Back (and the Same as Ever)

I took a break from writing for a while. The whole “chronicling every ride of the year” thing got kind of tiring. Felt forced.

But I still like writing, and I’ve still been riding (spring finally, haltingly, arrived, and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it). So I’m going to get back into it, at least when I feel like it, which will hopefully be somewhat regularly. I’ve been seeing an uptick in subscribers, which makes zero sense unless something radical shifted in Google’s search algorithms. Who are you, people reading this, and how did you end up here?

I even returned to, the place where I used to regularly drop $40 to go ride around in circles with a bunch of 30-something hotheads, and registered for a gravel race/ride in western Pennsylvania in September. This event sounds like a lot more fun. I’m not sure if I’m going to race it or ride it. That might depend on how small the field is and how I feel after the first few minutes of climbing.

I’ve got other things in the works: some bikepacking trips, a drivetrain upgrade to my Masi, a new pair of bibs to wear out, the joys of having a backyard and a hose (no more washing bikes in the shower). Maybe an Everesting attempt if I can ever get up the courage. Plenty to write about. Then again, you can write about anything, can’t you?




#20: Logjammin’


Bike: Tom Joad

Companion: Nobody

In my ears: Crunching gravel, wind

I’d planned this ride-and-hike for awhile, ever since looking at the 30-mile network of trails at King’s Gap Environmental Education Center and the long section of gravel known as Ridge Road and wondering if there was a way to combine them into one really fun day. There was, and it didn’t disappoint. Yeah, the sky was overcast for much of the day, and there was an annoying headwind on the way out. But other than that, it was perfect. Twenty miles to the base of Ridge Road, then another 10 or so as the road climbed along the spine of South Mountain, offering glimpses of the Cumberland Valley through the trees. Most sections of road were in good condition, packed down by the somewhat-frequent car traffic (though I didn’t see anyone else); it’s Pennsylvania, though, so there were of course some minefields of giant-ass stones. I was on my Jamis Renegade with 32c Panaracer GravelKings and they held up great. Doing the climb on 38s or 40s, set up tubeless, would be even better.

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The round wound upwards at a steady grade. The sun skirted off behind some clouds and pretty much stayed there. Up on top of the ridge a lot of the forest has been logged. The trees looked thinned-out, even more so than normal before the leaves arrive, and there were rough roads for big trucks veering off into the woods at regular intervals and florescent tags tied to trunks, fluttering in the breeze. I don’t like the way a forest looks when it’s “working” for us humans. It’s just ugly. But I use paper like everyone else, so I can’t really complain.

At the top of Ridge Road I was greeted with a pleasant surprise: the Barrow’s Rocks overlook. Never heard of it before. Judging by its location miles deep into a state forest on gravel roads, not too many others have either. I snapped a few photos and kept going to the Buck Ridge Trail trailhead.

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I power-hiked for a couple hours on trails that I had entirely to myself. I’m always amazed how relatively few people take advantage of the incredible free public recreation areas Pennsylvania has to offer. I have no idea why the parking lots aren’t packed, why the trails aren’t swarmed. Yeah, it’s nicer for those of us who do use these spaces. But I wish more people knew the joy of being out in the woods under your own power, hearing birds call and looking down deep into streams so clear the water looks invisible. Is Netflix that alluring? Are family and work duties that all-encompassing? Personally, I don’t think so. Autumn says she has coworkers who have plenty of time but say they just don’t like being outdoors. Just don’t enjoy it. I can’t understand that.

With a tailwind at my back, the ride home was smooth. (That is, after the three-mile gravel descent on Cold Spring Road. Let’s just say that I was praying to non-existent god to not flat, and that when I hit pavement again I silently thanked non-existent god.)

I rolled back eastward, through the towns named for springs, through farmland slowly morphing into developments where everybody gets their four acres and an Audi, under a sky gone dishwater grey. On previous trips, already five hours in, I would have been tempted to just hop on 641 and take the shortest way home. But I’m trying to get more comfortable spending long days outdoors in the elements and inside my own mind, trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I think it’s paying off. I followed the route as planned, which took me on Lisburn all the way into Grantham. (I wondered if the good Christian students there drink and fuck each other like college students everywhere, except in secret and with next-day shame. Or if they actually are Mike Pence-pure, then just get married young and live mildly unhappy lives like our neighbors at our old apartment.) Up Mt. Allen Drive, down Hertzler Road where I used to do intervals before I realized racing bikes is a lot less fun than just riding them. Then the outskirts of Lemoyne, the cemetery, the nice swooping downhill on State Street under the train tracks. A right onto the Market Street Bridge, the Susquehanna sliding past below. City Island, greenbelt, and finally, home.

When I’m olderI know I will treasure the days I spent like this in my youth soaking up the world while I could. Seeing a lot, sweating a little, moving my body in ways it was meant to move. I don’t think any days spent like that are wasted.

Final stats: 64 miles. 4 hours, 26 minutes. 3,500 feet.


Relive: (part 1) (part 2)


#5: Perry County: Pennsylvania’s Alabama


Bike: Cannondale CAAD 12

In my ears: the sounds of silence

After last week’s sorta debacle, I’ve been motivated to train a bit harder. My sessions on the trainer this week involved more sweating and less easy spinning. I even pulled out the ol’ heart rate monitor for one of them. So I was interested to see how my long Saturday ride would go, especially since I haven’t done 70-plus miles solo in quite some time and I didn’t have any podcasts to listen to. Would I bonk? Would I go insane?

Fortunately neither of those things happened. It was actually a really great ride. I can’t remember a four-hour ride passing more quickly, with less annoyance/frustration/tiredness on the back end. Just a super enjoyable day on the bike.

