Emily O'Brien's Eastern PA 1000k Ride Report

Homepage www.emilysdomain.org

    The Eastern Pennsylvania 1000k was a very challenging but very beautiful ride.  The first day contained some of the most unrelentingly undulating terrain I have ever ridden a long ride on, and probably the most unsuitable fixed gear terrain I've been on as well.  The second and third days were still very hilly, but the grades were more moderate and I kept pedalling with no problem.  As usual, I rode my 1974 Raleigh Professional fixed gear, and as usual my faithful Raleigh treated me well.  I use a 42X16, which means I have a 70" gear and a "two foot gear".  On this ride I had to get off and use my "two foot gear" two or three times on the first day.

Tim Argo with his Schwinn the night before
In the common room of the Hostel, almost time to go

    The ride started at the Weisel Youth Hostel in Quakertown, PA.  It's a quaint, idyllic setting, and it made for a nice community atmosphere before starting the ride.  The hostel also kindly agreed to store my bike case and bag that I wouldn't need during the ride.  There were 19 starters in total, only one of whom I had met before (Mary Crawley, whom I met at PBP in 2007 and BMB in 2006), but they were all very friendly and largely an experienced bunch of riders.  I always get a kick out of seeing what bikes other people ride on long brevets, and on this one I was happy to see Tim Argo with his red ~70's Schwinn and Dan Blumenfeld on his recumbent.
19 Bright eyed and bushy-tailed (and reflective) randonneurs, ready to go at 4 AM

    After Tom Rosenbauer's breakfast spread and pre-ride talk, we rolled out at 4 AM.  Riding into the dawn hours, the terrain was gently rolling and the fields and valleys were filled with the morning mist.  The group stayed together somewhat past the first control, but after that, the climbing started in earnest.  The first major climb was the apparently infamous Fox Gap, about which I'd heard so much at dinner the night before.  It was only 60 mi in, and it was considered by many to be the worst (well, they thought that beforehand, anyway; I think they changed their minds afterward) of the big climbs on the route. 

Riders going into the first controle at dawn on Friday

    Fox Gap was a big hill, but in truth it wasn't really so bad.  It was probably near the limit of what I'd ascend without walking, but it was still ride-able all the way up.  The second time the route crosses the Appalachian Trail, it's roughly 1,000 ft up, in something like 4.5 mi, although the grade is far from constant all the way up.  It's probably 10% or more in places.  I was almost the back of the pack by then, but since I'd figured on spending the whole ride by myself as the lanterne rouge, that was just fine.  I was out of water by the top, but Tom made it a secret controle, and he was there with snacks and ice water at the summit.

    Shortly after Fox Gap, I got my handful of bonus miles for the ride because I missed the pedestrian bridge over the Delaware River.  I had been thinking that we were going through the Water Gap and saw it up ahead, and had missed the pedestrian bridge completely when I passed it, so I mistrusted the "0.2 mi" cue on the cuesheet, and kept going down rt. 611.  But I didn't see any pedestrian bridges, so eventually I decided that I shouldn't have mistrusted Tom's cuesheet (which was actually very clear and impeccably detailed)  and went back to look for the bridge.  Some lost time, but no real problem. 
Delaware Water Gap from a distance

    Tom said that Fox Gap was the biggie, but I had seen the course profile and wasn't about to get cocky.  There were at least five more climbs of maybe 750 ft or more between me and the first sleep stop.  The difficulty with these Pennsylvania climbs isn't that they continue for 20 miles; nothing on those roads stays the same for 20 mi.  The grades are never constant, and there's usually a lot of up and down before you start going up for good.  When you start really going up, it often gets extremely steep.  But while they aren't that long, they are relentless, and the space in between big climbs is filled with little rollers, some of which are quite steep little kickers in their own right.
    When I reached the Gourmet Gallery and Controle 3, I found a couple of riders still there who'd gotten there ahead of me.  I wanted to get a good snack, so they went on ahead while I went in and ordered a chocolate milk shake, a pile of pickles, and some bread and butter.  The girl who took my order said it was the weirdest order she ever took. 

