At this time of year a completely flat metric century requires very little effort, so I don’t worry about any physical impact on my training. The biggest risk is if the date collides with one of the Dirty Dozen training rides, which this year it did not.
The Woiner Foundation supports research and treatment of pancreatic cancer and melanoma. Although I registered and fundraised for last year’s 3-2-1 Ride, I couldn’t participate because I had to unexpectedly fly to Maine to take care of my mother. So participating in and completing the 3-2-1 Ride was one of my expressed cycling goals for 2017.
Ornoth Starting 3-2-1 Ride @ Ohiopyle
Misty Morning Yough
Yough at Ohiopyle from GAP trail
The Red Waterfall
For the event’s fifth year, in addition to the traditional metric century route starting in Connellsville, they gave top fundraisers the option of an 80-mile VIP ride starting in Ohiopyle, the site of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house, as well as a memorable stop for me during the 2000 DargonZine Summit. Between the ride itself and the additional 14 miles of riding to and from the start at Heinz Field, I figured I’d extend it for my sixth (and final) century of the year.
Friday’s pre-ride packet pickup should have been named “luggage pickup”, as I collected my bib number, VIP rider’s jersey, a windbreaker, the event tee shirt, two water bottles, and two goody bags full of keychains, chain lube, sunblock, coupons, event info, assorted flyers, etc. I was given the choice of any bib number from 2 to 50, and opted for number 11.
Saturday was the off day between packet pickup and Sunday’s ride. But it was also the date of the first Dirty Dozen group training ride of the year. I attended that, which was of course a hard workout, covering four of the thirteen hills. Not ideal preparation less than 24 hours before a century…
Sunday morning I was up at 4:30. The temp was only 45 in Pittsburgh, and a stingy 37 in Ohiopyle, necessitating extra cold-weather gear. However, it was supposed to be 67 by the time we finished, and that huge temperature spread meant that I’d eventually have to stow all my extra gear, as well. The extra-quiet 5am ride to the start was cold, but I was fine except for my ears.
After checking in, I waited until the last minute to put my bike on the truck, thinking “last in, first out”. There were only about 25 riders on the bus to Ohiopyle, but that included FOAF Jen Braun.
During the 90-minute bus ride down to Ohiopyle, as the sun reluctantly rose I kept an eye out for fog. There was a lot of it around, especially in the valleys. Eventually we were deposited in a river outfitter’s parking lot, and I led the group march up to the bathrooms.
As planned, my bike was the first off the accompanying cargo truck. I grabbed it, did my final setup, and rolled out a little before 8am. No ceremonial group start for this group! Before leaving town, I stopped briefly to get some photos of the river and a selfie in front of the former Ohiopyle train depot at the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trailhead.
After that, it was just a whole lot of crushed limestone rail trail, with virtually no other people in sight. Although I wouldn’t call the scenery monotonous, it was definitely mile after mile of the same thing: a steep wooded hillside going upward on my left, a flat spot for the trail, and then a wooded hillside sloping down about 50 feet to the Youghioheny River on the right, with more woods on the far shore. It didn’t seem deserving of the local nickname “the Yough”, which is pronounced “Yuck”.
A little earlier in the year the trail would have been inundated with wildflowers; a little later, and you’d have beautiful fall foliage. But despite the odd timing, it was very scenic. There wasn’t much fog, which I ascribed to the rapidly-moving water, but the misty morning still provided ample photo ops.
About 18 miles into the ride we crossed through Connellsville, where the metric century riders had started their ride. There was a little more foot and bike traffic on the trail near these small towns along the way, especially as the day warmed up. However, past Connellsville the trail wasn’t quite as scenic as that section starting out in Ohiopyle.
The riding was easy, with the early sections being an imperceptible descent transitioning into pan-flat. My GPS registered a stunning 3.3 feet of climbing per mile, making it by far the flattest ride you’ll ever find around Pittsburgh. It was very comfortable riding… at least at first.
