31 August 2007

One Day I Feel I'm Ahead Of The Wheel

Last night was the best short ride I've had in quite a while. 15 miles to Robesonia and back, and it felt great. I had less than an hour before total nightfall, so it had to be a short ride, so I decided to work entirely on technique. I focused on rhythm, speed and body positioning -- kept my head down and arms bent. Tuck position on descents and used the drop bars on the climbs.

I've also found that when the temperature is around 85 or higher, it helps to dump some water on my head every time I go for a drink, instead of waiting until my face is burning. Even at the height of exhaustion, this offers a tremendous boost in endurance.

Saw three other riders last night. One hoople with a complete Team Discovery Channel kit, which was interesting. At least he wasn't wearing yellow.

The ride also reminded me that the Summer is coming to a close. The evening rides will become shorter and shorter as night arrives sooner each day. Then again, Fall brings its own bits of excitement for riding: the scenery, the cooler temperatures. Can't wait.

29 August 2007

Getting Dropped Sucks

Here's my "aw man!" face shortly after being passed like roadkill tonight by some pro-looking* rider who was seriously moving. There was even a little WHOOSH! sound as he blew past.

In my defense, I was checking my phone at the time, but it didn't matter. This dude would've dropped me anyway. Tonight's ride: 24 miles, 422 Corridor.

*My definition of "pro-looking" = sweet gear, fast, shaved legs. Yes, I happened to notice the shaved legs. So what. Who wants to fight?

23 August 2007

Insect Protein

It never occured to me that after nearly a week of rain, the back roads would be swarming with every bug in the known universe, as well as a freakish few that were visiting from parallel dimensions. Rode a quick sprint around the 422-Gaul Rd-Wooltown-Big Spring-422 horn this evening (13 rapid-fire miles, struggled on the Gaul climbs -- again) and in the process ingested all varieties of flying insect.

Gnat, mosquito, horse fly, Japanese Beetle. Wait. Honestly, I didn't swallow any Japanese Beetles, but some such species of large flying exoskeletoned creature thwacked me in the ear, hard enough to make a loud THWAP! noise, just as I was descending the upper part of Wooltown at around 30-40 mph. Imagine descending really fast, and then imagine being shot in the ear with a BB gun. No marks or abrasions, just a LOUD JARRING POP SOUND.

Meanwhile, I passed a (very serious and pro-looking) rider on Gaul. He was descending as I was desperately trying to remain upright on the climb. I'm in this mode right now in which I believe that every other road rider is faster and better than me (they are). For the rest of the ride, I kept thinking, "That other rider would totally drop me right now." Yes, I often self-motivate with self-loathing. Therapy, please.

22 August 2007

Wooltown Road

Photo by Lauren. There has to be something wrong with this road. Poisonous snakes who hate bikes leaping out of the trees, perhaps. Something. Other than it being too short, Wooltown is awesome (Berks pronunciation: "WOOL-tahn").

19 August 2007

The Kutztown Half-Century

Saturday morning, I had a great ride to Kutztown and back by way of Leesport and Lake Ontelaunee (50 mile round trip). The night before, as I was falling asleep, I reminded myself to check the map for any nearby covered bridges. I forgot. And when I finally checked the map last night, this was the look on my face:

So that's the Kutztown University "Golden Bear," presently located on the north campus of my alma mater (class of 1994) between Schaeffer Auditorium and the library. It turns out that Kutz's Mill Bridge is located about a mile away from that damn bear statue. I noted the location of Kutz's Mill Bridge with a thumb tack on the map below.

The morning temperature had to have been in the low 60s, and there was an ass-kicking wind blowing in from the northwest, which sucker punched me from the flanks during the entire ride. And Lehigh Valley winds are famously powerful in the valleys northeast of Reading -- especially in Kutztown itself. Between the wind and the cooler early-morning temperatures, it took about 15 miles to really find some energy.

It's amazing what you discover around here when you actually *look*. I discovered an assembly of relics in Leesport known as The Reading Railroad Museum. It's a collection of vintage passenger rail cars from a time before Detroit and Big Oil all but killed America's rail system.

