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Orny's Cycling Journal

Clean & Jerk


11 PMC Riding

Clean & Jerk

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12 MLR

It’s almost time: time for the 2018 Dirty Dozen, Pittsburgh’s signature cycling event, where participants ride up 13 of the steepest streets in this ludicrously hilly city.

After missing out in 2015 and 2016, last year I was finally able to participate, and conquered the official course, to my great satisfaction. However, after a lot of reflection, I’ve decided I won’t be riding again this year.

2018 Dirty Dozen jersey

2018 Dirty Dozen jersey

While last year’s event was fun and a very memorable achievement, it probably was also the most painful ride I’ve ever done. While cyclists often have love/hate relationships with challenging rides, the Dirty Dozen definitely maxed me out on the “hate” side of the equation. Having done it once and earned my finisher’s ribbon, why suffer even more?

Mentally and physically exhausted after last year’s event, I continued to push myself harder than I wanted to in order to complete my end-of-year goal of climbing 250,000 vertical feet. Between those two events, I lost all my hill-climbing desire. Well into 2018’s training season, I was still demoralized, lacking any sort of motivation at all. After making 83 ascents of Dirty Dozen hills in the fall of 2017, I didn’t climb a single one in the following ten months.

In mid-September, I grudgingly did three of the easiest hills and was okay. Although I was behind on training, I began to entertain the remote possibility of doing this year’s ride. Then a couple days later there was one fateful night…

First some background. In my writeup of last year’s race, I described the passage from the top of Logan (Hill #5) down to Rialto (Hill #6) thus: “Just mind the construction zone where half the road has fallen off the side of the cliff into the woods below…”

Well, last February an entire section of that road (Pittview Ave) did indeed “fall off the side of the cliff”, and nine months later it’s still impassable. Since that’s the one and only way down from Logan (short of turning around and gingerly riding back down), there has been talk about skipping Logan this year, and riding some other hill in its place.

Veteran Pittsburgh riders knew exactly the roads to consider: Ferndale and Dornbush, which are equal in difficulty to the hardest Dirty Dozen climbs. One Tuesday evening, when the regular Team Decaf ride leaders were absent, Dirty Dozen marshals Jason and Chris led us down to the East Hills to scout out those two roads. When we got to Ferndale, I looked up at the blatantly stupid slope and immediately knew I wasn’t going to ride this year’s Dirty Dozen. It hurt so much just looking at it, and—like just about everyone else in the group—I was too scared to even consider attempting that climb. No… fucking… way… period.

Still, I missed the camaraderie among the riders, so I decided I’d at least do some of the weekly training rides that lead up to the event. It’s a seven-ride series, where the first four rides each tackle one quarter of the full ride, then two that do each of the two halves of the ride, and the final ride doing the entire route two weeks before the official Dirty Dozen.

The first training ride was nice, doing the first three hills, plus the alternate version of Hill #3, all of which are easy (relatively speaking). I managed. A week later we did Hills 4-7, where I ran out of strength and had to pause for a dizzy spell partway up Burgess before finishing it. I missed the third training ride due to the intense joys of colonoscopy prep, and never resumed them afterward.

So no, I won’t be riding that sadistic sufferfest this Thanksgiving, and given how the season has gone, I’m not terribly surprised or disappointed. Been there, done that, paid the price, and got the finisher’s ribbon. As I said above, why suffer even more? Tho I reserve the right to ride sometime in the future, if my preparation is up to it.

Additionally, by not riding I have my first opportunity to see the race as a spectator. I hope to drive around town, leapfrogging the riders, playing “Event Photographer”. For decades I’ve wanted to shoot some of my favorite rides, but that’s always been trumped by actually participating in each event; but this year is the perfect chance to camp out and get some awesome action shots of a ride I really love… and really, REALLY hate.

So instead of dreading facing the ride or moping for missing it, I’m having fun getting excited about shooting it. Assuming all goes well, my results will be posted around the end of the month!

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