We rode the Nockamixon 200k Permanent. After starting in New Jersey, it crosses the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. The land is a series of ridges and valleys that run parallel to the river in row after row of geographic wrinkles. The route crosses the undulations. The climbs are short but steep. They come in groups, like waves on a rough sea, spaced by brief stretches of flats and false flats. We climb and climb again.
Since my first brevet in April 2010, I have ridden at least one 200k ride or longer a month. For most of the last two weeks, I had aches, chills, a low grade fever and a cough. I missed last week's opening season brevets to rest and recover; now only the cough is left. I had the last weekend in March to complete a 200k and keep the streak alive.
Joe and Paul power up the hills on fixed gear bikes. Len, riding a recumbent, spins up and zooms down. I am riding my Homer Hilsen on its first trip in the hills while ejecting the last thick bits of the cold from my lungs into the Spring air.
The sunny weather, cool in the morning, promises warmer temperatures in the afternoon. After a long gray winter, the bright light sparkles on the tips of tiny buds. The earth and trees are still brown and bare, but the first hint of Spring is in the air.
The route rolls through quaint countryside, past faded red barns and weathered stone buildings, on roads that weave through surburbia, horse farms and small towns. We pass Ringing Rocks Park, with its boulders that ring like bells when struck with hammers or rocks. We pass the Hostel that serves as the starting point for many a Pennsylvania brevet.We ride into morning through noon and into the afternoon.
Through 80 miles I feel good. The Homer Hilsen climbs well and its 650b wheels fly on the downhills, the Grand Bois Lierre tires soaking up road imperfections with aplomb. I exceed 40 mph. On the flats, the bike is comfortable, balanced and stable.
Then, after a series of climbs where I found myself a few minutes behind, I came to an intersection and turned right, flying down a 1.7 mile descent, expecting to bridge the gap between me and the guys. At the bottom of the hill, the road that should have been Route 519 read Route 29. I pulled out the phone to confirm with GPS - yup - I should've gone left instead of right. Now I would have to climb the almost two miles I just flew down.
The day seemed to grow much hotter as the mental wheels fell off. All of a sudden, it was too hot and too soon after being sick to ride another 45 miles. I peeled off layers, drank some water and began the slow survival grind back up the hill, recognizing the early stages of bonk even as they clouded my experience. At single digit speeds, climbing 1.7 miles can take up to 30 minutes, especially when you are bottoming out. Still, I knew what to do - just pedal.
The next controle had calories. I inhaled two slices of sicilian pizza and guzzled Gatorade - just what the doctor ordered. I checked in with the group and let them know that I was still on course. Then, sloshy with carbs, I did what Randonneurs do - I got back on the bike and rode.
The fuel slowly took effect. Soon, the power returned to my legs and my mood lifted. So I did what Randonneurs do. I rode faster.
The setting sun stretched my shadow across the road. I rode in the red orange light of the late afternoon.
I met up with Joe, Paul and Len at the last control. We chatted and ate. Then after saying our good byes, I did what Randonneurs do - started thinking about my next big ride.