2017: Ornoth of the Hill People
My second year riding in Pittsburgh somehow felt both pleasantly normal as well as superlative and memorable in so many ways. Overall, I rode a ton, befriended some good folks, grew more familiar with my new hometown, set some new records, met all my goals, vanquished Pittsburgh’s hardest challenge, and had a blast doing so. Here’s my year in review…
My Original 2017 Goals
This time last year, I set four explicit goals for 2017.
Purchase and learn how to use a new Garmin Edge 820 GPS cyclo-computer. This was the first thing I did upon getting back to Pittsburgh in February. The 820 has a lot of new features, some of which actually work. The D-Fly integration with my electronic shifters has mostly worked, despite the added drain on the Di2’s battery, and I’ve enjoyed perusing my shifting data on di2stats.com. I created my own custom data field (feet of ascent per mile) for display on the 820, and got Shimano’s E-TUBE app working such that I can update my shifters’ firmware from my phone. While the 820 didn’t live up to what it should have been, it’s been a steady performer and a worthwhile purchase. Read my full Garmin Edge 820 review.
Ride both days of the 2017 Escape to the Lake MS Ride. My partner Inna’s support made this weekend expedition possible, and it was a lovely experience. Not only did I get to complete the event and finish on the very shore of Lake Erie, but Inna and I stayed and spent an extra day lounging on the lakeside beaches of Presque Isle State Park. It was very reminiscent of my Cape Cod trips with Sheeri back when she supported my Pan-Mass Challenge rides. Read my Escape to the Lake ride report.
Complete the 2017 Woiner Cancer Foundation 3-2-1 Ride. This became a primary goal after I missed the 2016 ride during my mother’s hospitalization. In 2017, they offered a special 80-mile route to VIP fundraisers from 2016 (which I qualified for), so on October 1st I saddled up for a long, chilly, flat ride along the Great Allegheny Passage from Ohiopyle back to Pittsburgh, most of it on crushed limestone rail trail. I enjoyed exploring some new territory while further increasing the amount of money I’ve raised for cancer research. Read my 3-2-1 Ride report.
Attempt my first Dirty Dozen race. Climbing the city’s 13 steepest hills, including the steepest public street in the world, this is an immense challenge, and the city’s most infamous ride. I missed last year’s edition while caretaking my mother, but this year I participated in all the training rides, then enjoyed an immensely fulfilling and memorable ride on race day, earning hard-won lifetime bragging rights. Unquestionably the highlight of the year. See my training rides blogpost, my full Dirty Dozen ride report, and my time-lapse videos of the most difficult hills.
Achieving all my explicit goals guaranteed that I had a good year. But there was an awful lot more to 2017 on top of that…
- Further deferring my job hunt gave me the entire year off to devote to cycling, and I made good use of the opportunity. I topped 4,000 miles for the first time since 2010. And I shattered my record for number of rides per year; this year’s 154 rides is about double number of rides I used to do in Boston.
- I continued meeting and befriending lots of local cyclists, which has been rewarding, and one of the biggest overall themes for 2017. It’s nice when someone recognizes you, which is happening regularly now, so I’m starting to feel more like a known community member than an unfamiliar outsider.
- I attended both the Spring Rally and Fall Rally organized by the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen, and got a snazzy new WPW jersey.
- I claimed 13 more tags in the BikePGH forums’ Tag-o-Rama cycling and photography game, placing me within the Top 20 players. It’s been an interesting way to learn more about the city. See all my Tag-o-Rama photos.
- I was quoted (anonymously) in BikePGH’s summary of their survey of cyclists’ attitudes toward self-driving vehicles, and re-quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article covering the survey. I was righteously amused. Read my self-driving vehicle blogpost.
- I participated in the National Bike Challenge, confirming that I’m around the Top 10% most active cyclists locally, state-wide, and nationally. Read my National Bike Challenge blogpost.
- I joined a half dozen other BikePGH forum readers in playing Velogames’ annual Tour de France fantasy league. It was interesting, but my team selections placed me near the middle of the pack. Oh well!
- I picked up an attractive graphic poster of the “Hell of the North: Paris-Roubaix”, which is hung above my desk at home.
- I continued to maintain BikingPGH’s Annual Ride Calendar, as I described here, and also iterated on my paper-based cycling wall calendar. Both have been useful planning tools that I’ll continue working on for 2018. Here’s a link to the full size 2017 version.
- I picked up two absolutely pivotal pieces of kit: a thermal cycling jacket and a pair of thermal full-leg bibs, both from my favorite manufacturer: Craft. Those have utterly transformed my relationship to cold-weather riding, and made even the 17° Dirty Dozen practice ride a pleasant experience.
