It was a small contingent at the start in Quakertown, PA. Eight of us rode up and over the many climbs of the "Endless Mountains" brevet, each in our own way. In the end all of us finished the ride within the allowed time limit for 100% completion. After riding the entire ACP PA series this year, I can attest to the beauty of the state of Pennsylvania. It was my last big ride of the year and my last in the US, a farewell of sorts, as I will return to my home country Brazil. With me I'll take memories of the incredible landscape and the cherished company of fellow cyclists.
During this year's edition of the Shenandoah 1200K I injured my right Achilles tendon. In fear of turning it into a chronic injury, I didn't ride my bicycle during the 12 day interlude before the PA ACP 1000K. As a precautionary measure, I also taped both of my Achilles tendons. I was prepared to DNF if I had to. The day before the ride I pedaled about half a mile and everything felt OK. Half a mile is really not a serious test.
An afternoon meeting was canceled, which allowed me to arrive early in Quakertown. For the first time I actually was in bed and almost asleep at 10pm for a 4am start. I was very happy to feel the cool air as I entered the hostel bedroom. There was air conditioning! A real treat on a warm night.
At 2:30am I was up. After a relaxing shower I joined the contingent downstairs for the pre-ride breakfast. It was a small group comprised of Rick Carpenter, Jud Hand, Chip Adams, Bill Fischer, John Fessenden, George Winkert, Patrick O'Donnell and myself.
Rick helped me tape both of my Achilles tendons and I immediately realized this would be a rather painful affair. Walking was difficult. After the pre-ride meeting, during which RBA Tom Rosenbauer gave last minute instructions, we were sent off.
On the first few rollers leaving the hostel I noticed that I was not in top shape. In addition, every pedal stroke was painful. I don't shave my legs and that may have contributed to the pain. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to stay off the bike for so many days and then start with a 200+ mile day. I had made the choice and it was time to deal with it.
Initially I rode up to the front to see that Patrick was leading. Where was Rick? I thought I was the last to leave the hostel. Apparently Rick had some business to take care of just as we were rolling out and stayed back. Suddenly I saw him next to me and then he was gone. I could not help but notice that he was riding a brand new Bianchi 928 carbon frame with a very little saddlebag. I knew then he was on a mission.
After a few miles I came upon Patrick and Chip, who had stopped to fix a flat. Patrick was getting the sign-in sheets from Chip that Tom gives to the faster riders to leave at contrôles so that he can keep track of rider progress. Rick was ahead. After the first climb I started riding with Bill.
By the time Bill and I got to the Northampton contrôle Rick was on his way out and Patrick too was about to leave. I rode with Bill until we met the climb on Blue Mountain Dr. From then on I rode alone along Lower Smith Gap Rd / Upper Smith Gap Rd and Cherry Valley until the second extended climb on Fox Gap. Along the way I made a few stops for fender adjustments and had two close calls while making turns on loose gravel that had been washed on the road. It was cloudy and humid. There was a light drizzle at times but I did not get rained on.
It was my second time up Fox Gap, the first being on the PA ACP 200K. I was feeling much better the first time around. After a painful ascent I was filled with joy when I saw volunteer Jim Logan who had set up a secret/revitalize contrôle. I had a refreshing can of Sprite and inquired about the status of Patrick and Rick, who were about 10min ahead of me. I decided not to push it, but go at my own pace and maybe I would get lucky.
I navigated familiar roads until the Gourmet Gallery contrôle in Blairstown, NJ. Once I crossed the Delaware River on the pedestrian bridge in Portland I recognized that the route was exactly the same as that of my first brevet, in November 2008. I also was happy to see the stone homes that caught my attention back then. As I pulled into the contrôle I saw Patrick outside and Rick enjoying some food and drink inside. This was my chance to ride with them, so I took care of my business as quick as possible. Rick was surprised that I would be riding with them, since I did not take a bathroom break at the contrôle. I am notorious for having a digestive system perfectly synchronized with contrôle stops.
