Road Ride Indoctrination

Last summer I rode my bicycle across Pennsylvania, and then some. I kept a journal for each of the six days of the ride. This is an entry for my first day.

.: Day 1 :.

Erie to Warren About 98 miles

Around 4am, I heard some sort of animal breathing through it’s nose while at a soft gallop through the woods. Right towards where I was sleeping. Not that a tent would give me any protection, but at least I would be invisible to the beast hurtling towards me.

Taylor was sleeping about about 20 feet away from me, and he heard it too. He yelled over asking me what that was. Like I had any idea. I yelled at it, and clapped my hands. I heard it stop and resume his gallop in the other direction. In a matter of minutes, I was back asleep.

In what seemed another few minutes, the sun was up, and it was time to get going.

I had a pretty crappy sleep overall. Not only was I worried about critters coming to eat me, I had a lot of anxiety about the ride coming up. I don’t need to get into the detail, but you can imagine what would be running through my mind on the eve of a six-day, 500+ mile bike ride.

Add to that, the fact that the heat of the previous day, and the cold of the night allowed water to condensate on my sleeping bag and thermarest. No tent meant that all that water was on me. I was soaked.

I walked down the hill and laid out my stuff in a sorry attempt to dry it out as I got my stuff ready for the day.

Since there was no real time to get food together for breakfast here in Erie, we ate the donuts brought from the Church yesterday. There was coffee, too. Needless to say, I only ate the semi-fresh donuts. Three of them. What a start.

After a while, we finally got rolling. My main riding group usually conisted of Heath, Hans, Pryor, Joachim, Christine, Selene, Plunkett, and some others each day. Well, that was the group that usually left together. Usually within the first 30 miles, the fast people always split off the front.

I’m not one of the fast kids.

Our group, and about 20 other riders, kept together for about the first 20 miles today. In my road-riding neophyte-ness, while in the pack I was more concerned with not hitting the people inches in front of me. Thus, I missed seeing a huge rock. I hit it. My hands came off the bars and my GOOD wrist took a bit of a hit. I was only going about 20 miles per hour, and thankfully I held on and stayed straight. Otherwise, it would have been a bad, bad day. I was scared shitless that something that bad could have gone that wrong that early in the ride.

But I got over it.

We rode near Lake Erie for a good part of the early ride. Before I knew it, we spotted a sign welcoming us to New York. A few people at the head of our group, spontaneously had a sprint to the state line. I forget who won that one. But by the time we came back into Pennsylvania about 50 miles later, I won…because I was by myself. And I didn’t need to sprint.

It was a rather fast pace today, and the ride was relatively flat, except for one or two brutal climbs. For me, it was a nice indoctrination for such an event. At lunch, someone said that at this pace we would be done by two pm. Nice.

I felt really good on the ride. Nothing hurt, I wasn’t tired. My only concern was being scared of what was to come, how much I’d have to do, getting blasted by a truck, or running into my fellow riders. All pretty low level anxiety, but it was in the back of my head. Good thing, probably…at least it kept me alert.

Aside from running along Lake Erie today, we rode through a lot of vinyards. Who knew that northwest PA had a lot of wine? Of course, we didn’t have time to sample it, but I would have if someone offered to stop.

We stopped for a water fill at about 25 miles. I was feeling awesome up to that point. But the stop kind of put the drag in my ass. I kept at it, but just a bit slower for the next 25 miles. This is the point of today where our group busted up a bit.

Head down and turning the pedals for another 25 miles.

The support crew stopped at some ice cream and mini golf place. In New York, I think…for lunch. They had a real nice spread with fruit, and peanut butter and jelly sammiches. Man, did I house a few of those. I couldn’t believe I had already ridden 50 miles by this point…that’s already the longest I’ve ever ridden a bike. Do I really work for a bicycling magazine? Damn. Only 10 times this distance to go!

It was at lunch where I signed Bill Moses’s yellow shirt. He had a photo of his son pinned to tbe back. Bill kind of kept pretty solemn. He’s older and riding this for his son. It’s a really emotional thing to see him out there doing this, but it’s fucking awesome.

I did a lot of riding on my own today, but I did manage to catch some good drafts. Getting pulled by people here and there really helped me out.

But the hills I got to at 80 miles were kind of tough. I actually like hills, but I’m not going to lie and say they’re not hard. These were really hard. It was hot, it was late and a couple of them were steep as hell. So, yes…at one point, I had to stop on the steepest hill. Only for a second, but I quickly started the grind back up.

Soon after those hills, we came across our first freshly tar-and-chipped road. Driving on these kinds of roads sucks. Riding on them ain’t much better. Funny how such a road can be super-dusty and gooey at the same time.

As luck would have it, one of those nasty little stones got in Selene’s derailleur and sent it off the bike. Otherwise, I would have never caught up with her. Christine had brought along a test bike from Bicycling that was in the support truck. Soon enough, the truck showed up and she was on her way.

I had left before her and foolishly thought she wouldn’t catch up with me. So when I got to the support van and they were out of water, I noticed her bike on the back of the van. Wtih a full water bottle. About six of us shared that water, since it was at the top of another killer climb.

Sure enough, just after I put the bottle back, she rolls up nearly desperately needing for water. Whopps. I told her what was up, and gave her mine. Luckily, the support crew had already started filling up water from someone’s house a quarter mile down the road.

I ate a ton of energy bars, beef jerky, and Sport Legs…I love the Sport Legs…today. Need to keep hydrated and full.

I took it pretty easy for the last 15 miles. I have a lot of riding to do, so no need to hammer to finish early, or keep up with the fast kids.

At about 98 miles, this was my longest ride ever. I was on the bike for JUST over six hours, and I rolled in around 2:30.

I took a really nice shower, and then had a really shitty massage. The lady giving me the massage actually told me that she was going to pack a 30 minute massage into 15 minutes. And she did. It hurt, and it wasn’t relaxing. Great.

All I could think of for the last 30 miles of the ride was getting a burger, a beer and ice cream. I didn’t quite get it, but we did go get a beer.

After a few places that were closed, or we were lost, we just went to the American Legion where our dinner was to be held in about an hour and a half. About 10 of us headed there. We went in, and my first of many experiences of how many people we touched took manifestation. All the old people at the bar thanked us, and the president of the club gave us free food and bought all of our beer. Amazing.

Plus, the lady who first gave us directions on the street…we ran into her again. Turns out her borhter died of cancer, and he was a huge cyclist here in Warren. Amazing.

After we got a good prime of beer and some food, the rest of the people came in. So all 80 or so of us, went upstairs for our real dinner.

The nice, giving people here made fresh burgers…not frozen…and pasta. We stuffed our faces, and drank more beer.

The meeting tonight was another emotional and moving meeting. Budd Coates got up, choked up and talked about how much the American Legion meant to him and his family when his dad was ill when he was a kid. You could hear the pins and tears drop in the room.

We met the people who cooked for us and fed us, and we moved on.

Taylor and I saw the most awesome green Dodge truck in town. Then about six of us found some little, ugly bar and had a few beers before heading back to the school. The name of the bar was the Busy Bee.

I had left all my sleeping gear outside to dry out while we were gone.

I came back, and decided to bunk it out under the stars again. It was a nice night, but before I fell asleep, the condensation started again and I was soaked before I even closed my eyes.


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