Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hawk Mountain 200K - Digging the well

 "We dig the well of our personal reserve to the depth
and breadth of our experience"

My uncle Frank used to call it digging the well. Back in the 80's, when I was a teenager, uncle Frank introduced me to long distance cycling. He used the phrase to describe hard training, pushing back limits, the process of building of a deep reserve of strength and will to draw upon when things get tough, when you needed to go to the well.

The image stuck with me. I picture shoveling dirt, doing the hard work, again and again, to create a space to store that something extra to call upon in times of need. The well must be dug deep enough and big enough to meet the needs of the event. I also knew that an empty well is just a hole. To make it useful, you have to dig it far enough in advance so that, while you rest and recover, it can fill with the reserves that you may one day need. With the 768 mile Paris-Brest-Paris ride just over six weeks away, now is the time to dig the well.

The Hawk Mountain 200K permanent is a 128 mile course in eastern Pennsylvania with close to 9,000 feet of climbing, including a long steep climb to 1200 feet, with a steep pitch up just as it peaks over its namesake mountain. The route seemed like a good place to dig the well on the long weekend of the 4th of the July.

Chris N. (from PA) answered the group email request for company. But the night before, he sent a text saying that stomach problems might keep him from making the 5:30 start. So, at 4:00 a.m., I drove in the dark prepared to solo the course.

When I arrived at the start in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, an hour and a bit later, Chris was already there waiting with his Rivendell Atlantis. After enduring three days of stomach upset, he still wasn't one hundred percent but he was there and ready to give the ride a go. After a fist bump and a quick purchase to validate the start, we were off, riding in the foothills that lead to the mountain ridge.

The horizon cradled the rising sun of an endless summer day. The dawn air, heavy with humidity, formed cool drops on our arms. Chris has not fully recovered, but we move on over the tough course.

By mid-morning, the summer heat starts building. Chris paces himself, balancing what he has to offer against what the what the course demands.

We climb over Hawk Mountain as the heat kicks in in earnest, methodically making our way through the course, taking in the vistas along the length of the spiny ridge.

The farm fields are red gold with rye, deep green with soy, knee high with feed corn. Churches, across from small cemeteries, hold positions of power atop local climbs. When we lift our eyes toward the skies, a steepled spire points towards the heavens; age old architecture conveying a sense of something greater. We ride past, climbing through millennia-old landscapes that are naturally imbued with a greatness that exceeds any man-made structure.

The afternoon proves difficult for Chris. The lingering effects of his recent illness do not go over well in the heat and hills, but he perseveres and we take breaks and we ride on.

Chris tells me about riding PBP, offering words of encouragement and inspiration based on his having gone before. And we ride on, up and over the many hills, through an endless summer day in July, digging the well with the depth and breadth of this experience.


  1. What a great ride and good way to look at things. mAs important as digging the well is getting better at getting out once you've dug it. How increasingly well you recover has always been my favorite measure of things.

  2. Nice ride story.. Loved so much to read.