to the finish, where I wished him well.
The story is almost over. I got in line for ice cream...
...and Siu should note that the Pistachio was quite good. I also made a sandwich, and ate it while walking back to the car. Before leaving, I took this as proof of my final result.
Not the 105 miles I had anticipated riding, but a very taxing ride with 6,400 feet of climbing. Next month, comes the Seagull Century - which might have 400 feet of climbing. I finished that in tropical depression Wilma last year. With slightly more normal weather, I expect to complete that in the time it took me to ride 78 today.