When Michelle and I came up with the idea for this blog we wanted to capture this segment of our lives while we planned and prepared for our wedding. I’m going to do my best to keep the non-wedding content to a minimum (at least on this site) over the coming months, but to be honest cycling is a pretty big part of my daily life and a very big part of why I want to marry Michelle.

On the surface I could tell you all about how supportive she is, and how she took up the sport just to spend more time with me. I could tell you about how she patiently waits to eat dinner a little bit later on nights that I train. I could even go on about how she canceled her weekend plans to drive halfway across the state to rescue Jamie and me (actually I will tell you about that one).

What I really want to share that most people don’t know is that Michelle was my inspiration so many years ago to start living a healthier lifestyle. Michelle quickly became my best friend soon after we met, and even then I could tell how much she cared about my well being. I don’t want to get into all the details of it, but it was her motivation and support that helped me turn everything around, and I can’t thank her enough.

End mushy stuff, begin mashy stuff.

“Crush the Commonwealth – A 400 mile challenge to from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Just you and your bike. No support, no spectators, no prizes.”

I really don’t know where the hell we got the urge for this and what Jamie was thinking when he suggested it half a year ago, but this past weekend my team and I competed in an annual race across Pennsylvania. Each year the race switches directions, and this year went from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to Point State Park in Pittsburgh. It was half of a joke for us over the winter. We’d tease each other about training for this nightmare and didn’t really consider it seriously until last month. It was during the Fiesta party that we were finally able to sit down and commit to the race. We then promptly got up and took stupid pictures.

Fast forward to Thursday night, and I found myself running around like crazy trying to get everything ready for the 5am Friday start. I managed to finish up last minute equipment checks on the bike, packing a ridiculous amount of food, and assuring the fiancee I’d be ok all before 11pm and was quickly off to bed.

It’s important here to note that she had good reason to be concerned. During my first 100 mile challenge last summer I didn’t account for proper nutrition and lost a crippling 13lbs. It took months to recover the weight, and I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice. I now devote extra attention to what I eat and drink on the bike, and choose Hammer Perpetuem and GU Energy Gel to supply the bulk of my race calories.

Morning came way too fast, and before I knew it we were at Eric’s apartment in Northern Liberties making our final preparations for the race.

The Liberty Bell was a short ride from Eric’s, but even after starting the race there I still have never seen that actual bell. Unfortunately, I’m also a total wuss, and the first hour or so of the race is missing from my pictures because I was too cold to take my gloves off. It finally warmed up, and we had made it through the city, up the river trail, through Manayunk, down to Phoenixville, through rush hour, and out towards Lancaster.

You always know when you’re riding through Lancaster as it seems like no matter when you get there they just put down fresh fertilizer. This was by far my favorite part of the race though since I really enjoy taking in the peaceful vibe of the PA Dutch countryside.

Farms, buggies, Amish, and horse poop came and went but soon we were in downtown Lancaster which is much different than I expected. It was here that we had our first mechanical problem, but by stroke of pure luck Eric managed to destroy his tire less than a block away from the coolest bike shop in Lancaster. This place was full of old cycling goodies and also the team that was previous in first place. They needed to replace an entire wheel so we quickly got Eric’s new tire, bid them good luck, and took over the lead. (Dont worry, they passed us shortly after)

The morning was flying by, and I couldn’t believe how good I was still feeling. A quick glance down confirmed it, and I was on track to beating my previous 100 mile time by nearly 3 hours!

The first 100 miles were done. I was happy, but then remembered we were only halfway done day 1. The best part about halfway done though was lunch. All day we had been planning on stopping at this small vegan burrito shop in York, PA. Burritos? Yeah I know, but the place was awesome and I fucking love burritos.

We spent a good deal of time enjoying our burritos too. I think a couple of other people must have passed us during lunch, but I didn’t really care. We were clearly the hares in this tortoise race, and it was part of our strategy from the beginning. After lunch it was a slow rolling for a while, but once the food settled we were back on the grind.

This part of the day is pretty hazy (probably due to burrito coma) and I just remember riding through a bunch of really small towns and really long open roads. It wasn’t long though before the mountains started to loom in the distance.

The BikeSport group I ride with on Tuesdays had warned me about these climbs, but I didn’t think much of it then. I don’t think much of them now either, but after riding 150 miles even the slightest grade was met with a fury of curse words.

