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The journey up the mountain makes the mountain smaller

Monday, September 23, 2013

“Cycling is the rare sport in which accomplishment is truly personal - we judge ourselves against ourselves. How fast can I make it there and back? Will this modification drop those few necessary seconds from my next time trial? Can I finally climb that 11-percent-grade fire road without walking?...As cyclists, when we are not pushing ourselves, we are expanding ourselves-exploring a new trail, finding the most scenic ride to work…and for some, cycling is a spiritual experience or a rolling, cathartic meditation. The comforting rhythms of each pedal stroke combined with the familiar feel of the pavement or dirt beneath the wheels puts a rider at ease and reacquaints him with his surroundings and, to a greater extent, himself.”- Erich Schweikher, Cycling’s Greatest Misadventures

I’ve been putting off writing this blog post for weeks. I’ve found it hard to motivate myself to sit down for an extended period in front of the computer when during the week, I’m sitting down for extended periods in front of the computer.

I had been waiting for the proper weather window for a couple of months. Watching, for a day where the radar looked fairly clear, and that would afford me the best opportunity for success. The plan, to ride from my door in Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle and back home. Out and back, me, my bike, and the trail.

I was motivated after an open invitation to participate in a training ride for some local folks who were going to do the same ride as a warm up training ride for their attempt to ride a tandem from Pittsburgh to DC in 24 hours. Hardcore, eh?


Didn’t work out that I could ride with them, but my attitude is if I have to wait for someone else to do it, why not make the attempt, myself?

On August 24, 2013, I went for it. Started at 7AM, it was cool and clear. I made the projection of being able to sustain an average of 15mph the whole ride, pack a little more than 2 liters of water and ample supplies of Clif bars and Gu, figured I could knock it out in 10, maybe 11 hours.

Sometimes, you have to plan conservatively. I found that I was able to sustain the projected 15mph…for the first three hours. Average speed decreased steadily after that. There was never a danger of the bonk. I kept fueling, kept hydrating. The cals kept burning, I kept fueling…stuff started tasting bad, body started demanding more substantial food.

No cell service for the whole ride down. Concerning? Yes. Kept hammering, mile after mile. Hit some patches where I spent a lot of time not seeing anyone on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) with me. Started to see things in the forest, like tree trunks where your mind interprets them as people. “Oh, that’s not good.” I said, aloud.

Traveled along the Youghiogheny, saw the river gradually get faster,
saw increasing numbers of rafters and kayakers, knew I was getting closer.

Little things that irritate you on a 20 mile ride, gradually develop into big things. Knees and joints started hurting, saddle started to be PITA, a literal PITA.

Ran out of water in my bottles and the 2 liter bladder I had maybe five miles out. Started seeing more day hikers, short range cyclists. Got desperate, saw a group of riders on single speed cruisers, stopped to ask them how much further to Ohiopyle. The one lady looked shocked, and said, looking me up and down, “With all that getup, you should get there quickly, not much farther.” My response, “I dunno about that, I’m on my last legs.”

Nothing to do but push forward. The sight of that bridge over the river, the people playing on the rocks, the Red Cross helo flying drills over the river and town. Beautiful. Another cyclist saw me taking a selfie, offered to shoot one for me, and congratulated me on embarking on my first century. I told him, “Getting down here wasn’t a major problem, but getting back…now that should be interesting.”

I looked around for a fueling station, i.e. restaurant, and stumbled across Paddlers Pizza. I guess they had only been open a couple of weeks, and I went hard. Huge Stromboli, 2 huge slices of New York Style pizza, and an ice cream. I think they were surprised when I said, “No need to pack any of it up, I’m going to take care of it here.” They were kind enough to replenish my bladder. I was a little over 70 miles in. Good place, recommended.


It was hard to motivate myself to get back in the saddle. Took approximately 6 hours to get down there, I expected that it would take a lot longer to get home.