One of the downsides of the 80-mile VIP route was that there were no extra water stops; we wouldn’t reach our first one until mile 45, at Cedar Creek Park in Port Royal. By then it was 10:30am and I needed food and fluid, since my winter gloves prohibited eating anything I carried with me while riding. Sadly, all they had were unripe bananas and a horrible sugar-free “electrolyte drink” with the same nutritional “benefits” as the emetic ipecac. No sports drink at all! I settled for one Rice Krispy Treat and unadulterated water.
Rolling on, things got uncomfortable. The lack of any descending meant it was impossible to coast. I had to keep pumping my legs incessantly, which began to grate after three or four hours. And getting out of the saddle to stretch only reminded me that I’d climbed four of the steepest hills in Pittsburgh the day before. On top of that, the unforgivable lack of food and drink left me weaker and more depleted than usual. And with the temperature rising through the mid-60s, I was starting to poach inside my winter gear, despite the easy pace.
It was all topped off by the frustration of being unable to operate my bike computer, because the touchscreen wouldn’t respond to my full-fingered winter gloves. In a deliriously joyful flash of insight I realized that if I bent down toward my handlebars, I could operate the touchscreen with my one bare extremity—my nose!—but the screen became unreadable after three or four swipes of a sweaty, greasy nose.
An hour and a half of that kind of thing, and I arrived at the second rest stop: in Boston (PA). This is where everything turned around and started going right for me again. To begin with, Boston was my first sighting of familiar territory; it was the farthest I’d ridden down the GAP (or up the Yough) from Pittsburgh, which meant the end was getting closer.
It had turned into a beautiful day, so I stripped off my excess gear: winter jacket, arm warmers, winter gloves, and leg warmers. It felt great, but it took some time and effort to jam all that stuff into my saddle bag and jersey pockets!
More importantly, there was food! They had a variety pack of snacks, so I ate a bag of sour cream & onion potato chips, and a bag of barbecue potato chips, and a bag of cheese curls, and some of the dried fruit left in my pockets. Although they still only had water and that ipecac drink, I spent $2 on a bottle of Gatorade from the trailside souvenir shop, so I was able to get back onto my regular fueling protocol.
Things got even better after convincing myself to get back on the bike. The trail transitioned to asphalt, making for a much smoother and easier ride. While the crushed limestone surface hadn’t been bad, I’d worried about the chance of getting a flat tire.
In no time we reached McKeesport, which is my frequent turn-around point on my excursions from Pittsburgh. A few days earlier, there’d been a big coal train derailment that had caused a detour for trail users, but we used the usual route, seeing only a few workers finishing some cleanup.
90 minutes later, at 2pm I crossed the Allegheny and rolled down toward Heinz Field. I passed under the finish line balloon arch, but the event photographers weren’t in the mood to capture that moment. Still, I claimed my VIP finisher’s medal and rolled over to the food tent.
I spent some time munching at the finish line, cheering riders coming in and giving feedback to Ric, one of the event’s founders. I made sure to emphasize the near-fatal drink mixes.
After not-quite-enough rest, I hopped back on the bike for the ride home. Instead of going directly, I went up the Allegheny, climbed up through Highland Park, and across town. That added just enough mileage for me to finish with an even 100 miles, completing that sixth century of the year.
Not yet complete, however, was the desperately-needed cleaning of the bike, which—after 65 miles on a crushed limestone bike trail—was absolutely filthy. Ugh!
As expected, the 3-2-1 Ride was a nice experience, and I enjoyed being able to participate, after having been out of town last year. It was fun being able to ride back from Ohiopyle, over a long section of the GAP trail that I’ve never seen before. Although it shares the late-season time slot, it didn’t interfere at all with my Dirty Dozen training. It was nice to support a small but growing grassroots cycling fundraiser early in its history. And I added another $590 to my already impressive sum of money raised for charity, and specifically for cancer research, treatment, and prevention.