Take a ride on the Reading (below).

Several Pullman cars from the fabled New York Central Railroad (below).

The spillway bridge at Lake Ontelaunee:

And the map. Note the thumbtack marking the position of Kutz's Mill Bridge:

16 August 2007

Case Of The Slippery Sprockets

So the gear slips while climbing had nothing to do with my cassette sprockets being worn (which would've been weird since the Jake is new as of this past April). Turns out it was my Shimano chain that was worn for some reason. That reason? I'm told Shimano chains are "soft." Soft like Private Pyle on the obstacle. Replaced it with a steel SRAM chain and case closed.

By the way, I drove the Gaul route last night just to see what scenery I was missing. Saw two roadies (not together). One was cranking up Steely Rd and the other was descending Gaul. Glad to see I'm not the only one who likes the torture.

14 August 2007

View From The Spring House

This is the view due east from the historic Spring House, home of the "largest natural spring east of the Mississippi." I would verify it online, if only the joint had a website. But the signpost at the spring said that the house was built in 1735. Yet no website. Back to the photo -- the mountain in the center distance looks like a profile view of a crashing wave. That's steep.

Speaking of steep... I rode the same grueling circuit from last night, by the way. This time I avoided Steely Rd and hit Gaul Rd which seemed to go straight up for a full mile. Very nice. Fortunately, I was prepared this time. Though at one point the grade was so steep that after each crank, my bike would stop for a split second before the next crank. Crank--stop--crank--stop. Liquid hot magma in the legs.

However, I found my new favorite back road: Wooltown Rd between North Church and Big Spring Rd (location of the above photo). Long downhill traveling west, leading to flats along a creek and adjacent to a horse riding stable. It made Gaul 100-percent worth it.

Tomorrow I'm taking the Jake up to Spokes for a derailleur check. The sprockets slipped every time I stood up to crank. I concluded that it was my NO-SPEED fall the other day. Everything on the right: my hip, knee, ankle, and derailleur. Messed with the gears to make sure everything was aligned, but it didn't matter. "On the smoothest ride, there's a squeeky wheel" -Rush, Bravest Face.

13 August 2007

Dinky But Steep

This evening I was running late at work so I only had time for a quickie ride. I figured a 12 mile sprint around the horn would suffice, and I headed out along an abbreviated and modified State Hill Circuit. This time, I hooked a left off of Evans Hill Rd onto Faust Rd and cranked into the deep wilderness. I mean, real back woods territory. I love that this area goes from dense suburb to complete oblivion within a few miles.

Almost immediately, I hit a crapload of these dinky yet insanely steep little hills on Faust and Steely Rds. These wall-like rises are invisible in the Google Maps satellite photos so I had no idea, then again part of the fun is the exploration. Too bad I was losing daylight and, well, after a couple miles of this, my legs felt like they were filled with liquid hot magma. Not since my first ride of the season have I felt this crappy. And I blame both my missed breakfast and the steepness of those little climbs. Plus, my sprockets kept slipping the chain down for some reason, so what little energy I had left was spent trying to crank over these little walls (call them BIG speed bumps) with my sprockets going all herky-jerky at random.

You know what else didn't help? On my ride with Lauren the other day, I suffered a boneheaded NO-SPEED crash. In other words, I was stopped and I didn't pull my foot out of the toe clip in time before -- BOOM! -- down I went. Huge black and purple raspberry on my right hip and the frantic struggle to pull my right foot out of the clip has rendered my right ankle a little sore. Bam. Oh and I suffered a gnarly gushing road rash on my right knee. All from falling whilst at a complete stop. Doy.

The only redemption for the day was 422. Man, I love riding on that road. Really felt good sprinting at my version of high speed for five or six miles. I think I hit a second wind after the crushing warm-up, or maybe I was just pissed off at my "modified and abbreviated" circuit. What I'd give to have 422 closed to car and truck traffic for a day between here and Harrisburg.

