This was my third annual “M3ST”, having completed it in blistering heat in 2016, repeated in 2017, and skipped it last year due to lack of both fitness and motivation.
God approves of these cyclists' endeavor
Sunny Day on the Ohio River
Point of Beginning? 57 miles in?
In addition to moving the ride a month earlier, the organizers also changed the route this year. Riders started and finished on Neville Island, which (mostly) eliminated the need for riding on dangerous Route 51. It began with a hilly 25-mile detour into the Sewickley hills, took a slightly different route to the West Virginia line, a new rolling inland segment from Ohio to Beaver, and then jumped inland again (with more hills) before a final flat section through Ambridge. That added 4-6 major hills and about 20% more climbing to the route (6,667 feet in total), so it was a challenging day.
Although the 6am drive to the start was clear, the Ohio River valley was choked with morning fog, which still hadn’t burned off when we rolled out from the start (a Park ’n’ Ride lot directly beneath the I-79 bridge) at 7:30am.
The fog made the morning the most scenic part of the ride: crossing the Sewickley Bridge encased in mist, then catching dramatic shafts of light piercing the clouds as we began the first of nine major climbs. Sol—who was riding with me—and I had hardly warmed up when the first rest stop came at mile 16.
By mile 25 we’d done a big loop and come back across the Sewickley Bridge to begin the trudge toward West Virginia, joined by a rider from St. Louis who’d chatted with me about road conditions before the start. We were confused when the painted route markings diverged from the published GPS tracks, but they eventually came back into agreement.
Following two more major climbs, we rolled into the second rest stop at mile 37. It was getting warm, and I was grateful the water stops all had plenty of ice. We took a few extra minutes here before rolling out, knowing that the next segment would be long (30 miles) and arduous, due to three more climbs.
A mere three miles into West Virginia, I crossed the river for a further three miles in Ohio, then stopped for a photo at a monument on the Pennsylvania border that marks both the point where the three states meet as well as the “Point of Beginning” of the first American geographical survey of the Northwest Territories in 1786. I appreciated the irony of visiting the “Point of Beginning” at mile 57, having already exceeded four hours of riding.
After that came another hot, leg-sapping climb that eventually led to the “lunch stop”, a strip mall Subway sandwich joint. With the heat and hills wearing on me, I heartily welcomed the food, ice drinks, and rest.
In pre-ride planning, I’d imagined descending into the town of Beaver and stopping at one of two ice cream shops. However, coming so soon after the lunch stop, I pressed on.
As I did so, one of the guys from the Tuesday night Decaf rides caught up with me to let me know that Sol had flatted just a couple hundred meters back. I moseyed back and helped him struggle with his amazingly recalcitrant equipment.
Half an hour later, we were back on the road, but my water bottle was empty, so I stopped at another Subway on the route out of town to refill, where Sol and I were joined by another riding buddy: Phil.
Before us was another very hilly 20 miles. Along the way, Sol missed a turn and was relegated to the annals of history. Phil and I were delighted to descend the final hill back down to the flat roads next to the river around mile 92, and pulled into the Ambridge rest stop exhausted a couple easy miles later. There I got a popsicle, gulped down a bucket of cold water, and doused my head with some, as well.
We waited a bit to see if Sol would show up, but we were just eight flat (and downwind!) miles from the end, and were both eager to finish, which I eventually did at 4:10pm, happily picking up another century finisher’s medal. Although my moving time was only 6 hours 43 minutes, elapsed clock time was an unimpressive 8h40m, mostly due to long rest stops and Sol’s flat.
All told, it was a good ride. I’d expected a difficult day, and it was acceptably challenging, with enough new roads to keep it from feeling stale. The weather was stellar, although a little more cloud cover would have nice to mitigate the heat, which sapped my power. I suffered a bit but never felt like I was likely to crack. My biggest complaint was lots of eye irritation, which usually only happens to me in the spring pollen season.
With that, the first half of 2019 is complete. If you take the 2,137 road miles I accrued plus 1,363 miles on the indoor trainer, that yields exactly 3,500, which is more mileage in a half year than I logged in seven of the last eight full years! I’m also five-for-five on my target events, maintaining an excellent level of fitness, and on pace for a record number of century-plus rides.
And that’s quite a wonderful feeling after such a miserable year in 2018.