Upon leaving Blairstown the terrain became once again hilly. We were now climbing Millbrook Rd and I was able to maintain a reasonable distance to Rick and Patrick. However, I was feeling a lot of pain and I wasn't sure whether it was from my Achilles or the tape itself. I didn't want to find out so I just kept on going. Once we were over the top of the climb there was a steep descent I did not exploit well because of bad road conditions. Then there was the right turn on Old Mine Rd and the dreaded steepness of that climb. If I have any fortes as a cyclist, climbing has traditionally been one, but this time around I didn't feel it at all. Rick and Patrick distanced themselves and a few miles down the road I caught up again. But I was working harder than I wanted to, so I decided to ease off the pedals as I watched them pull away.
It was tempting to stop at the Layton Country Store. I had the most delicious of meals on a volunteer pre-ride of this year's PA ACP 300K with Rick. But I wasn't that hungry and since I was moving ever so slower I decided not to stop. Above, the sky was clearing. I like sunny days, but I know that with the sun comes the implacable heat. Tom had mentioned something about a Raymondskill climb. I looked at my cue sheet while I was on Rt 209 and sure enough the next cue read "L Raymondskill Falls." It was the type of climb I like, twisty and steep. But my legs were not cooperating. My lowest gear is a 39x25 and my cranks are 175 mm, so my cadence plummeted. The pain I was feeling didn't help either. One stroke after the other I slowly moved along. Then I saw Jim again! He had setup another revitalize/secret contrôle. I had more soda, filled my water bottles and chatted a while with Rick and Patrick who were there too. We left the contrôle and almost instantly I was dropped. The climb continued for a while and was followed by rolling terrain. Along this section I made two navigational mistakes that may be related to the excruciating heat.
What a relief to arrive at the Barryville, NY contrôle. I was in dire need of real food. Rick and Patrick were still there and I ran into the store, ordered a 12" Mambo Sub and got a Sprite along with chocolate milk for dessert. Rick and Patrick went ahead to an Italian restaurant for food. Soon I was joined by Bill and Chip and from then on we would ride the rest of the brevet in "fléche style." 12 inches of sub were too much for me, so I shared with Bill. The contrôle didn't have a real bathroom, just a porter-potty. It was like an oven inside! I roasted for a few minutes and got ready to hit the road.
For the first few miles I wasn't feeling so great. I couldn't keep up with Chip and Bill, so I mostly rode a few hundred yards back. As I began to feel better, I made the effort to close the gap and stuck to Bill's wheel. If you have met Bill, that's the best place to be on any flat section. I was feeling so good I even took a pull as were catching up to Rick ahead. We had just passed Patrick, who had stopped for a nature break. Rick was happy to see us, but then maybe not so much. I heard the words "the fun is over" and he was gone. Further down the road, Patrick joined us for a while eventually pulling away as well.
Above there was a storm brewing. I wondered how long it would take before we were poured on. The rain started to fall copiously. Lightning was striking and I actually was liking it. My only concern was my Brooks saddle. I did not want it to get wet. Then I felt something hitting me. Rain isn't supposed to hurt. Thumps on my helmet. Hail. It was time to seek shelter. We sought a house that looked uninhabited and rolled in to be greeted by the owner. He was friendly and didn't mind us loitering around while the storm passed. I put the seat cover on my saddle and changed my socks. We all put our reflective gear on. The storm passed and we were back on the road.
Ahead a construction site was blocking the road. We found a way through and after that I was dropped again. I needed to eat. After a quick stop to pull some food out of my saddlebag I resumed my lethargic pedaling. The next contrôle was in Carbondale, a town in a valley. I was on the other side. Rick had mentioned something about a brutal climb. This wasn't good. I made one more stop at a convenience store just before the climb began. Maybe some caffeine would help. It didn't. I never climbed so slowly in my life. At times my odometer read 2.1 mph and I didn't tip over. Would this be the first time I would have to walk up a climb? I refused to give in but my legs had nothing left. Diapers on the road. What the heck? All I need now is baby poop on my tires. Yes, eventually I made it over the top and I didn't walk. It was time for Dunkin Donuts.