UPDATE, 8/14/07: A year from now when I'm in better shape and more skilled, I'll read this post and laugh at all my whining.

My 2007 Bike

By request, here it is: the 2007 Kona Jake (click the image to enlarge). And the specs:

Frame size: 60cm (I'm 6'4" and my ideal frame size should be 61.5cm)
Frame tubing: Kona 7005 Butted Aluminum
Fork: Kona P2 700c
Braze-on fittings: 2 bottles, fender eyelets
Headset: TH
Crankarms: FSA Gossamer Triple MegaExo
Chainrings: 53/39/30T (I wish there was a bigger gear.)
B/B: FSA MegaExo
Pedals: Shimano PD-M324 (Custom addition)
Chain: Shimano CN-IG70
Freewheel: Shimano DEORE (12-25t, 9speed)
F/D: Shimano Sora
R/D: Shimano Tiagra
Shifters: Shimano SORA
Handlebar: Easton EA30 OS
Stem: Easton EA30 OS
Grips: Cork Black
Brakes: Avid Shorty 4
Brake Levers: Shimano SORA w/Tektro RX 2.0
Front hub: Shimano DEORE
Rear hub: Shimano FH-M3300
Spokes: 15g front and 14g rear stainless DT
Tires: Maxxis Locust CX 700x35C (super durable, so far!)
Rims: Sun MZ-14
Saddle: WTB Rocket V COMP
Seatpost: Easton EA30
Seat clamp: Kona Clamp
Color: Blue/Black

11 August 2007

Riding With Lauren

My daughter Lauren at the lake along Reedy Road. She ripped through 18 miles today like a champ.

The septic sludge at liftlock No. 47 E, one of the few intact Union Canal locks along the Tulpehocken Trail. From the Berks County website: "When the [Union] canal was in operation (1827-1884) the locktender's home would have been located on the land between the hill and the lock. Some of the men who lived in this locktender's home were Edwin Ball, Jacob Grubb, William Adies, Samuel Werner, and John Moyer. Their job assignments included operation and maintenance of this lock. Locktenders' salaries ranged from a maximum of $10.00 a month to a low of $1.00 a month, which they received in the later days of operation of the Union Canal."

The bikes of Team Spindrift at the end of the Tulpehocken Trail, near Reber's Bridge.

The historic Gruber Wagon Works near Wertz's Bridge.

Lauren is a better photographer than I am. Her shot of Wertz's Covered Bridge.

Lauren at the Gring's Mill bridge.

That's me at the Gring's Mill Bridge.

The one rider breakaway! Will the peloton catch him? Yes. Definitely yes.

09 August 2007

The Wertz Covered Bridge

One of my goofy riding missions is to "collect" covered bridges, and Berks County is a great place to start since it boasts five historic and notable covered bridges. Last night, I snapped up the first bridge: Wertz's Covered Bridge near the Reading Airport. (Again, pardon the poor camera phone quality. I swear I'm buying a new camera soon.)

Also known as Red Bridge, the Wertz is the longest single span covered bridge in Pennsylvania. The stats:

Length: 204'
Width: 15'
Built: 1867
Builder: Amandas Knerr
Truss: Burr
Stream: Tulpehocken Creek
WGCB Number: 38-06-06
Also known as: Red Bridge

One of my favorite aspects of any historic area is to find little physical details that aren't always noted in the visitor center brochures.

For example, the bridge is also adjacent to the old Union Canal. The canal was a massive structure with a history going back to William Penn himself. If you ride to the Heritage Center side, the gravel hiking trail along this bank happens to run parallel to a wide trench which was once the Union Canal. In places along the trail, you can even see the old stones used as the walls of the manmade waterway, and at the Gring's Mill park, the towpath and canal remain intact and preserved. More on the Union Canal here.

The bridge is the only Berks covered bridge which is closed to vehicle traffic, but on the Tulpehocken Rd side of the bridge near the park area, you can ride on a small section of the old road which once ran up to- and over the bridge. I love things like that. Remnants of old roads, old structures. I like to imagine what the terrain used to look like before progress changed the landscape (for better or worse, depending on the case).