- My Strava trophy case added badges for completing climbing challenges and gran fondos for April, May, June, July, and August, plus a gran fondo for October. Ironically, despite training for and completing the Dirty Dozen, as well as my 250,000-foot climbing goal, I failed to earn Strava’s climbing challenge badges for October, November, or December!
- That 250,000-foot goal, as well as the six centuries I rode in 2017, are highlights that I’ll discuss in more detail in the next section.
Last year’s annual summary included a chart showing that my first year riding in Pittsburgh utterly shattered all the previous climbing records set during my years in Boston.
In 2017, I eclipsed last year’s record, surpassing a quarter million feet of climbing (47 vertical miles), more than double the climbing I’d ever done back in Boston. My 62 feet of ascent per mile ridden is also a new record. You can see an updated version of that climbing chart by reading my 250,000 foot blogpost.
Also in last year’s summary, I used the Strava Premium and Stravistix TRIMP “fitness and freshness” charts to tell the story of my year and put it into context with previous years, so I’ll do that again here. In 2017 I used the detailed TRIMP charts exhaustively in planning my pre-event training and recovery, which proved remarkably effective.
The above chart shows my fitness level over the past twelve months, with major rides highlighted. Obviously, I started the year with zero fitness after spending five months off the bike while caretaking my mother. You see a big jump when I got home in February, followed by a period of consolidation; another jump in mid-April, which kicked off a lengthy and consistent improvement leading up to my first century of the year: the two-day Escape to the Lake MS Ride in mid-June.
After finally notching that first 100-mile ride, my fitness stayed at a high level through my four summer centuries: the Akron Bicycle Club’s ABC Ride in July (a new event to me), followed a week later by the PMTCC 3-State Ride (when my fitness peaked), then August’s Every Neighborhood Ride, and PedalPGH (which were both long group rides that I extended into full centuries).
My fitness dipped noticeably during a two-week vacation in September before a quick spike for my first 3-2-1 Ride on October 1 (a long charity ride that I extended for my sixth and final century of the year).
The next two months were spent preparing for the Dirty Dozen ride, but hill climbs don’t accrue as much fitness benefit as endurance rides, so although I was gaining power, you see a jagged slight downward trend in fitness there. After the Dirty Dozen, my fitness remained high to the end the year, while I polished off my goal of climbing a quarter million feet in 2017.
Tacking my 2017 fitness onto the end of the chart to depict my past seven seasons tells the same story in brief: beginning from ground zero, an initial kick, consolidation, and a second kick up to peak fitness. I stayed at a high level of fitness for a much longer time this year, thanks to training for November’s Dirty Dozen and my climbing goal-driven riding in December.
All that late-season riding drives the major difference between 2017’s curve and that of previous years: I’m ending the calendar year at a much higher level of fitness than ever before. Now, whether that will translate to better form next spring is an open question, and will depend on how much riding I do in January, February, and March.
I’m sure there’ll be days that call me outside for a ride, but right now I’ll happily take a couple months to rest and recover.
Goals for 2018
It feels kind of strange, but I’m going into 2018 without any major cycling goals.
Having two seasons under my belt, I’ve done all the new rides that I wanted to experience when I moved here, so I don’t feel like I have any unfinished business that needs particular attention.
I’m happy with my fitness, my equipment, my knowledge of the area, and the relationships I’ve been growing in the local cycling community.
So my overall attitude going into 2018 is: “Nothing specific, but more of the same, please.”
That said, there are a couple things I anticipate for 2018.
With a trip to Italy planned for May, I do hope to do some riding around the Tuscan hills, and hopefully spectate a stage of the Giro d’Italia, as well. That trip would probably be the highlight of my year, and it’s the only new experience I’m specifically targeting.
And there’s a rumor that GCN might be sending a crew to Pittsburgh next year, presumably for November’s Dirty Dozen, or at least a peek at the route. It would be fun to be involved with that somehow, although I’m not relishing the idea of doing that ride again!
And along the way, I’ll pass two milestones on my R2-Di2 bike seen here; I’ll eclipse 15,000 miles on it, which is just a round number, but at 16,800 miles I’ll surpass all the riding I did on my first bike—the Devinci hybrid seen here—reminding me that after five years “the new bike” ain’t quite so new as she used to was.
But other than those things, I’m happy to take 2018 as it comes. If it’s anything like how enjoyable and eventful 2017 was, I’ll have absolutely no cause to complain!