In Carbondale I joined Bill and Chip who were about 10 min ahead of me. I enjoyed a flatbread sandwich along with a vanilla latte. All was good. We were pretty wet still and Chip was shivering. I told him to use the hand dryer in the bathroom to dry up. I did the same. We had ridden 175 miles and 34 were left to the sleepover contrôle in Hallstead. There was just one problem. We had to climb out of Carbondale.
Again I was dropped when we left Carbondale. I was feeling slightly better, but still miserable. The next 34 miles were uneventful. Of course there was climbing, steep rollers and just a bit of flat. I did have a puncture, a "flat break," that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was dark at 9:30pm when I rolled into the Hallstead contrôle. Chip and Bill had arrived at 9:04pm. Rick and Patrick got in at 8:11pm. I spoke shortly with Rick, who was already changed and ready to go for the next day. He sleeps in the cycling shorts he'll use the next day. Rick is nuts.
I was so happy to be there it's hard to describe. Jim was once again working for our comfort. There was plenty of food awaiting us, but I had set my mind on a Double Whopper when I saw a Burger King outside. Unfortunately they did not allow me to walk-thru the drive-thru, so I asked Jim if he wouldn't mind. In 10 minutes I was savoring a delicious Whopper along with crispy french fries. Oh, did that feel good. Jud had also arrived and he too got a burger, a Whopper Junior. Afterward I wondered whether I would be allowed to make an order had I ridden my bike instead of walking. A bicycle is a vehicle as far as I understand. I agreed to leave with Bill and Chip at 2:30am. I got in my room and the first thing I did was take off the tape from my ankles. What a relief! I wished I didn't have hair on my legs. Boy did that hurt. To my surprise my Achilles wasn't in pain at all. It was the tape that was causing all this pain. But I was convinced that I should keep my ankles taped just in case. Time to sleep.
After three hours of sleep I was up, taped, and ready to go. It was 2:30am. I have difficulty eating right away, so I was very happy to just have a glass of chocolate milk. I think my stomach wasn't done with the Whopper from the night before. I joined Bill and Chip and off we went.
Finally some flat terrain! I couldn't believe it. Every mile I wondered how long it would last. So far I was feeling good. Certainly the best since the ride started. We cruised through downtown Binghamton NY sometime around 4am. There were lots of people on the streets, drunk young people mostly. I gather they were on there way home from after-parties. I didn't mind it as long as nobody bothered me. We even had some people cheer us on. On one occasion I heard "Look! Bicycles! I love bicycles!." To that tune we left Binghamton and continued a long stretch of 57.6 miles before we reached the next contrôle, a post-office in Sayre, PA. However, just before we getting there we made a stop at a convenience store for breakfast. Patrick had passed us about half a mile earlier. While we were having breakfast John joined us as well. My choice of breakfast was egg and cheese on an English muffin along with chocolate milk. Delicious.
Once we left our post cards at the contrôle a roller-section began, first along the Susquehanna River until we reached Towanda. There Chip decided to stop for wake-up food and to use the bathroom. We continued at a leisurely pace along the many rollers of Southside Rd. This part of the route is also featured in a very hilly century, the Tour de Shunk. Bill was pointing out the little skunks that they paint on the road to mark the route. Apparently one has to follow the skunk tail. They were pretty cute. It didn't take long before Chip rejoined us, revitalized and moving fast.
The sky up to this point was overcast, but I began seeing patches of blue and the temperature started to rise. It was 10:30am when we signed in the Acorn Market contrôle in Canton. This town is apparently in the middle of nowhere. I tried to call my wife Grazie with no result. I was craving some sort of hot sandwich. Once I got in I didn't see that option (indeed it was there), but the sight of a slice of pizza won me over. Another Sprite and vanilla milk for dessert. I didn't like the vanilla milk that much. I put on my arm coolers, sunscreen and sunglasses. That was a good decision. As we were getting ready to leave John showed up.