Joe Brown outside Gourmet Gallery
Bill Olsen outside same

    I shoved off from Gourmet Gallery, and immediately started climbing again.  The standard procedure turned out to be a descent into a controle, followed by a climb out of it.  The Millbrook climb out of Controle 3 was I think the first place I got off and used my "two foot gear".  At some point in there I realized that my computer had somehow reset itself.  I stopped and messed with the settings a bit, but didn't really know how to set it up again, so finally I gave up on it and figured I'd live without it.  A couple miles later, I realized it had started recording again.  It turned out to be more or less accurate, too.  Go figure. 

    The next climb on that leg was to Raymondskill Falls, and that was a two-footer as well.  But it didn't go on for that long, and finally I rolled into Controle 4 in Barryville, NY.  Bill Olsen was still there when I arrived, having gotten there not long before, so I was happy to have some company as well as glad to have gained time on someone.  However, I was concerned about time because with all the climbing, I hadn't managed to build up much of a time buffer for sleep.  If all three days were going to have this kind of terrain, I would have to be very careful about how long I spent stopped.  The trouble is that on flat terrain, I can usually just decide to ride faster; but on hills this steep, I can only go up at one speed and I govern my downhill speed at 30 mph (or less for long descents) so I don't get worn out by the RPMs, so my average speed isn't nearly as negotiable. 
    Bill and I left the controle together and headed off on a leg that was mostly constant rollers with a steady upward trend.  Like the rest of the ride so far, the roads were good and the scenery was nice.  We went by Lake Wallenpaupak and eventually the road turned upward again.  This one was a good steep one, although not as steep as Raymondskill, and took us to the highest point on the route.  I can't even remember if I walked up that one or not.  But the most memorable part of that climb wasn't the way up, it was the way down.  The descent into Carbondale was steep and twisty, and by the time we got into town, it could have been straight out of San Francisco.  The road tilted straight down, levelled out when there was a cross street, and plunged down again.  I was very, very happy to be riding down it and not up!

    At the Dunkin Donuts in Carbondale we met Steve Scheetz and the three of us rode together over another large-ish climb, a little spike, and a last climb before we got into the first sleep stop in Hallstead.  Tom was ready for us with lasagna, meatballs, showers, and beds when we arrived.  I had hoped for three hours of sleep for the first night, and while we probably would have been okay had we taken that long, we decided to stick on the safe side and slept for only an hour and a half. 

Steve getting ready to go; Tom's bike in the background
Tom helping Bill get ready to get on the road

    That hour and a half went by all too soon, and I dragged my bleary carcass out of bed and did my best to pick at some breakfast.  I'll admit that we dawdled on our way out, but Bill, Steve and I got out on the road into the damp dawn in good enough time.  The first leg of the day was rolling, but with a steady downhill trend for a fast ride.  We were caught by a big group of other riders, including Chuck and Crista's tandem, the recumbent, and a bunch of others.  Shortly thereafter it started raining.  The pace was high, and it was fun to ride with the group, but I had to keep an eye on my RPM's; cruising along at 22mph was nice for a change, but cruising at over 100 rpm on rolling ground is tiring over time.  There was definitely a point where I didn't figure I should be maintaining those RPMs at that point in the ride, but we reached the Dandy MiniMart and Controle 7 more or less as a group. 

Misty Saturday morning

    Somewhere between the MiniMart and the few miles shortly afterward, the large group split up and I was again riding with Bill and Steve.  By midway through the next leg, we were hungry for something more substantial than convenience store food, and started looking for a diner.  The town of Towanda obligingly provided one.  I wanted scrapple, but the menu said it took 20 minutes to cook.  20 minutes to cook scrapple??? I've fried up a lot of scrapple, and it don't take no 20 minutes.  I almost gave it a pass, not wanting to waste time, but the waitress said it would take that long to get to our order anyway, and she could put the scrapple order right in.  We'd gained lots of time on the previous leg with the group, and it was still raining, so we didn't worry too much about spending some of our buffer waiting for breakfast and waiting out the rain. 

