Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pennsylvania Blue Mountain 200K - Riding on winter legs.

The dawn of the first Saturday of Spring came crisp and cold with a hint of possible rain. The edges of the waning moon glowed softly through a thin cover of clouds. 

Thirty-four riders gathered in and out of the Milford New Jersey bakery, milling, queuing and circulating before the start of the brevet. The big turn out after an unusually cold and snowy winter brought some faces I hadn't seen since summer, others of friends with whom I rode over the winter and a few not yet met. A rush of excitement, a mix of eagerness and uncertainty, familiar and unknown, animated the morning. This felt like a beginning,  a new season, the start of things to come.

Don J. signed us in at the Milford Bakery and handed out the brevet cards. He would later check us in at one control and collect the cards at the end. A one man support team for the entire brevet. Thanks Don.

The start of the Blue Mountain route never disappoints. From picturesque Milford, NJ, go east past the steepled church then turn north onto River Road following the banks of the Delaware River. The pre-dawn sky effuses pale blue white light over the lengthening line of conversing riders. The earth wall to our left has columns of ice and snow built over the winter by cascading streams that now trickle and bubble to the river ever on the verge of freezing and thawing.

I have my winter legs. They have some strength and fitness from cross training but lack the deep reservoir of cycling endurance that is the sine qua non of randonneuring. I should be cautious, conservative and ease into the day but I take the early rollers with total disregard for my lack of consistent riding. Warming in the freezing temperatures. Joyful in the lack of restraint. I cannonball into the deep end of the pool. I will get dropped, but not yet.

We turn into sunrise field. Open land on both sides of a quiet road that stretches to the horizon. It is almost *almost* big enough to hold the golden glow of the rising sun but definitely big enough fill you with the excitement of a new day. It is the curtain pulling back on a gorgeous Pennsylvania brevet.

From open fields to small sleeping towns, we work our way toward the Delaware River crossing at Lafayette College, then climb into the hills of eastern Pennsylvania.The sorting starts at Upper Mud Run Road. The climbers climb and the sloggers slog and the line of riders s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s until it breaks into small groups.

The second controle is at mile 34 but my breakfast energy runs out at mile 30. My winter legs remind me that it's only been Spring for a day. I start the hard work of trying to recover.

The first climb of Blue Mountain for this year is done as much by memory as by muscle. Old lessons remembered. Patience. Pedal. Patience. Pedal. Even descending needs work as I feather the brakes to ward off imagined patches of ice or grit and breathe, baby, breathe.

North of the mountain, thick hard icy snow, layered in sheets of grit, still holds on alongside the road in the shadows and depressions. Temperatures drop in the hollows. Body heat rises on the climbs.

Steve from Delaware and I match paces and share the second middle of the ride. He is riding his Rivendell Sam Hilborne, but also owns a "Homer" like mine. We talk of many things but as the next controle draws near, we start to plan our lunch meal with all the zest a carb depeted brain can offer.

Seven Randos walk into a diner. With two choices for the controle meal, we opt for the Delaware Water Gap Diner. Tandem riders Ron and Barb are there. Chris N. (from PA) arrives soon, as do Tom R. and Len Z. Others chose the bakery next door - a fine establishment but lacking an indoor bathroom and the diner selections I crave. A bowl of split pea soup, a large order of french fries swirled with ketchup, an ice tea with water chaser. Now I am good to go.

Steve and I leave with Ron, Barb and Chris. The five riders on the four bikes ride as a group for most of the last third of the ride. I am in good company. The day is warmer. We have intermittent tailwinds. My winter legs are encouraged.

Staats Road comes at mile 117 immediately after a steep climb up Milford Road. Even in my granny gear, Staats Road seems an interminable climb. My winter legs groan and protest.

The reward for summiting Staats road is a three to four mile down hill back to the river and the end of the ride. The final controle is the the Ship Inn, a british brew pub in Milford, NJ. They serve hot hamburgers and cold draft beer. We eat. We toast. My winter legs rejoice.  

A few more pictures here: PA200K


  1. As always, an entertaining read. Somehow, I think your "Winter Legs" are still much stronger than my "Height of the Cycling Season Legs!"

  2. It's all relative. My poor legs have to carry the rest of me, no matter the season