The next 80 miles were probably the toughest of the ride. The relentless heat along with the climbs and steep rollers made it very difficult. The rollers were the kind that you don't want to ride. Down but not enough momentum to go up. Work work work. Down and not enough to go up. Work work work. This pattern repeated itself for many miles. On the other hand, the views were spectacular. It kept my mind off the pain I was feeling with every pedal stroke. Along the way we went through Liberty just in time to avoid a road block for a parade. This was followed a few miles later by a very pleasant stretch in the Little Pine Creek State Park. We were often passed by a stream of motorcyclists with their loud rumbling motors. I couldn't help to think about how much sound they were missing because of the motors. I could hear the stream, the birds and the animals running for cover as we passed along. Just past Waterville we began a long 5 mile climb up to Haneyville. It was decided we would have lunch when we got to the top. On this climb I started slow and watched Chip and Bill pull away. I increased my cadence as the climb progressed. For the first time I was feeling good on one of the endless climbs. I passed Bill and now had Chip in sight. After a mile or so I caught up to Chip and we rode together for a few tenths of a mile. I didn't change my cadence, standing when it got steep and sitting otherwise. By the time I made it to the top I marked the time. After 2 min Chip arrived and Bill made it to the top 5 min later. I think that was the only time I actually finished a climb in front. I was ready for lunch at an inn we found right at the top. Bill and I had the "Flaming Foliage" chicken sandwich along with chips and soda. This ride was definitely turning out to be a great one. The views, the company and the well planned food stops were working for us.
We left Haneyville towards Lock Haven. Along the way there was a 2.5 mile downhill segment with a 9% grade. Just amazing fun. Arriving in Lock Haven we still had about 13 miles to the next contrôle in Lamar. Now we didn't have any more shade. I was very tired by the time we reached Lamar, consumed by the thought of a nice bed and rest. But we still had 46.4 miles to go before the sleepover contrôle in Lewisburg. In Lamar I had a Klondike bar, chocolate milk, Sprite and peanut M&M's. It was scorching. Once again, as we were about to leave John arrived. He was always riding pretty close to us. We offered to wait but he insisted we kept on going.
Upon leaving the contrôle in Lamar we made a right turn on Heltman Rd that offered the most breathtaking view. The road seemed to go straight into the ridge and on both sides an abundance of farmland and green was seen. Except for the ridge part, I was very happy. My concern was unjustified. The climb on Long Run Rd wasn't too bad, as explained by Chip, who arrived at that conclusion upon observing horse dung on the road. If a horse can pull a carriage up the climb, it can't be too difficult. But then I inquired, "Have you seen the horse?" He was right. However, after another descent we still had a ridge to our left. The cue sheet said turn left. As we began to climb a group of people that were enjoying the late afternoon sun in their yard said to us "you've got a tough one ahead." Bill said not to trust non-cyclists, either way. But they were right. It was tough. I stuck with Chip for most of the way, but had to let go at the end. At the top I devoured a pack of peanut M&Ms in less than 10 s. Bill joined us a few minutes later. He mentioned a comment he had heard about a long descent into Lewisburg. It was so true. A 23 mile descent. What a treat after so many climbs. We were cruising in a paceline down to Lewisburg where we arrived at 9:30pm. Volunteers Ron and Barbara Anderson were waiting for us with lots of pizza and other yummy food. The room at the Country Inn was spectacular. A nice big bed, air conditioning, big bathroom. All I needed to feel good about the 227.5 miles we had ridden during the day.
I found out Rick had arrived at 7pm and would leave at 11pm. Nope, that was not going to happen for me. We would wake up muuuch later, at 2am. Before I went to sleep I had to take the tape off my ankles. That is when I realized why I had been in so much pain. My legs were swollen and the tight tape was making them look like a sausage. Removing the tape was a very painful process. Next time I do tape anything I'll make sure to shave wherever the tape goes. Blood was coming out of my pores after I removed the tape. Then I noticed huge blisters around my ankles. This was not fun. The next morning I decided to take the risk and ride without the tape supporting my Achilles.
On the menu 186.9 miles and the promise of more moderate terrain. Our first climb of the day came early and I was once again dropped. My legs were now very stiff and I had no reason to push it. As the sun was rising above the horizon I found myself in a pretty desolate area. You can interpret the pretty in two ways and both will be accurate. I came upon an interesting scene when on the right there was a cow mooing and running around with a bunch of other cows chasing. On the left a few chained dogs barking like crazy. I never had seen cows running around like that. I'm glad the dogs were chained because they probably would have eaten me alive and I would not have been able to do anything about it.