Steve and me in the diner
Bill catching some shut-eye while waiting for the food

    By the time we were done, the sun was back out and the rain was over.  The rest of the leg to Controle 8 in Canton trended generally upward, but was just rollers and wasn't difficult. 
The most difficult segment of the second day was our next leg.  It consisted of two big hills, whose elevation profiles can only be described as looking like they had hair on top. I can't say I even remember much about the first "big" climb on that leg; the memorable thing was the series of short, steep little kickers at the top.  The cue sheet said, "Caution, steep twisty descent", but that descent was a long time in coming.  No sooner would we get up one little rise and blast down the other side, than a sharp little wall would present itself.  The three of us leap-frogged somewhat depending on the grades; and of course, I was the slowest on any descent long enough to get up a good head of steam.  I remember one of these little kickers even had a noticable crease in the pavement where the grade suddenly went from "steep" to "@#$% steep".  On another of them, I got chased by a brown boxer.  The dog seemed to hesitate a couple of times, and I was already mashing my 70" gear at about 20 RPM, so I just kept mashing.  But the dog overcame its hesitation and came at me after all.  I saw it coming, but when I felt its muzzle touch my leg, I found myself suddenly going quite a bit faster and at the top of the hill.  I had no idea I could accelerate like that up that kind of a grade!

    Despite its difficulty and the incident with the dog, I still enjoyed this leg of the ride.  It was beautiful and the weather was perfect, and there were a couple of downhill chunks that were quite fun and gave me enough momentum to get a good part of the way up the next kicker.  On the top of the first hilll of this leg, there were probably twelve of those little suckers.

This house was flying a confederate flag next to the American flag, but it didn't come out very well in the photo

    After that, we had a long rolling descent into the PA Grand Canyon.  This was a park with pretty scenery, quiet roads, and rolling enough terrain that our group stayed more or less together.  We stopped at the bottom for some photos and to top off on water.  It was fun taking pictures, but they don't begin to do it justice.  We were in a valley surrounded by steep tree-covered slopes, dramatic ridges of verdant canopy, with enough open space to see the whole basin.  Next, according to the course profile, was another "big" climb, one of the longest on the route, with some more "hair" on top.  We were feeling somewhat apprehensive about the last two climbs of that day, judging by the size of the spikes on the course profile.  However, once we started going up, the next climb turned out to be not so bad at all. Bill went up ahead, climbing ahead of me, but I was on a pretty comfortable grade for my gear and settled into a good rhythm.  Steve came last, but passed me on the way down.  After descending through a rosy pink sunset, I caught up to them both at Controle 9, the Sheetz in Mill Hall. 

Heading into the valley
Steve taking photos

    At some point, I discovered that all the convenience stores now carry a new line of Lipton iced tea that's actual tea, as opposed to the usual concoctions of water and high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings and a little tea.  It even comes unsweetened, although the unsweetened version was a little harder to find.  In any case, I bought a bottle at just about every convenience store we stopped in.  Not only was it something I'd actually choose to drink outside of a brevet, but it sure beat the heck out of convenience store coffee.  Iced tea, milk (chocolate and plain), and ice cream were some of my staples on this ride.

Not such a bad climb... but still warranted the "trucks-on-cheese" sign visible over my shoulder
Sunset on Saturday

    We hung around the Sheetz for probably longer than we should have, but finally got moving.  The last leg of the day consisted of a long climb, a little descent, then a shorter spike, and then a long descent into the sleep stop.  Again, the course profile "bark" of this long climb turned out to be far worse than its bite.  We joked that we weren't actually going up, but that we were just tired and our brakes were rubbing, and we were actually going downhill.  The little spike afterwards was steeper, but it still wasn't so bad.  Before we knew it, all that remained was the descent into the sleep stop. 

