Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hawk Mountain 200K

July 24, 2011

My ride of the Hawk Mountain 200k permanent began just after dawn in the small town of Ephrata. Located in the midst of east Pennsylvania farmland, Ephrata was once the home of the Mystic Order of the Solitary, a mid-18th century semi-monastic religious order that incorporated ascetism and creative expression into its practices. That history seemed to make this a fitting place to begin a 128-mile solo Sunday bike ride through the mountains on a mid-summer day that came at the end of a record setting heat wave.

Although the 6:00 am start time required me to leave the house just after 4:00 a.m., it also meant that I should be able to complete the three major climbs on the route before the mid-afternoon heat kicked in. The hour and a half drive north and west would also mean a starting temperature in the high seventies instead of the low eighties. I would happily take the ten degree change, since this would be a dangerously hot day and every little bit could help.

As the clock approached six, Andrew, the route owner, rode up to the start with my brevet card. After we exchanged paperwork, I started the route. Andrew rode with me for the first few miles. In minutes, we were on quiet blacktop riding through open farm fields on a silent Sunday morning. Slowly, the sun rose in the thick sky. 
On the gentle 10 miles that began the course, we talked of finding back roads and how he put together the route. I mentioned that this was my first attempt on the course and I chose it because the big climbs came early. He warned me that there were no flat sections on the course, the presence of Hawk Mountain just skewed the elevation profile to make it seem that way. Hawk Mountain 200K Permanent map and profile

Andrew soon turned off to complete a bike loop that would have him home in time for breakfast. I headed on toward the rolling terrain that would lead to my day of climbing.  


Several major highways bypass these farmlands and, in doing so, create  a pocket of land where horse drawn carriages and free-range chickens flourish.



I suspect that even on a weekday these roads experience little traffic. This morning, I have the road to myself. Well, to the cows, some free-range chickens, and me.


The farms would not provide the scenery for long. This route goes through a landscape eons in the making.

Orogenesis, ice sculpting and original names

225 million years ago, during the Appalachian Orogeny, the crust of the earth folded and lifted the young Appalachian Mountains to heights exceeding 20,000 feet - that's almost twice the height of Mount Hood in Oregon and about 9,000 feet shy of Mount Everest. It must have been like having the Himalayas in eastern Pennsylvania.

After the rise of the mountains, the glaciers came. 800,000 years ago, the first continental glacier moved through Pennsylvania. Glaciers returned twice most recently 10,000-12,000 years ago. The power of the moving glaciers cut deep, wide valleys, moved soil and rock as it sculpted the landscape.

12 miles into the route, I reach the first big climb, a two-mile, category 5 climb. As I settle into turning circles with my pedals, my legs warm with the effort, and I am thankful for the overcast sky that diffuses the direct light of the sun.

30 miles of rolling hills follow the climb. With the strength that comes from completing a full series of brevets this spring, I easily ride above my planned pace. The humid heat will increase as day the progresses, so I take this opportunity to bank some time. The second controle comes before Hawk Mountain. 

After the orogenesis, million of years of erosion reduced the once cloud piercing peaks to less than 10% of their former height and created today’s Appalachian Mountain system.

In eastern Pennsylvania, the Appalachian Mountain system is a series of folded ridges and valleys. It begins 60 miles north of New York City and extends to 20 miles west of Chambersburg. The system goes by several names: Kittatinny Ridge, the Valley-and-Ridge Province and Blue Mountain. Hawk Mountain is a part of that system.
layers of ridges and valleys

The road up Hawk Mountain includes a two+ mile, category 3, thigh burning ascent.  The last segment of the climb, the point on the needle, has the steepest grade of all. 

On the way up, the route crosses the Appalachian Trail.

In the midst of that climb, I ride over something that snaps under my rear wheel. Within minutes, I feel slowly increasing softness in the rear wheel. The leak is slow, slow enough for me to continue the climb, so I continue  even as I begin to wonder if I can make it to the next controle before dealing with the flat.