We made it through the first section of hills without too much trouble and soon found ourselves in some one light town that I think the local called Arendsville. He was a riot and helped lift our spirits for the remaining climb into Chambersburg. When I asked another local though how far Chambersburg was his reply was “Over those mountains and a lot farther than you’d like”.

We eventually made it to Chambersburg though. This was a special achievement for me too as for years my great friend and roommate, Hocker, had talked about this town like it was legend. It was a cute town, and I’d like to go back sometime to get the tour. Our original plan was to spend the night here and recharge, but with some good sunlight left and rain in the forecast for Saturday we made the executive decision to push on to Breezewood, another 50 miles that would see our speed, the temperature, our visibility, and our spirits drop severely.

Unfortunately, an early knee pain was now developing into much more serious pain for Jamie. The extra climbing we were seeing now was a bad mix for him, and it soon started to take it’s toll on me too.

So back to that plan of ours. The whole idea behind this race is the absence of support. You really are on your own out there and have to plan accordingly. Our plan consisted of traveling as light and fast as possible while making use of modern amenities and facilities. This all changed once we decided to push on to Breezewood. As the sun set completely, riding became increasingly difficult. I always forget this, but out in the country it gets freaking dark. Like pitch black dark.

Navigating your fancy carbon race bike over gravel and potholes in the middle of nowhere sucks. As Michelle would later tell me, “Every time I talked to you you sounded great except for later in the night..” The fact of the matter is that I was hurting, and we were having trouble finding our way to the next point. It was getting late and cold, but we finally made it to the section of abandoned turnpike that would take us through two tunnels and under the remaining mountains.

This section was bitter sweet as I knew we were getting closer, but the road surface was nearly unridable. The state closed this section of road decades ago, and most of it has crumbled away into large holes and rocks.. not exactly what my skinny tires and butt were made for. It was also creepy as hell because here we were in the middle of nothing on a beat up stretch of road in pitch black and silence. The only sounds came occasionally from some rustling in the woods and the wind through the trees. It also didn’t help that Jamie’s wife Laura had warned us about zombie hobos living in the tunnels earlier.

That “easy” extra 50 miles took us a little over 4 hours and was probably the worst time I’ve ever spent on a bike, but we finally made it to Breezewood and capped off a 210 mile day with dinner at Sheetz. I should also mention that for the last 25 miles or so we were joined by Dan who we had met earlier in the day and caught up with us. He was a huge help in navigating, and Jamie and I both agreed he might be Eric’s long lost brother.

Yes, Jamie ate a french fry sandwich.

No, he did not finish it.

Our oasis in the desert was the lovely Howard Johnson. It was only $54 for the night, and Dan joined us to make it a 4 way split. It might have been one of the crappiest hotels in town, but it was our overnight paradise and offered a hot shower, comfy bed (even with Eric hogging the sheets), and Sportscenter highlights of the Flyers overtime win to stay alive in the playoffs.

The next morning was rough. We awoke to a weather forecast predicting heavy winds, a drastic drop in temperature and the possibility of freezing rain/snow. Jamie was still in considerable pain and was even having trouble bending his leg. I had also tightened up overnight was feeling pretty shitty. I knew I had another 100 miles in me, but it was 200 miles to Pittsburgh and getting stuck out in the rain would have been bad news. Jamie and I reluctantly decided to withdraw from the race with Eric and Dan continuing on to Pittsburgh. We wished them good luck and called Michelle to come rescue us.

It would be another 3 hours before Michelle arrived, so we helped ourselves to breakfast! The dining area required us to cross parking lot and after the 25 yard walk we knew dropping out was the right decision.

Overall, I’m disappointed to not have made it all the way to Pittsburgh. On the other hand I’m pretty pleased to have ridden over 200 miles in a day, shattered my previous 100 mile time, and still be able to walk around and have lunch with my Mom on Mother’s Day. It was a great weekend with the guys, and I look forward to our next challenge.

210 Miles ridden
14.75 hours on the bike
19 hours elapsed
1 flat tire
Avg speed before Chambersburg – 16 mph
Avg speed after Chambersburg – 11.3 mph
Max speed – 47.6 mph
5,725 calories ingested
zero weight lost!