Monday, April 22, 2013

Blue Mountain 300K - River lessons.

April 21, 2013

The Delaware River, inky black under the pre-dawn sky, flows on our left. It speaks in a thousand whispered voices. It sings forgotten songs that play at the shores of remembrance. It echoes the vibrato of unstoppable, ancient power. It reverberates with the timeless sound of patience and persistence.

The PA Blue Mountain 300K began at the edge of the river in Milford, NJ. Bill O. checked us in, distributed our brevet cards, and sent us into the darkness at 5:00 a.m.

We start along the river heading north - upstream. The road also runs along the base of a sharp decline. The occasional small waterfall flows fast from the overnight rain, pooling at the base near the road, finding its own path to join the river. The road is a recreational road; paved but not perfect. It starts flat before slowly rising into small rollers.

My plan was simple - set a personal best for the 300K distance. To do that, I looked at my past times and calculated the pace I would have to ride then I put down the corresponding departure times for each controle. It was not a fast pace but it would require the discipline to be consistent. Leave each controle by the scheduled time and the personal best would come. One potential problem, the 187 mile route has 95 miles of hills with over 14,000 feet of climbing and it was very early in the season. Okay, that may be two problems. But still, on paper, the pace seemed manageable.

After we start, a group rides to the front and, soon, their tails lights move off into the distance. The last time I rode this course I stayed with the group until past Lafayette College, 17 miles into the course. But that ride was a
200K. This time the course is a new, 300k version. So I let them go, listening to the river, riding my measured pace.

As daylight edges over the horizon, the course turns inland passing unplanted farms under a brightening sky. I meet up with Chris N. from PA. We enter a town of wooden row houses. One resident, alone on the streets, returns my wave to acknowledge the greeting.

Chris and I crossed the Delaware River together, entering Pennsylvania at Easton. Lafayette College sits at the top of a steep hill in Easton. Chris teaches at the College. He wondered if any of his students were awake.

On the other side of the bridge, he decides to remove his rain jacket. (I had taken mine off much earlier, along the river, when I realized that there would be no rain and it was way too early to start sweating in 50 degree weather.) I rolled on knowing that the steep climb up College Avenue would take its toll on my speed.

From Easton to the second controle at mile 33, the course is a series of rolling hills through picturesque Pennsylvania farmland. My average pace drops. There are very few cars or people. The cows, however, give me curious looks.

I see Kate and Victor from NY. They have a flat but assure me that all is okay, so I roll on. Not much later, they catch up and then pull ahead. I am still so slow up hills.

To stay on schedule, I move through the 33 mile Controle at Petro Mart in minutes, trying to build a cushion of time for later. Kate, Victor and Bill R. from NJ. are on their way out as I am going in. I buy food to put in my handlebar bag, fill my water bottles and head out with maybe a 5 minute cushion. 

15 miles of hilly riding to reach the next controle, Miller's Market. I almost miss it. Luckily, BIll F. and Tim? call out and I make the turn in. They are on their way out.

Inside the market, a few older men in jeans, worn baseball caps and flannel jac-shirts - were slowly starting their Saturday with Styrofoam cups of coffee and conversations with the two women behind the counter. In walks me, stiff-legged from riding since 5 am, with my skin tight wool knickers, fluorescent yellow reflective vest, and grey skin tight arm warmers. Lurching about quickly but not knowing where to find anything.

I think I attracted a little attention.

The woman behind the deli counter said,"Yes", she could make a sandwich. So, as she put together a turkey with swiss, I got my bottles filled.

I leave quickly but still, 51 miles into the ride, I did not have much of a time cushion.
Be patient. Save half your energy for the last 100k. Be patient.  

With maybe 10 minutes to spare, I set out to climb Blue Mountain and cross the Appalachian Trail in the process. The climb is less difficult than I remembered. I wonder if we are crossing at a different point. 

The descent tests my mental speed limit. Despite a gusty cross wind, my Rivendell bike rides rock steady. I fly down the north side of the mountain and try to remember to "breathe calmly." Yet, somewhere above 40 mph, as the mountain "S" turns in swooping arcs, I feel like I am outrunning my guardian angels and slow down just enough for them to catch up. BREATHE CALMLY - NOW!!

The last vestiges of snow linger on the ski slopes on the north side of Blue Mountain. I pull the sandwich from my handlebar bag and eat while pedaling on the winding road  at the base of the mountain. The day is warming into the mid 50’s – good weather for a long day of riding. My speed is good, right where I want it to be to finally get that cushion of time to have a sit down meal at the next controle. Then I get a flat.

