Sunday, May 6, 2012

Treat yourself to the best - The PA Randonneurs Water Gap 300k


On Saturday morning, the sound of the alarm clock ringing at 1:45 a.m., set off a heated discussion in my brain. 
Right brain - "Oh man it's early."
Left brain-  "The 300K starts at 4:00, I have to leave by 2:15"
Right brain - "It's still too early, sleep for ten more minutes."
Left brain - "Gotta get up."
Right brain - "I've only slept for a few hours."
Left brain - "It's good training for a long brevet."
Right brain - "I can't train to not sleep!"
Left brain - "Gotta get up."
Right brain - "Oh, man it's early."
 The whole conversation took place in the seconds it took find and disarm the clock. Then I looked out the window. The soft yellow light of the almostbutnotquite full "super moon" gave an ethereal glow to a scattered layer of thin clouds. Night air, slightly cool, drifted in from the window. Wow. Then Right brain and Left brain reached the same conclusion: This would be a good night to start a ride. That ended the debate. I dressed, packed the last few items into the minivan and headed off to start.

In the last few hours of the night, the hostel that serves as the unofficial headquarters for the Pennsylvania Randonneurs buzzed with activity. I saw some Rando friends and a few new faces. Inside and out, riders prepped their bikes and fueled up from the big spread of food. A big day lay ahead.
The 2012 edition of the Pa Randonneurs "Water Gap" 300K would go from Quakertown, PA, through Bethlehem, cross Blue Mountain, enter the Delaware Water Gap, climb Blue Mountain again, weave in and out of New Jersey along the Delaware River before climbing back to the start. The DeLorme elevation profile reported that we would climb 14,000 feet over the course of the day. I saw that someone brought a fixie to this hill climbing course.  Not me - as much as I enjoy riding a fixie- I brought my mountain climbing gears for this ride. After all, a man's got to know his limitations.

On schedule, we roll out onto the course. A fast group soon separated from the rest of us. I eased into the event and chatted with the folks around me.

I talked with Michelle H. She is new to Randonneuring. This would be her second and longest brevet. In the pre-dawn darkness, we talked about the same things I wanted to know more about on my first forays into randonneuring.

Within the first few miles, my newly installed but never tested right pedal got all wonky under my foot. I stopped to figure out what was wrong. My temporary fix turned out to be only temporary - not a fix. I had to stop again. Patrick rode up. I managed another temporary notfix and we rode together as a I soft pedaled toward better light. A closed gas station with its lights still on provided me with a place to finally get the pedal straightened out. 

Patrick and I rejoined the course and rode into the new day. We've met several times before but this time, while riding out of the night, we had a chance to talk for a good bit.

As the new day approaches, the disembodied sounds of darkness fade in the growing light. A morning mist fills the space between night and day.



Then, just as the eastern horizon blooms in an ever brightening orange yellow glow, I hear Patrick's softly whistled rendition of this song. And the smiles returning to the faces.

As the day grows around us, we move forward at a speed that makes up some lost time. Soon enough, we rejoined those who were riding a steady, all day pace. We join the rolling conversation.
 
 




The first controle is near the base of Blue Mountain. I keep the stop short to get a head start on crossing the mountain. After a long slow grind, the peak of the climb gives views of the fog that settled in the valleys and turned the ridges into islands above clouds.


The descent is fast, diving down the mountain, plunging deep into the fog, until the sun's light is dimmed by the ocean of mist above.


Patrick and Michelle, both strong climbers, soon rejoin me on the other side of the mountain. We slinky over the rolling hills as they gap me on the climbs and I, with a gravity assist, catch them on descents. The sun, patient and unrelenting, eventually burns off the morning fog. We ride in the full light of Spring.


Tom, the Pennsylvania RBA, waits at the second controle to sign cards and greet the riders.

The Village Farmer controle is a hungry rider's delight. Tasty sandwiches, fresh baked pastries, delicious calories in all forms. It was definitely time to eat.

A larger group leaves the controle together. The next section of the course has a series of shorter hills. Some are rollers, some are just climbers, but all take us on low trafficked roads through lush scenes with vibrant color .





Not all conversations on a brevet involve the spoken word. Sometimes, we converse through the way we ride: paceline or side by side, waiting at the crest or base of a hill,  bridging a gap or surging. Sometimes, we converse with gestures: point to gravel and roadkill, warn off against glass. Sometimes, we converse in silence: rolling off miles on rural country roads in the company of  people who share the simple joy.




Our group coalesced to Patrick, Michelle, Chris and me. I took pictures. A good many pictures. Some are in this post. Of course, not everything was picture perfect. We each had minor mechanicals, from flats tires to light problems, to my almost stripping all the threads on the crankarm of my bike. Not everyone felt good all the time, it was a PA brevet after all and they are never easy. But none of the problems were showstoppers. When they arose, we dealt with them and we moved on. 

The last bit of the ride was a series of hills that stairstep climb from the Delaware River  to the Hostel in Quakertown. I left the penultimate controle with Chris.  We slowly worked our way to the finish as the risen sun, having given us light for the day, passed quietly into the night.

14 comments:

  1. Gravity assist. :)

    GO GO GADGET INVERSE SQUARE LAW!

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  2. gotta love the gravity assist

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  3. Lovely writeup and photos. Particularly like the first shot with the flowers.

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  4. Great pictures and writeup! Wish I was more confident of my abilities to ride and take pictures at the same time. Missed a great shot of a black bear who ran up the hill about 15 feet away from me while climbing a hill after the Hainesville controle.

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    1. Thanks Jim. I am quite glad that I did NOT see a black bear, especially from that close! And, unlike MG, (who photographs ferocious looking flying dogs) I doubt I would have thought to reach for my camera if I did.

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  5. Nigel,

    Excellent write up as usual. It is even more of a pleasure reading your write ups after meeting you briefly on the Cranbury 200K earlier this year. (I was the guy riding the Salsa Casseroll).

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    1. Thanks. I remember meeting you and your bike. We had a nice talk. Looking forward to sharing the road again.

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  6. Fantastic photos and, although these events are as routine for you as the sunrise which you describe, congratulations on a great ride.

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    1. Thanks very much. But as far as I'm concerned, there is nothing routine about completing one of these rides. Each one is a challenge and a memorable event. That's one of the things I enjoy about the sport.

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  7. Beautiful writeup and lovely photos as usual, Nigel. Great riding the course with you. Thankfully you neglected to mention that you beat me soundly at the end of the day. ;-)

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    1. Ha! I bet you just let me finish a tiny bit ahead of you as part of your plan to get folks to go to North Carolina with you! It may be working...

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  8. Always inspiring to read your ride reports and some great photos here. Love the dawn, mist and hills images. Thanks.

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    1. you are welcome. Thansk for commenting.

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