I crossed the river and went over Lamb’s Gap, actually setting my PR by 10 seconds and inching up to 6th on the Strava segment. I took it easier on the Valley Road rollers, noticing how different the landscape looks now compared to when I was there last on a bikepacking trip in August. It was green and lush then. Now it’s stark and brown. Still pretty though.


I crossed back over the ridge on Mountain Road, which meets with 34 at the traffic circle up top. I’d wanted to do this climb for awhile, and it didn’t disappoint. A few miles at a gentle grade, no cars. A much better alternative to 34, which is full of Perry County denizens speeding in their F-150s to go watch football or buy beer. (Some stereotypes are based in truth.) Coming off Mountain, I headed west on Frog Valley, another new stretch of road that I absolutely loved. It would be even prettier in the fall. There was a bit of a headwind, but I felt okay knowing I’d have it at my back on the way home. I snacked on dates and hit the 40-mile mark without even realizing I’d been out for over two hours.

I did some exploring out-and-back up into a little valley; as expected, the climb I mapped at the end of the road was gravel, and I wasn’t about to get a flat in banjo country. Popped back out onto 74, buffeted by a headwind as I went southwest towards the ridge. Once I got onto the Waggoner’s Gap climb I was protected from the wind and my competitive nature took hold and I went for the Strava segment, pushing to the top in my 28 mostly (ended up 14th on the segment.) At the summit I took in the view of the Cumberland Valley; this time of year it looks like a threadbare patchwork quilt.


From there it was all downhill and tailwinds, plus a stop at Chipotle in Camp Hill to use up the rest of a gift card. I ended the ride feeling really happy, full of endorphins, barreling down Trindle Road at 23 miles an hour, pushed by a benevolent wind. Long rides like that–where there’s no weird annoyance or nagging pain in the closing miles–are rare for me, and I treasured this one.

After uploading to Strava back home I was thrilled about my PR on Lamb’s Gap and good times on the other climbs. Maybe last week was just an aberration and I haven’t totally lost my fitness.

Final stats: 75.5 miles. 4:17. 5,112 feet



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First Ride: Bogota

Getting here wasn’t easy. My plane landed in Atlanta shortly after the power went out. I was on one of the planes stuck on the runway that you probably saw on CNN. I spent the night in the airport like hundreds of other people, which you probably also saw on CNN (or Fox News, if you’re like my grandma). But eventually I arrived in Bogota, sleep-deprived and ragged. Yesterday I went for an eight-mile jog around the city to get a feel for the place and acclimate to the elevation–the city sits over 7,000 feet above sea level. My lungs seemed to do okay with that (thanks for raising me in Colorado, mom and dad!); the exhaust from the jampacked highways was the tougher part.

Today I met up with Julian, a cyclist and filmmaker who was a kind of local fixer in both the Aaron Gulley Bicycling article “Colombia Rising” and Therebouts III, which catalogued the exploits of the Morton brothers. Both pieces stoked my desire to ride here, so I’m happy to be able to have the same local guide.  Also, he’s letting me rent his bike, and speaks good English. Win-win-win.

This morning I took an Uber to his apartment, wandered around the block looking for the right building, asking where to go in mangled Spanish (apartamento? Julian?). I was turned away by multiple security guards and was starting to panic when I finally found him. He welcomed me in, I apologized, we got the bike set up, and headed out into the morning rush hour traffic. Fortunately, there are wide sidewalks with designated lanes for cyclists, which kept us off  the roads. But the amount of pedestrians, debris, and unsloped curbs that require bunny-hopping made for slow, stressful riding.

Eventually we arrived at the base of Alto de Patois, where we met up with Julian’s friend and began climbing. It’s the most popular climb around here (over 11,000 recorded attempts on Strava), and as we wound our way up the mountain we passed dozens of other cyclists, most of them riding mountain bikes and wearing Movistar or Orica jerseys like their professional heroes Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves. In the States, it’s considered lame to wear pro team jerseys, and lots of cyclists look down on people without pricey bikes or gear. Sometimes it seems like cycling is more about the gear, about looking cool (if that’s possible with shaved legs and lyrca). Here, people just ride bikes because they love riding bikes. It was refreshing to see that. And for what it’s worth, I can think of quite a few American riders who wouldn’t tackle that climb, especially on a secondhand bike. But ordinary-looking Colombians were doing it.

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After a short pause at the summit, we descended into a valley painted in all different shades of green. The road was jammed with cars and buses, and sections were under construction, so the going was slow. A few patches of gravel made me grateful for the 30 mm tires on my bike. A few miles later we turned onto what Julian called a “bonus” climb, which I will now call “a fucking steep climb with 20% switchbacks.” But it offered gorgeous panoramic views of the valley and nearby reservoir and homes stacked up against the mountains. I’m not complaining.


More descending, then climbing (there are literally no stretches of flat road here), into a village where we stopped at a cafe and sat in plastic chairs sipping a warm drink that is basically straight sugarcane juice. Unfortunately no arepas for the vegan. My local guides didn’t seem upset or offended. They just laughed and said that not much in Colombia is vegan. I was just happy to be riding with locals, having a more authentic experience than if I had tried to choose routes on my own and ridden alone.

We retraced our route  back up and over Patois, descended with cars zooming by on our left and soldiers standing with their guns to our right. The city traffic was even more chaotic than when we had left two hours earlier, and I can’t say I enjoyed weaving our way back to Julian’s apartment. I’m just glad I didn’t hit anyone on the sidewalk.

Final stats from the ride: 28 miles. 3,500 feet of elevation gain. 2.5 hours in the saddle.

As crazy as it sounds, this was an “easy” warmup day. Tomorrow the route is 60 miles with 12,000 feet of climbing. I should never have converted the meters to feet, because I’m a bit intimidated. We’ll see how it goes.

Check out the Relive video