Another week off the bike and this past Friday I was more than ready to roll out. I took the day off work to join my fellow Philly Bike Club members on a ride from Valley Forge National Park to Saint Peter’s Village and back. The ride leader had pre-mapped the ride using RideWith, indicating 4900+’ elevation gain over 57 miles.
That’s more elevation gain than I’ve ever done in a single ride but the ride profile didn’t look unmanageable – more like rolling hills – and I was excited for the challenge of maintaining the advertised 13-15mph average over successive hills.
Keep in mind we are in the middle of a heat wave with Friday being the peak of the heat. And I’m barely acclimated to humidity. Just being honest here. From a weather perspective the high ended up being 97 with about 50-60% humidity.
The Intrepid Octet, as we named the 3 women and 5 men on the ride, met up at the Valley Forge visitor center and rolled-out at 9:30am. Valley Forge is in a hilly area and the elevation gain was definitely as advertised. Less rolling hills and more of going up, turning, and continuing up. The first few hills didn’t feel like much but after the tenth, fifteenth hill – you are feeling it in your quads and trying really hard to stay out of the lowest gear on your compact because is means you have to rely on your strength and spinning abilities.
Thankfully the roads were mostly shaded so we were spared the brutal glare of the sun on this extremely hot day. I focused my energies on not overexerting – which was difficult on the hills because my instinct was to hammer up them as hard as possible. And this being Pennsylvania, some of the roads were in less than ideal condition – holes, uneven surface, debris – which made some descents more like a mountain bike ride.
Our first stop was a gas station around Mile 23. Fresh ice water, Gatorade, and several minutes in the shade were very much welcome.
Temperature-wise, my cyclometer started at 89 and rose to a steady 102-105 temperature, eventually rising slowly to 113 before falling back into the 100-102 range in the afternoon. I’m assuming this is the radiant temperature (heat radiating off the asphalt) – and at every rest break we took, everyone was covered in a thick film of sweat. I took to dousing myself from a separate water bottle at every rest break to cool off.
Around Mile 24, I noticed I was sagging pretty far back from the next person in our group. I felt like I was working hard but couldn’t keep up. I glanced down to see my back tire mostly flat. No wonder that last downhill felt like I was riding on a rim – because I was! Fortunately, we regrouped around Mile 26 and noticed someone else had a flat as well. I mentioned I’d never changed a flat before and asked for someone to guide me through the process. The irony here being I’m scheduled to attend a bike maintenance class next week.
Impromptu Flat Repair Clinic on the side of the road!
It was dirty and messy and took us about and hour or so to get both tires changed, mostly because the other guy had special rims that needed a longer stem. He had a spare in the right size, but the valve broke off. After many fruitless attempts to get air into the valveless tube, we eventually patched his old tube with an “old school” glue-based patch kit and it held for the next 30+ miles. So thankful – the two nearest bike shops weren’t able to dispatch a remote repair.
7 miles later we sat down to lunch and, more importantly, air conditioning at Saint Peter’s Bakery. I’m still in the “I Don’t Want To Eat While I Ride” phase of cycling but I forced myself to down a can of Coke and a quarter of the amazingly delicious turkey-cranberry-herbed-guyere-on-apple-walnut-bread sandwich. Everyone encouraged me to take the other half home so I had it wrapped up and stuffed it into my back pocket, knowing full well it would not survive the 24 mile ride back to Valley Forge.
Our fearless ride leader encouraged us to Think Positive, The Worst Is Behind Us, It’s Rolling Hills Going Back! She’s a good ride leader.
And indeed I’m glad I didn’t phone my husband at lunch to call it quits. Yes, I was tired and hot but I didn’t *want* to quit. My concern was always being safe and in a heat wave, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are very real dangers. I was concerned about getting cooled off adequately. But the promise of an easier ride profile on the way back was the encouragement I needed to keep going.
Indeed the ride did get easier, the air started to cool off as we passed through the midday heat into the early evening. We stopped at the Whole Foods in Kimberton for one last rest break (and air conditioning and fresh ice water) before the final 7 miles back. We opted to forgo the Very Hilly route into Valley Forge and took the Slightly-Less-Hilly-But-Still-Very-Hilly route back to our cars.
It was 6pm.
I can’t say I’ve had more fun on a ride with Philly Bike Club yet. This was an adventure that challenged us and we survived. I am a super-planner kind of person and decided to just roll with whatever happened instead of trying to make it The Most Perfect Ride Ever. Health and safety over speed and time. Fun over everything else.
And yeah I got home, took a cool shower, changed into clean clothing and headed out to Camden, NJ for a heavy metal show. It was a great day.
* * * * *
Ride Length – 57.0 miles
Elevation Gain – 4600+ (based on my fellow riders’ GPS cyclometers. Note to self: want to get one)
Ride Duration – 4h 40m 3s
Total Time Out – 8h 30m
Max Speed: 33.5 mph
Avg Speed: 12.1 mph
Flat Tires – 1
Fluid Intake – 144 ounces, split between Gatorade (barf) and Propel Fitness Water drop-ins (awesome)