Steve Scheetz at, err, Sheetz
Bill at Sheetz

    It was somewhere on that descent that I started getting really sleepy for the first time on the ride.  I was surprised, actually, because I usually get very drowsy on brevets between about 7 and 9 AM, and at the tops of hills in the dark, and also when heading in towards sleep stops.  But this was the first time on this ride that I'd really had to work at staying awake.  No one really had much to talk about, so I started singing and reciting the Jabberwocky.  Finally, I even resorted to singing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall".  Bill joined in by asking for two beers at a time instead of one.  Steve had enough of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" pretty quickly (really, who can blame him?) and since we were going downhill, he took off.  Eventually Bill took off ahead of me too, and I counted down to 20-some bottles of beer remaining before I finally rolled into Controle 10 in Lewisburg. 
Ron and Barbara Anderson at the Country Inn

    Ron and Barbara Anderson were there with food and even pickles, my favorite source of sodium on rides.  My companions had already gotten there and headed for the showers.  Determined to keep my sleep times to 90-minute multiples (or, to be more precise, 90 minutes and no less), I told Ron to wake me up in time for a 3AM departure with Steve and Bill and went to bed.

    All too soon, the wakeup call came.  I rolled out of bed and again dragged my bleary carcass back down to the volunteer room for some breakfast.  I expected that Steve and Bill would be ready to go quickly, but they didn't emerge.  Ron tried to rouse them a few times without success before he finally managed to wake them up.  Apparently, Bill had been wearing earplugs because Steve was snoring, so neither of them heard the phone. 

    So we got on the road later than planned, but I wasn't complaining.  It often takes me awhile to talk my stomach into accepting food after a sleep stop, so I didn't really mind taking some extra time to get myself going.  I loaded up my pickle bag, and we were off.  The sunrise was bright and pink, and the day promised to be nice.  Like the previous day, the first leg of the day was mild and rolling, although this one was more rolling and not downhill.  The pickings at the Sunoco station that was Controle 11 were pretty slim in the food department, and they didn't have restrooms.  Instead we went to the laundromat down the street, which had possibly the most foul-smelling restroom I've ever sniffed.  But a little way up the road was the Wooden Nickel, a family diner that served up steak and eggs that hit the spot. 

    Shortly after we arrived at the Wooden Nickel, we were joined by Greg and Andrea, who'd been riding faster than us and had gotten a lot more sleep, but stuck around for breakfast.  We leap-frogged with them for the rest of the day, too. 

Steve at the Wooden Nickel before breakfast

Andrea and Greg got more sleep than we did
I wasn't the only one in the diner with a camera

    Sometime on Sunday afternoon we were joined by Paul Scearce, a ride volunteer who was doing the sweep on his fixed gear.  After three days of everyone seemingly worrying about how I was going to make it up the hills on my fixed gear, it was nice to meet another one.  Plus, I'd heard tell of Paul riding straight up Fox Gap in an 80" gear, so it was nice to meet him. 

Steve, Bill, and Paul on a climb that looked much worse on the course profile than in real life   

    There were two more intimidating spikes for the day on the profile, but the first one barely made an impression.  Controle 12 was at the Hess Express, with 512 mi down and 110 still to go.  I was smelling the first whiffs of the barn back in Quakertown, still feeling good, and excited to be almost done.  It made for a funny conversation in the Hess store when, as we got our usual range of weird looks and puzzled questions, a guy in the checkout line asked me if any of us had ever ridden 100 mi all in one day.  When I explained that we had in fact just ridden 512 mi since Friday morning, but had only another 110 to go before we were done, and expected to finish up that night, all I got in response was a priceless expression of dumbfounded confusion.