One down, four more to go: The Dreibelbis Bridge, The Kutz's Mill Bridge, Griesemer's Bridge and The Pleasantville Bridge.

05 August 2007

Peace In The Middle East

It seemed like the perfect day for my first half-century, so I did it. The 50-mile round trip to Lebanon, PA and back. I really only "bonked" (lost all will to live) once, and it was just a few miles from home. I wrote it before and I'll write it again: 422 West is awesome for cycling. Just awesome. More details and a map later on.

03 August 2007

Judge Reinholds

Yesterday evening's ride (24.5 miles round trip) was an experiment in contrasts. The Old Fritztown Rd section through the low hills of northern Lancaster County were some of the toughest climbs I've experienced so far. Really steep and giving off that optical illusion in which "the top" isn't really the top, prompting me to breathlessly exclaim, "Oh f***ing hell!" several times.

But upon reaching the town of Reinholds at Rt. 897, the terrain leveled off into a rolling valley of flats and small hills. Where the Fritztown Rd offered civilization, 897 offered an endless cycle of simple Menonite farms, Amish homesteads, redneck farmers, and one or two isolated new-construction neighborhoods for the upper-middle-class folks.

The mission was to make it to Kleinfeltersville, but the setting Sun ended that quest. I had to turn back at around 12.25 miles into the ride. And it's a good thing I did. By the time I returned to the Berks County line, it was well past sundown and with no shoulder to speak of on Fritztown Rd, I would've been doomed in complete darkness had I continued on to Kleinfeltersville and turned back there.

The above camera phone shot was taken at the historic Reinholds Station Inn on Rt. 897. Information from VisitPA.com:
Historic Reinholds Inn was built in 1863 by Colonel Jesse Reinhold after its founder Colonel Jesse Reinholds who built a large and commodious hotel in 1863, soon after, the Reading Columbia Railroad Company had opened its railroad for business. This house was for a time occupied as a hotel, ticket-post-and telegraph office, with Mr. Reinhold as postmaster and station agent. During the summer Mr. Reinhold had his house open as a resort for recreation, it being generally patronized by wealthy Philadelphians. Now we offer the saloon downstairs and "The Station" upstairs, second floor, which is open for fine and casual dining offering dinner specials nightly.
VisitPA needs a proofreader. Official site for the Reinholds Station Inn.

02 August 2007

The State Hill Circuit

UPDATE: Not sure why the route isn't showing up on the map.

As promised, here's the State Hill Circuit. 12.46 miles according to Google Maps. I rode this one counter-clockwise and tackled some of the small climbs first. Reedy Road through Cacoosing was incredible, as was the wilderness of Wagner Drive (far upper right on the map) but the sum total of all the climbs on the right hemisphere of the circuit was insane for my feeble level of fitness. I noted before that Brownsville Rd is treacherous due to the traffic, but the scenery is stunning in the late evening with the Sun setting over Blue Marsh Lake in the valley below.

The descent on North Church Rd is super fast in places. I should probably check my brakes. In terms of sites on the ride down, the Jesuit Center has some impressive grounds, and be sure to check the view around the area of the cemetary.

01 August 2007

Bunker Hill

Another Razr camera phone shot. This one is from a 20 mile ride on July 26 through the farm lanes and hills northwest of Robesonia, PA. I snapped this one at the halfway point of the ride: the intersection of Bunker Hill Road and Tulpehocken Forge Road. This is about two miles from the Clover Hill Winery.

The Kona Jake At State Hill

Tuesday afternoon/evening, I made the 5 mile climb to the top of State Hill, then the 7 mile ride down. Here's my Kona at the peak overlooking Blue Marsh Lake. This photo was snapped at the top of the access road to the State Hill boat ramp on Brownsville Rd. The camera? My Razr phone. Not too bad for a really awful camera phone.

This circuit was both beautiful and brutal. Some steep climbs, heavy traffic, and not much shoulder room in some places. I'll post the route later.