Escape the Rains
There are two kinds of rainy days on the bike. There’s days with passing showers but things dry out quickly; and there’s day-long pouring rain that leaves you no choice but to slog through to the end of the ride.
This year’s Escape to the Lake MS Ride had one day of each kind.
Rolling thru the second rest stop
A wet, grim start to Day 2
Midway thru a very wet Day 2
After a disappointing week in Italy, I had two weeks to train up (and then taper for) the annual two-day Escape to the Lake MS Ride.
I stumbled into some form by doing a slow ride up the Montour Trail with Pittsburgh Randonneurs Bill and De’Anna, for her last warm-up ride before her first 750-mile event. Understandably, it was a casual ride, but on the way home, I vectored off on my own down Bunola Road, which brought me up to an even hundred miles: my first century of the year. It’s nice to be able to do a century, completely unplanned!
Three days later I did a metric century up Sun Mine and Guys Run, which was pleasant. I had just enough ascending to earn Strava’s May climbing badge, in addition to their gran fondo distance badge. It was the first month that I’ve earned both badges since last August.
A week before the MS Ride, I did the regular moderately-paced Saturday morning group ride out of Performance Bike, but also did their inaugural fast-group ride on Sunday, which was fun. Then, a week before my event, it was time to taper my training.
I hate having to register for events (or reserve hotel rooms) ahead of time. You’re forced to gamble on having good weather, and monitoring the long-range forecast occupies me in the lead-up to any event.
After waiting, I registered for the MS Ride a week before, when the forecast said there’d be a small chance of rain and summerlike temperatures. Over time that changed to likely rain on Saturday and clearing on Sunday morning. We’d be directly beneath a stationary front, which would oscillate north and south all weekend, with disturbances traveling along it.
That was the story Friday night, but on Saturday morning’s forecast shifted most of the rain to Sunday. When riders lined up for the 7am start on the lakefront at Moraine State Park, it was a cool and dry 59°, but heavy overcast with ominous clouds.
The first segment was lots of up and down, and there was a patch of wet, puddle-filled roads where we’d just missed a shower. We got through it without setting soaked, but on one steep hill my slick tires kept trying to slip out on the wet pavement.
As usual, I skipped the first rest stop, which put most of the pack behind me. The crowds thinned out, and a group of a half dozen guys and I passed each other back and forth until the second rest stop, where they pulled off while I rolled on.
Mostly-shootable rolling hills punctuated the third segment. A group of five guys blew past me in a paceline, but those were the only other riders I saw on that entire 13-mile run. There didn’t seem to be as many riders on the road this year, which was probably attributable to the weather forecast.
After the steep ascent into Mercer, I took my first rest of the day. I was ten minutes behind my schedule, but that was fine, because I wanted to conserve my strength, being so under-trained this year.
The soaking-wet roads were reinforced with another round of sprinkles as I rolled along the up-and-down farmlands of the next leg. I arrived at the Sandy Lake lunch stop at 10:20am, still trailing my goal by a few minutes, so I had a quick ham sandwich and carried on.
After the lunch stop, the route follows a major road that carries high-speed traffic. It’s not my favorite part of the ride, but it does end in a ripping downhill to the Cochranton rest stop at mile 65.
But in cycling what goes down must come up, and there are two long, legendary hills leaving town, after which the small number of us on the full 100-mile route vector off on a big loop to add the extra miles.
At mile 77, my GPS told me that I was no longer on the route provided by the ride, so I backtracked a mile to the last intersection to verify the route markings. Okay, I continued, again leaving the GPS route, but after a couple miles with no signage, I stopped and started to call the support number to verify that I was on course. But another rider rode past, so I followed him until more signs appeared. It was probably a short detour, but I was uncomfortable that we weren’t on the route I’d downloaded.
Not long after, we rolled into an unexpected rest stop, where I learned that both the route and the mile 83 rest stop had been moved at the last minute. The town had stripped one of our roads and had planned to resurface it the day before the ride, but had been delayed.
At the ad hoc rest stop, I had to admit my fatigue and accept that I’d have to plod and nurse my way over the last 20 miles. The final rest stop at mile 91 came just before the last big hill, and I took a ten-minute rest there before setting out.
The last segment was a painful challenge, but I made it to the top of the ridge and enjoyed the final 300-foot descent to the finish line at Allegheny College in Meadville.
I arrived at 2:42pm, which was the slowest of my three times doing this ride, but most of that will have been due to added mileage from the detour, combined with my confusion and backtracking along the route. Although there had been sprinkles and some roads were wet, the predicted rain had held off. It was still really cool and overcast, but that had protected us from the summertime sun.
Evening was predictable. I checked in, got my bag, stored my bike, got into my dorm room, showered, and collapsed until suppertime. The food’s always good, and I shoved down a tray full of chicken, rice, pickles, berries, ice cream, and a cola. Afterward, I relaxed and watched a New England Revolution soccer match on my phone.
I also checked the weather. Originally, Sunday was supposed to be clearing and approaching 80°, but the oscillation that had given us a mostly rain-free Saturday was about to reverse. That was verified when, after a fitful night’s sleep, I got up at 5am to steady rain and a gusty breeze. Between the cold, wet weather, an aching back, and an unsettled stomach, I was not looking forward to setting out.
After breakfast, I kitted up with all the gear I’d brought and set off with the rest of the unfortunates at 7am into a heavy, soaking rainstorm. The worst part about riding in the rain is the initial getting wet, because once you’re soaked through, no amount of rain and puddles and road spray is going to make you any wetter. At only 54°, the first segment was just miserable. My only consolation was that I’d only have to ride in it for 65 miles: about four and a half hours.
After skipping the first rest stop, the rain lightened to the point where you could almost convince yourself it was going to stop. But the sprinkles returned throughout the second segment.
At the second rest stop, I gathered strength for the ride’s final noteworthy hill. Continuing through serious farmlands, I distinctly recall the absurdity of passing a group of a dozen girls in simple Amish dress, sitting in three neat rows on what looked to be a small choral riser by a driveway. I weakly waved a greeting and they all called out cheerful hellos. It was absolutely surreal.
After having slackened for a while, the skies opened up again after the final rest stop. However, the ride was almost over, and the final ten miles were mostly downhill. I arrived in Conneaut and rolled down into the lakefront park at 11:26am with no ceremony, but delighted to get out of the rain.
After steady rain and temperatures that never exceeded 57°, I spent no time enjoying the lakefront reception. I grabbed my finisher’s medal, a small square of oregano-laden pizza, and a Dilly Bar. Once the ice cream had disappeared, my only goal was to get warm and dry. So I biked up to the upper parking lot, grabbed my bag, commiserated with other finishers in the changing tent, loaded my bike onto the truck, and hopped on the chartered bus that would bring me back to the start line.
With Inna out of town, I couldn’t repeat what we did last year: staying in Erie and spending a leisurely Monday on a lakefront beach before driving home. Having left my car at the start line in Moraine State Park, the only way back was the bus. That was for the best anyways, because it was terrible beach weather, and I just wanted to go home and dry out.
Obviously, the ride’s salient element was the weather. The ride itself went well enough, and I’m glad to have a second century under my belt for 2018. But the rain and cold temperatures took most of the fun out of the experience. Happy to put the event behind me, I drove 45 minutes back to Pittsburgh, where—lo and behold!—I returned to a very welcome 80° and sunshine!