Quick digression:

I put a Plescher two legged kickstand on my A. Homer Hilsen. It (the kickstand not the bike) weighs 1.6 pounds  (maybe a pinch less since I cut it down to size). Some people think that’s heavy but really, it’s not. Not when you think about it. 1.6 pounds is less than 1% of my weight. It’s a big water bottle. It’s a sweaty day. It’s a visit to the porcelain throne after a big meal. Maybe one day, if all the weight I have left to lose is 1.6 pounds, I may think that 1.6 pounds is heavy but I doubt it and until then, and probably even after then, I’ll keep it.

Here’s why: if you have a flat tire, the kickstand allows you to change the tire without turning the bike upside down, laying it on the ground or having someone hold it. The bike become a tripod! It’s like having a workstand built into the bike. It’s so damn convenient, it’s cool and worth its weight in time.

End of digression.

In the time it takes for me to fix the flat, Kate and Victor ride past and then Bill R. I get back on course. By the time I get to the next controle, the Village Farmer and Bakery, I realize that some of the time I would have spent sitting and eating their delicious baked goods was used to change the flat. That’s fine. I know the drill. Fill the bottles, pack the sandwich and off I go again.

Bill R. decides to leave with me. Our solo rides have been leap frogging for a while. He offers to ride with me and so off we go north into the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area. This is his first 300K. We ride and we talk and the time passes easily. 

At about 95 miles, we get to the climb on Old Mine Road. From this direction, it is a long steep climb on a decent road instead of the long very steep climb on a rough road you get coming the other way. I have a hard time on the climb. So much so that when my bike computer shows that I am riding at slower than walking speeds, I say what the hell and walk for a bit. My speed goes up a tenth or two, so I think that was the right decision.

The Walpack Inn, at 22 miles into the segment should have food and water. We both could use some water, so we pull in. It’s closed.

I have a rando friend named Rexy who often rides a fixed gear bike and carries just one water bottle. On one ride he told me about how he knows all these places to get water along the Pennsylvania routes – parks and spigots and secret spots – like some sort of Crocodile Dundee of PA Randonneuring.

So I channel Rexy and start looking for a faucet. We find one and it works, cold water sprays out of a garden hose. I fill my bottle from the hose, swig a mouthful and get ready to roll.

Then Bill points out that the water is kinda dark and murky.

Great. I just poisoned myself and I have 90 more miles to ride.

Bill disconnects the hose and the water runs clean and clear. We dump the blackbrown hose water and refill with the clear stuff, replace the hose and ride.

Bill arrived at the next controle, Flats Deli & Luncheonette Hainesville, NJ, before I did. I had stopped at a Greek Restaurant to use an indoor bathroom and figured I should leave some cash in exchange so I bought and inhaled a piece of homemade baklava that was dripping with sweet heavenly goodness. Nom Nom yum.

By the time I got to the actual controle, Bill was ready to roll. To my surprise, Kate and Victor were there and just about to leave as well. Apparently, they passed me while I was in the restaurant taking care of my essential business. I left soon after still only minutes ahead of schedule.

30 miles later, Bill was sitting down for a meal at the Water Gap Diner when I pulled up to the controle. Kate and Victor were already off and riding strong. By the time I had a cup of coffee, ordered two bagels to go and took care of checking in, Bill had eaten his omelet and homefries and was ready to go, so we left together.

Leaving the Water Gap Diner meant leaving most of the climbing behind us. 15 miles to the next control and then 28 miles to done. The sun set on the final leg of the ride and the temperature chilled.

The last few miles of the ride are on the road that runs along the river. After riding all day at a comfortable controlled pace, I ride fast in the night. I spend the energy that I have been saving all day.

The Delaware River, inky black under the early night sky, flows on our right. It speaks in a thousand whispered voices. It sings forgotten songs that play at the shore of remembrance. It echoes the vibrato of unstoppable, ancient power. It reverberates with the timeless sound of patience and persistence.

We arrive at the last control 25 minutes ahead of my schedule. I just set a new personal best for the distance. Now I have all the time I need to sit and eat.


  1. Beautiful write-up;I love your description of the Delaware River. Congratulations on the PR, too!

  2. Awesome Nigel! Well done on both the write-up and the PR.

  3. Great ride report and one heck of a ride! Congrats on your PR.

  4. Thanks MG, Joe and Bob. I appreciate your reading and comments.

  5. Lovely pics and sounds like a fantastic ride. Congrats on the personal best

    1. Thank you. P.S. Your rough rider adventures are cool and inspirational.

  6. Nicely done and a great report to boot.

  7. I love reading your reports, Nigel! You have a wonderful writing style. I hope to ride with you one of these days!

    1. Thanks Jim, I expect we'll meet at a ride sooner than later.