A long fast downhill is the reward for reaching the Mountain Sanctuary, but instead of a sure gripped carving ride down the asphalt, I feel the sideways movement of the softening tire. The flat repair can not wait for the controle.  

At the base of the descent, I find a spot on the side of the road to deal with the tube and tire.  After carefully locating the hole and checking the tire for any remnants of the rubber piercing culprit, I pop in the spare tube and start pumping it up. That is when I discover, after several hundred mini pumps that don't seem to fill the spare, that my only spare tube also has a hole. Thousands of flat free miles caused me to commit the sin of complacency, I neglected to check my spare.  Fortunately, I have my Rema patch kit too. So I patch the tube. I then discover that my Lezyne Alloy Drive Mini Pump cannot inflate the tire to full pressure. It gets the tire to a usable pressure, maybe 60-70 PSI, but then air blows past the o-rings and nothing more gets to the tube. I will have to ride the rest of the route on the under-inflated tire.
In the process of dealing with the flats, my time cushion has all but vanished. Now, instead of being well ahead of schedule, failing to make the controle before the cutoff has become a real concern. Midday approaches with the commensurate increase in heat. I am 53 miles into the course and in the middle of its hilliest section. I remount and climb the next hill.

This section is one in which to lose overall time.The next 10 miles are a series of climbs and descents. Then, from approximately 64 to 66 miles, there is a 2 mile sustained climb.  I check my watch and push to climb strong.
This section of the course also provides far ranging panoramic views of this ancient, time forged land. Riding along a ridge, looking across the parallel valleys and ridges, I see the mountains turn blue in the distance.
Summer Hill Road particularly stands out. There the earth flows down into pastured valleys on either side of the undulating road.  

The Lenni Lenape, or Delaware Indians, lived on and around Hawk Mountain when the first Europeans came to the New World in the early 1600s. 

The Lenape nation consisted of three main tribes, the Unami (Turtle tribe), the Wunalachtico (Turkey tribe), and the Minsi (Wolf tribe.) The Lenape living near Hawk Mountain belonged to the Unami tribe.

Today, the afternoon sun bakes the ancestral lands of the Unami. The asphalt emits shimmering waves. Each breath draws hot humid air into my lungs. The water in my Camelbak and bottles are bathwater warm and difficult to swallow.

In my seat bag, I carry a vacuum insulated 17 oz stainless steel thermos bottle. I filled it with ice that morning. Opening it brings a small burst of cool air twinkling from within. The ice cubes were whole and cold.  I use half to make an ice bandanna, relishing the cold on my neck and reseal the remaining ice like the treasure it is. 

I made it to the next control with less than a half hour to spare, cutting it much closer than I wanted. After a liquid lunch, I returned to the course ready to make up for lost time.

The afternoon sun burned off the last of the morning haze and I rode through a treeless landscape under the summer sun. Pockets of rain fell, but our paths did not cross. Once, I stopped at convenience store and by the time I bought water and returned to my bike, the rain had come and gone, leaving only wet steaming pavement.

At mile 73, the road is closed, barricaded on either end by short walls of bulldozed sand and rock. I climb the walls and continue.
 At mile 103, the bridge is out. Andrew had given me the option of taking a detour, but with a bit of portaging over a plank,the detour was unnecessary.

The names of places in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York such as Manhattan, Hackensack, Passaic, and Tulpehocken come from the Lenape. The Lenape also had a name for the ridge I ride that is the remnant of the once majestic peaks in eastern Pennsylvania. They called it Kittatinny which means “endless mountain.”

After the fourth controle, the course turns away from the endless mountain as it heads south-southeast towards completion. The rolling hills continue, some more hill than rolling, but generally, the course trends downhill. As I see even the cows seek shade and cool waters, I focus on moving safely and efficiently toward completion -just randonneuring on a Sunday afternoon.