Allegheny to Windgap
The run-up to this year’s Every Neighborhood Ride wasn’t promising. Four weeks ago, I struggled to complete the much easier ABC Ride (blogpost). A week later, my lack of fitness caused me to DNS (Did Not Start) on the Three State Century. Followed by 10 days off the bike due to weather and bad morale, I was unprepared for the rigors of Every Neighborhood, which has more climbing than any ride I’ve done, bar one.
Leader Jen, cramping Ornoth, and the intermediate group at the final rest stop.
Every Neighborhood is usually part of Pittsburgh’s week-long BikeFest, but BikePGH, the local “bike advocacy” group, decided it was too much effort to sponsor one of the few good things it does for people who actually ride bicycles. And so a rich 15-year tradition dies at the hands of the people charged with its survival. Fuck these so-called “bike advocates”!
Fortunately, the Every Neighborhood ride leaders decided to keep running their event, and they do an amazing job too. So about the ride…
A foggy, mild start. Left the house at 6:30am to get an extra 15 miles in, so that I’d finish the 72-mile “official” ride with an even hundred. Met up at the start with familiar faces like Jason, Jim, and Mike, and about 45 others, split evenly between two groups.
Hung at the back of the fast group led by Jake, but their pace was much faster than previous years, and I kept falling behind on the hills (there’s a shitload of ’em). Worse still, if I kept attacking the hills so hard, I’d pay for it sooner of later. At 9:40am I pulled into the Mile 35 rest stop, taking on fluid, brownies, and blueberry bread.
The next segment was a cluster. Four of us missed a turn, improvising a 2-mile detour back onto the course, then waiting for the main group to catch up. As soon as we regrouped, two guys split us again by balking at a traffic light, blocking myself and two other riders from getting through. The two jagoffs didn’t even know the route, blowing right past our turn onto Crane Ave. Knowing where we were, I hand-signaled a left turn, and the two innocent riders behind me (Saul & Marina) followed. Eventually we caught up to the main group, tho I shipped my chain twice on the numerous hills.
Hit the second rest stop (Mile 53) at 11:50 and plugged my GPS into a portable battery charger. The climbs and 86-degree heat weren’t helping, and I gave up solid food and went with cola, which in retrospect seems to be a short-term solution.
Over the next section, I shared time at the back with Marina, one of many first-timers, with occasional appearances by a flagging guy wearing pro team kit (tacky). I had to pause on the hill coming out of Frick Park, then as we climbed Forbes Ave up toward the final rest stop (Mile 72), my right thigh cramped and seized up solid. I stepped off and couldn’t bend my leg at all for ten minutes. But eventually I gingerly limped the last quarter mile to the rest stop, which coincidentally is inside a physical therapy/rehab business!
When I arrived at 2pm, I was dismayed to see that our ice and drinks—which are shuttled between rest stops by organizer Matt—hadn’t arrived yet! Within 15 minutes, the fast guys were out the door, but between my cramping and the lack of drinks, I wasn’t going anywhere. I used a foam roller to try to coerce my thigh into grudging willingness while waiting for Matt. I decided to recuperate and join the intermediate group led by Jen, and they rolled in at 2:45.
Having gotten a full hour of rest, I rolled out with my new companions at 3pm, keeping a close eye on whether my cramps were going to recur. Fortunately, the pace was slow, and I thankfully made it over Stanton, Webster, and up from the Birmingham Bridge into Oakland, although the heat continued to exacerbate my stomach upset. Having the route on my Garmin, I was able to serve as an informal second leader.
Along the way, I was shocked when one middle aged white woman expressed her impulse to get out of the Black neighborhoods “before we get shot”… This after having already ridden through Greenfield without her voicing any such concerns, despite the two open gunfights on its mostly-Caucasian streets in the past two days. So tacky!
I limped along with the others and happily rolled into the finish at Arsenal Park at 5:15pm, to a rousing welcome from organizers Jake and Kelley, plus my prior companions Saul and Marina, who had done an excellent job finishing the ride. We were an hour behind the more motivated fast group.
The ride always draws a large crop of first-timers. I’m not sure whether there’s just lots of optimistic newbie riders in town, or if the difficulty level discourages veterans from returning! Either way, there’s always a very high drop-out rate. Having underestimated the duration or the difficulty, more than half the field drop out at the halfway point, and more riders sneak off if the route passes anywhere near their house. Even within the final mile, many veer homeward without visiting the actual finish. That’s too bad, because there’s ample drinks, snacks, and camaraderie amongst the handful of true finishers.
After a rest and lots of ice water poured over myself, the party headed home and I made my way back up to Squirrel Hill, completing my fourth century of the year. I was utterly blown. I spent the evening staring into the air conditioner, followed by a cold shower before sitting on the couch absolutely immobile for three hours. The only thing I could force down my throat was strawberries right out of the refrigerator. And after so much heat and cramping, I didn’t have a restful night.
The Every Neighborhood Ride is always challenging, but the extra bonus miles, the fast start, the heat, bad eating habits, and cramping added up for a frustrating and extra-tortuous day for me. However, this ride brings people together like few others. Part of it is the long hours in the saddle with the same small group of riders, but it’s also sharing the suffering of overcoming this city’s relentlessly stupid topography. That stuff forges meaningful connections between people.
Here’s one final laugher for you. Two weeks hence, the next major cycling event is a 130-mile brevet put on by the Pittsburgh Randonneurs, on the McConnell’s Mills route I rode with them back in 2016 (blogpost). It would be a nice chance to ride with some good people and get a fifth century in. However, it’s also the one and only ride I’ve ever done that has even more climbing than Sunday’s Every Neighborhood Ride!
After such a difficult experience on the Every Neighborhood Ride, I have Major Doubts whether I could or should attempt a ride with 30 more miles and 25 percent more climbing!
So I’m going to bed. Wake me when my legs come back.