“The thing is that usually the journey to a place is so long and difficult that when you arrive, the idea has changed in your head. When you are there, it isn’t the same obstacle as when you left home. It doesn’t scare you anymore. It is not the same mountain. Basically, by going up the mountain, the mountain always gets smaller. That is the thing. The journey up the mountain makes the mountain smaller.” – Baltasar Kormakur

Message came through on my phone, wife thought I might have turned off my phone, tried to let her know I was still alive while I had signal, and noted I’d be back a wee bit later than originally anticipated.

Kept moving, playing leapfrog with some other cyclists who I would pass, then would pass me, as we each took breaks along the trail.

Knees were hurting bad, at this point, and I realized that a few weeks prior, I had been pulling Mr. Tiny on the Trail-a-bike and hadn’t been particularly detailed when reinserting my seatpost. Saddle was slightly low, and nose was angled slightly left. Not good, and now it had become a larger problem.

Watched the sun cross the sky and gradually start to sink below the horizon…wife called, said she was still out with the boys, where was I, and did I need a pickup? This was 8PM. I told her, “I would’ve accepted a sag at 5, no lie.”

We made the arrangement for me to make for McKeesport, 17 miles out from my starting point, but I was out of water, hungry, and having trouble with my joints. I had crossed the century line a while before, there wasn’t anything left to prove to myself. I believe that I could’ve made the last 17 miles, but it would’ve been a long hard slog. Final mileage and ride data: 138.34 miles; 10:24:00 ride time; 13.29 mph average speed; 34.71 mph max speed; Spark people tracker projected calorie burn 6040

The next day, I had trouble walking. I was playing a game of good cop/bad cop with Tiger Balm Red and my foam roller. Noted that I had started to rip seams in the chamois of my baggies, and my new mtb shoes weren’t so new anymore and were in need of some Shoe Goop treatment for seams that were giving out.

Backpack was trustworthy, but carrying gear on your back on a higher mileage ride was less than ideal, though I made the tradeoff knowing that I wanted to take the faster cyclocross rig.

My paradigm has changed, the creatine experiment has been interesting and I knew there would be a weight penalty for increased strength. The effect on my century ride was acceptable. I was probably 15 lbs over my low, and since I’m not focusing on XC racing, I’m not worried about it. Increased water retention, I’m only taking it when I lift, typically 2 times a week. I’ve changed my tracking counter from weight to monthly fitness minutes. I’m okay with that, I have nothing to prove.

Now, time to seek out the next personal goal. Never stop pursuing your goals, the every day journey makes that which initially seemed unreachable, within the realm of possibility.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    You are sick! emoticon I loved the blog! Hope you're legs are better!
    1616 days ago
    Wow, I felt your knee pain. What a Herculian effort! I know you were out in rural areas, but I would totally have my spouse on speed dial. Way to finish strong.
    1618 days ago
    I'm sorry I missed this blog. WOW! What an adventure! emoticon On achieving your goal! emoticon
    1618 days ago

    What a great story! It sounds like you were in a world of self-discovery. 138 miles in the saddle is great accomplishment. Your speed over such a long distance is great.

    Sounds like your cyclocross rig would benefit from a rack and some panniers. I have carried a backpack over some long distances. The extra weight on saddle was a pain, literally!

    Do you think you want to try this length of ride again? What an epic ride! Thanks for sharing.


    1620 days ago
    Truly an inspiring blog.. thank you... I needed to read this, I attempted my first Century last Friday, and fell short due to a foot cramp followed by a injury when I took it out of the strap.. I will complete one someday love your determination to keep going ..

    Ride on
    1630 days ago
    I can see why it took so long to blog about this. You have so much going on here. Goals met, and the the mind and body connection at its finest! I am so proud of you and so happy that you achieved a long term goal on your own terms. You had a lot of time while on the trail to think about what went into that ride and the years you put into achieving your true century ride....the ride of a lifetime! Congrats friend! emoticon emoticon
    1636 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/24/2013 9:19:47 PM
    HARD CORE! emoticon emoticon

    1636 days ago
    Wow! Quite an experience! Thanks for sharing!
    1637 days ago
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