To my surprise I caught up with Bill and Chip just before the extended climb of the day. They were on the lookout for a place to have breakfast. We began climbing and for once I wasn't feeling so bad. My legs were still sore and stiff, but at least I didn't feel all the pain the tape had caused. My right Achilles was doing fine and I was very happy about that. However, the left Achilles started to act up a bit. According to the cue sheet we would cross railroad tracks in 3.3 miles. I told Bill and Chip that meant we would go up and over in 3.3 miles. Have you seen railroad tracks on the top of a climb? I was partially wrong. 3.3 miles wasn't the top. It continued. But fortunately not very longer than that. On the way up we were passed by Patrick, who passed on our offer to join us for breakfast. We found the perfect place for that in Good Spring, a place called Rachel's Country Kitchen. I had a Mountaineer's breakfast, with three pancakes, toast, scrambled eggs, bacon strips and hash browns. I didn't eat all of it, but I ate a lot. It was delicious. Man did that go down well. For once it was nice to have real pancakes, not the mix you buy at the grocery. While we were in Rachel's Country Kitchen John must have passed by because we caught up with him some miles down the road.
We still had about 23 miles to go until the first contrôle of the day in Jonestown. Along this section I once again got dropped on the rollers and worked hard to catch up to John first and then Chip and Bill. In Jonestown I finally made a call to Grazie but she wasn't home. Oh well, I didn't worry because Tom was posting updates on rider progress on the web site. John left with us and we rode together through Amish country for about 20 miles before he had to fall behind because of a spike in his blood sugar level. This was familiar territory, as they are featured in many of Tom's brevets. Along the way we passed Amish girls and boys on bicycles and also the childhood home of Floyd Landis. His parents still live in the home.
We arrived in the New Holland Sheetz contrôle close to 1pm. I was hungry for a change. I had a Cuban flatbread sandwich, Sprite and a creamy orange smoothie with whip cream. Oh, the pleasures of cycling. I know I can eat all that and still be in a calorie deficit. Chip took my lead and also had a creamy orange smoothie. While we were at the contrôle John caught up with us. He didn't want us to wait for him so we clipped in and started our leg to the next contrôle, 35.9 miles away. Fortunately the way back to the hostel was not the same featured on the 600K, which involved a lot of steep climbing. This time Tom took it easy and decided to give us rollers instead. Again I was dropped. Again I caught up close to the next contrôle.
We arrived at the WaWa in Spring City at about 4:30pm. I was exhausted. Once inside the contrôle I entered what I call "squirrel mode," meaning that I look nervous like a squirrel, brevet card signed, running to the bathroom, then getting food, eating, cue sheet for next section, bike check, eat. I sat down outside the WaWa and getting up proved to be very difficult.
The last 34 miles of the ride were probably among the most painful. Not because the terrain was challenging, but because Chip scented the barn. He said he was feeling good and hammered. I was hanging on for my dear life behind Bill. At one point we were approaching a traffic light that was red. I thought "thank God," but then it turned green! Both Bill and I exclaimed "shit" at the same time. We both burst into laughter. I was laughing but still had to keep up with the Chip Adams express. It was probably one of the funniest moments of the ride. The misery of that last stretch was only matched by the relief of making it to the finish, 63h15min and 1000 km later.
At the hostel we were greeted by Bill Olsen, who seemed as excited as us about the arrival. He was volunteering on this ride since next week he'll be riding yet another 1200K, the Gold Rush Randonée. I showered quickly, joined the others downstairs for some chat. Patrick was on his way out, having arrived at 61h37min of riding time and Rick was long gone. He arrived just before 2pm, breaking his own record by almost an hour at 57h57min of riding time, and was getting rest to attend a wine dinner with his wife. John came in at 64h32min of riding time. I hung in the hostel common room until Jud showed up at 67h29min of riding time. It was past 10pm and I was starting to shut down. During the night the last rider, George, arrived at 71h10min. He had an epic ride, making an intermediate contrôle by only 2 min.
The next morning I slowly gathered my stuff and drove home. On the way a stop for another smoothie. But wait, now I was driving. Better think twice next time.