After relocating from the epicenter of endurance backroad racing (Lincoln, Nebraska, home of Gravel Worlds) to the much more urban Mid-Atlantic last fall, I was excited about all sorts of new racing and riding opportunities and meeting all sorts of amazing women to ride with (hello, Team Laser Cats, Women Bike PHL Devo Squad, ladies of Arrow Racing, and so many others). However, I knew I’d miss getting up at the crack of dawn (or well before) to spend all day on the bike, pushing that odometer over the 100-mile mark.
Melissa said something in her last post about going long and hard. Music to my ears. Last August, as I took on my second singlespeed Gravel Worlds, I marked off 17 months in a row where I’d ridden at least one gravel century per month. It was a great streak, but it just didn’t seem feasible here. So I’ll admit that while rides like Lu Lacka were second nature to me, the break I’d taken from this regular schedule of long rides had me a little nervous and frazzled Saturday night as I packed my food and gear.
I went in with the intention of riding solo. I know my pace, and I knew how important it would be to stick with it. I’d also been working on a goal from Gravel Worlds to limit my stop times, making a budget for the day and trying to stick to no more than 20 minutes of total stopping time. I love riding with friends, and I also love taking the opportunity on a mass start endurance ride like this to make new friends.
So I set off somewhere in the second big bunch, chatting with awesome lady Jill Morgan and goofing off through the super fun singletrack sections early on. I rode with a singlespeeder from New York for a nice flat stretch. I got all sorts of comments on the kit, including a ribbing from Mr. Keystone Rouleurs for Melissa’s redesign of their logo. After about 20 or so miles, a fella named Rob I’d met on the Dirty Thirty a couple weeks ago was riding at just about the same pace as I was, and so we started chatting the miles away. A little before the first rest stop, a huge train of buddies came flying past. I tried to catch on for a few minutes, but knew it was lighting extra matches instead of letting my wick burn. I let them go. After a fairly quick stop at the first aid station, I hit the road again, figuring they’d catch me soon, and maybe if their pace had mellowed, I’d join in.
The middle section of the course was a pace killer. I watched my average drop from 14.5 to 14 to 13.5 to 13.1. Ouch. My goal was to finish in under 8 hours, with a goal of 7:30 moving time. It was hard to push through this precipitous drop in my average. I was riding with my fussy old Garmin for the first time in months, and I remembered why I kind of hate having it there on the handlebars. However, it did keep me motivated to know that I was still within my goal range, as long as I kept stops short and took advantage of easier sections to push the pace. Rob was hurting through the 60-80 mile range, but he kept me in sight on the climbs and we regrouped at the stops. The course was very well marked (and being used to fussing with cue sheets, this was a nice change), and I started squinting for the little yellow arrows at the bottom of the hill, hoping they wouldn’t send me right back up the next ridge.
At the last stop, I overheard volunteers say we had one climb, a set of stairs to portage, and then it would be flat to the finish. Sounded too good to be true! It was no joke, though, and we cruised down a fun trail section, across a giant dam, along the river and through a couple small towns to a railroad underpass and another bike path to the finish. I felt great and had stopped looking at my computer entirely, just hungry and soaking in the last bits of enjoying the ride. Before I knew it, we were pulling into the parking lot, and according to my little Garmin, I’d finished just in time!
This was a great ride—it really had a little bit of everything (and a lot of other things). The landscape was beautiful, with the trees of the Poconos just starting to bud, the little lakes, the waterfalls, and the absolutely perfect spring weather. The rest stops were well-timed, and I loved the folks on the hill who gave me a shot of pickle juice and a cup of beer, only halfway up a climb that just kept getting steeper. The fun of these events, to me, is the community, and the vibe at the firehall at the finish was outstanding. Tons of food, friendly volunteers, and a bunch of exhausted, sunburned, and accomplished-feeling cyclists! I was so happy to see all of the Women Bike PHL Devo Squad there, each of whom made the most of their distance option for the day, making new friends and full of smiles. Proud mama duck, I was.
Cheers to Pat for putting this all together. I felt like I was home.