Dave and Steve; everybody takes pictures
Dave at Hess

My bike in the background (and Bill, Dave, Steve, and Greg in the foreground) at Hess
    The second spike on the profile was bigger and it got steeper as it went up.  Still, it would have been fairly unremarkable were it not for the traffic.  Rt. 501 started out tame enough, but as the road got steeper, the traffic got faster and the shoulder disappeared, making for some very close encounters.  While most drivers we'd encountered on the road up to this point were very courteous, we were intentionally "buzzed" a number of times by trucks and motorcycles whose operators thought they'd have a little fun at our expense.  Fortunately, nothing bad happened though, and we finally crossed the Appalachian Trail again and knew we were finally at the top.  Bill Olsen got ahead of us on that climb, and stayed in front of us until the finish, but since we had picked up Dave Goodwin shortly before the Hess Express, we were still a group of three.  We regrouped on the descent and the rollers following, and were treated to many spectacular views of the rolling hills of Lancaster County.  We could even look out and see the town of Blue Ball where we were to mail our postcards for the penultimate controle, still 10 mi in the distance.  It was as picturesque and stereoypically Pennsylvania as could be, with the deep blue sky, puffy clouds, plain Mennonite churches, the Amish buggies, the small farms, grain silos, green ridges, and old cemetaries. 

    As we approached Blue Ball, it seemed that everyone was out on a bicycle.  Everyone, from people in Amish and conservative Mennonite clothing to families in typical modern attire, was getting around town on two wheels, despite grades that were often quite steep.  We were tired, but in high spirits as we rode through the sunny afternoon.  We stopped at a convenience store to get snacks and write notes (and our arrival times) to Tom on our postcards before heading to the Post Office to drop them in the mailbox. 
Me and Dave at the Blue Ball Post Office

    Now with only 62.4 mi to go we could really smell the barn (actually, we could smell a lot of other barns, too).  One thing I love about those last stretches of long rides is that I don't have to worry about pacing myself anymore.  I can let loose on descents without worrying so much about getting tired from high RPMs, and I can generally just ride as hard as I darn well want to, because I can afford to empty the tank now that I'm almost done.  We still had lots of rollers, some of which were still pretty steep, and some good fast descents that I could let loose on and exceed my "rev limit" now that the ride was almost over.  So while I'd been limiting myself to (well, most of the time) ~30 mph, I got up as high as 37 mph a couple of times on that last leg. 

    We stopped one last time for more iced tea and more ice cream, since there weren't many services on that last leg.  We took longer than strictly necessary, but we had plenty of time and we weren't going to sweat it.  Steve and I traded turns at the front; I don't think Dave was feeling quite as exuberant, but he hung with us.  About 20 mi from the finish, we found the road we were supposed to turn on blockaded.  The police said there had been an accident up the road, and while he assured us that no one was hurt, he wouldn't let us through.  It turned out later that a driver had gone over to the left side of the road to pass Mary and Kelly's tandem and had hit an oncoming vehicle, which then spun around and stopped four feet from where Kelly had managed to pull the bike over into a driveway.  They were pretty shaken, and were kept there for an hour and a half by the police as witnesses to the accident, but they did finally make it into the finish.

    Fortunately, Steve knew the area well, and we had no trouble finding a detour around the blocked section.  Some ten miles after that, Steve and Dave stopped to take a leak.  Under most circumstances I'd stop and wait, or find a tree myself, but we were ten miles from the finish and I could smell that barn like it was in front of me.  So I left them to do their business, and took off for Quakertown.  I didn't know if Steve and Dave were actually going to try to catch up or not, but to keep myself occupied, I kept the goal in mind of trying to stay ahead of them until the finish.  Finally, I found my way down the gravel driveway to the Hostel, where a big group of tired riders was still hanging out with the food.  Steve and Dave came in a few minutes later.

    All in all, it was a very enjoyable ride.  I felt good, had good company, good weather, and good roads.  The terrain was tough, but well worth the effort.  The other riders were all friendly, and the small number of us, along with the hostel accomodations, made for a nice ride community.  And out of 19 starters, 18 finished.  Tom deserves a huge thanks for the great job he did on the ride, the cue sheet, the route, and the whole event.  It's definitely one I hope to come back to, maybe even some day with gears.