Sunday, October 27, 2013

Schuylkill to Susquehanna

Saturday is laundry day in Lancaster county. Riding through miles of farmland, we see clothes hanging from lines stretched between homes and barns or sheds. Lots of black, single color, simple clothes snapping and whipping in the cold steady wind. They remind me of Tibetan prayer flags.

I mention the laundry to Janice. 
She says "They can't do it tomorrow." 
We are in Amish and Mennonite country. Tomorrow is Sunday, the sabbath which they will remember and keep holy, but today, Saturday, the hard work continues.

Last night was the killing frost. The 28 degree morning is the first subfreezing day since Spring. Luckily, the early morning air is still as Janice, Laurent and I leave the first control.  Work demands have kept me from long rides for about seven weeks. It feels good to be back on the bike. 

I should have reviewed the cue sheet.

The Schuylkill to Susquehanna 200k is a route that begins in Mount Penn, PA, circles west to the shores of the Susquehanna river and then turns back east to Mount Penn. Its 8500 feet of climbing come in series of sharp steep pitches and the occasional long nasty climb. It is a climbers route.

After the early hills, warm up pace and short distance to the second control, we arrive without much time to spare. Still fueled from my oatmeal breakfast, I opt for just an OJ and a banana. Janice mentions that there is a big climb coming up. So I finish one bottle of water and leave with just one.

I should have eaten more.

The next leg is 40 miles long with lots of climbing. The wind picks up becomes steady and strong. When we are not climbing we ride directly into it. 

At first, with calories to burn, the conditions are inconsequential. The route is beautiful under the clear sunny sky. I climb. I lead into the wind.  The dry air gives sharp views all the way to the horizon.  The faint aroma of manure fertilized fields smells complex and organic. Fading barns stand at the edge of intricate fields of crisp autumn brown interwoven with green ground cover. Horse drawn carriages rhythmically clop off into the distance. We ride through the seemingly simple honesty of Amish farmland.

Slowly my fuel runs out even as the ride continues. I do not crash or hit the wall, nothing so dramatic. Instead I fade slowly, inexorably, growing weaker mile by mile, legs cramping and aching. I've lost my climbing legs. I've been off the bike too long. I push back against those thoughts. I focus on continuing and remembering that this is just a 200K. I can do this. Just keep pedaling.

A quick pit stop at the Conestoga Wagon restaurant works to stem the tide, not completely, but enough to get to the next controle. 

At the Columbia, control, the food and water restore me. Curiously, I feel like a weight is lifted from my mind. Relief floods in to take its place. 
The return trip comes with a welcome tailwind. Once again I am reminded how randonneuring puts the weather front and center to the human consciousness. The wind becomes a force to be reckoned with or an ally. Now it blows in our favor.

The hills continue. We go up and coast down. We ride our painted ponies and let the spinning wheels turn. On this last weekend of October, we watch the sunset from our leather saddles. 

The evening is calm and peaceful. We ride quiet in the night our lights steady and sure. We climb the nasty steep pitches of Hilltop road and the final thigh burning effort of Neversink.

It was a hard day but a beautiful one and now it is done.

You can see some of it here.


  1. Congrats after being off the bike sooo long!

    1. Thanks KS. It's a cruel truth that fitness that takes so long to gain can disappear quickly. Avoiding too long of a layoff is one reason I keep the R-12 streak going

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Katie. Your name came up often. We miss you!

  3. Great report, sounds like a fun way to ring in the new season!

    1. Fun? Are we talking about the same ride? ;)

  4. Time can be such a slippery thing ... but however it goes, that's a big chunk to be off a bike. Glad it finished well, loved your report.

    1. And it gets even more slippery with time. Thanks for reading.