Scenic Schuylkill, City to Shore, and Me

Friends, if you are ever in the Philadelphia area the second weekend in September, I highly encourage you to sign up for Philly Bike Club’s Scenic Schuylkill Century. This year was my second year riding and I hope to keep going as long as I have friends to help the miles pass.

discussing the day ahead (I'm in the foreground)
discussing the day ahead (I’m in the foreground) / photo by the guy at 2WheelsAndSomeNuts

 

The Scenic Schuylkill is an incredibly well-supported ride that showcases the beauty of the area just outside Philly. Starting at the iconic Boathouse Row and winding north into the hills of Manayunk to Cedar Grove then on to Evansburg State Park. The view of Philly from Potshop Rd is unmatched – the city so far away it’s ethereal. From Evansburg you can choose to head back to the city (and complete a metric) or head northwest to Schwenksville. Do not be discouraged by the 6,000+ feet of elevation gain – there are very few monster hills. The hills are really after the second rest stop in Evansburg State Park and are more rolling-hills than Super-Steep-Why-Am-I-Doing-This.

omg my back hurts from all that climbing!
omg my back hurts from all that climbing! / photo by the guy at 2WheelsAndSomeNuts

 

Which, if you like sudden steep and long climbs, go ride the Suburban Cyclists Unlimited’s Quad County with ICU Option and Lake Nockamixon Century, both of which will punish your legs and lungs (and lower back). Or move to Colorado. I’m sure my Colorado friends are laughing at me right now …

Another rest stop at Camp Hope then more climbing before you see more downhills than uphills. Do not be fooled though – there are still some hills on the way back into the city. But nothing compares to bombing down Main Street in Manayunk on the way back to pizza and liquid refreshment.

great shot of the countryside's beauty and rolling hills
great shot of the countryside’s beauty and rolling hills / photo by the guy at 2WheelsAndSomeNuts

Improved my time this year as well – 102 miles in 7:40 last year; 103 miles in 7:20 this year. And yes, I made it back to the start in time to get a few plain slices and two full-sugar sodas. No, I didn’t feel bad about that.

 

Three weeks and not enough riding later, I set off on another century, the annual Bike MS: City to Shore ride from Cherry Hill, NJ to Ocean City, NJ. This is most people’s Big Ride of the year and they train all summer for it. As a year-round cyclist who tries to keep her base miles around 50, this is probably the easiest century in the area. It’s mostly flat – only about 1900′ of elevation gain and probably only because of the two bridges at the end of the ride to get over the harbour to the Shore. It is incredibly well-supported – the century alone has about seven opportunities to take a break.

My neighbor and bike commuting friend and I carpooled to the start again. This time instead of sitting in off-ramp traffic, we opted to go one more exit further and parked within minutes. Unfortunately this also meant not getting to the festivities at the main start but we were only a quarter of a mile up the (not very well maintained) road. We hit the road around 6:15am – before the sun came up. Totally didn’t think it though so I borrowed my friend’s long-sleeve lightweight shirt to stay warm until we got past the first rest stop.

I also opted for my new lightweight thermal three-quarter tights from Twin Six. Picked them up at an incredible deal during a sale and they are supremely comfortable. Perfect for the chilly autumnal mornings when you need a little more now that won’t overheat you later.

We ended up skipping the second rest stop option (“Lunch Stop Ahead!” “wait – it’s only 8:30am … too early!”) and also the century loop rest stop, averaging about 25 miles between rest stops. We took only 15 minutes at each stop – enough time to use the port-o-let, refill water, shove some food in our faces and hit the road again.

I should note two things here:

1. I was having stomach issues again leading up to this ride and sure enough there was about a 25-30 mile portion in the middle of the day where I struggled to keep it together. I felt really bad for my friend because I had to dial down my speed a bit because I was hardly eating and didn’t want to bonk from over-exertion/under-nutrition. And I wasn’t talking at all because I felt incredibly nauseous. I eventually got back on the level, picked up the speed, and finished strong.

2. I have decided to improve my spinning and stayed in the little ring all day. Averaging 17+ mph on significantly more miles than not was incredibly gratifying and my legs still felt relatively fresh at the end of the ride. I’m hoping this winter will continue to be fairly mild (let’s be honest, I miss big snows) so I can continue to work on increasing my cadence enough to switch to the big ring and spin the hell out of a bigger gear.

The weather was perfect for the ride. My favorite moment was between the two bridges when you are on a little two-lane road right up against the beach, the ocean waves crashing and rolling up the sand. SO PERFECT. I was so sad that I wasn’t going to be spending one last weekend Down The Shore.

 

But the reason I wasn’t staying down the Shore was because I had an appointment to get some new ink. I was supposed to get it last year but it didn’t work out. This year I made it happen.

my new ink
my new ink

My tattoo artist is the best in the biz and she was guest spotting at a shop on Long Island, a few hours from Philly. The piece is Cycles Perfecta by Alphonse Mucha (1902 bicycle company advertisement) that perfectly captures the essence of a girl and her bicycle.  Four hours of line work with minimal breaks (like 10 min each hour). Next time I see her it will be to get this colored in.

In health news, I had an endoscopy this past week and they biopsied some tissue for testing. Hoping to know more next week – praying for a relatively easy fix. I’m tired of feeling terrible all the time. My diet is severely limited some days. I lost five pounds in a few weeks due to dwindling appetite. Funny how fasting the day of the procedure was NBD because not eating keeps me feeling relatively normal. Totally unsustainable, I know. That’s why I’m getting help.

 

This weekend is expected to be gorgeous but I’m going to take a quick break from my bike. Even though I really want to go mountain biking.

 

1. Tattoo needs to stay out of the sun. It’s going to be too warm for long-sleeves and it’s not ready to put sun sleeves on (elastic at the top).

2. Health. I need to take care of myself until I hear back from my GI doc. I can tell you 100% I did not eat enough on my City to Shore century – less than I did for the Scenic Schuylkill (and that wasn’t much). And I still need to get back into running – my 5k is in about a month. And it’s been that long since my last attempt at running.

 

So maybe not this weekend, but I’ll see you on the road or the trail soon.

 

Scenic Schuylkill Century Recap

Yesterday I conquered my first century. It was brilliant; it was fun; and it was challenging.

I spent a lot of time in the days leading up to the ride oscillating between “OMG I AM THE BIGGEST IDIOT for signing up for this” and “I am going to ROCK THIS THING!” I both doubted my abilities and had confidence that I had trained well.

Saturday night I prepared a carb-tastic dinner of spaghetti and turkey-meatballs for the family (I also had some buttered whole-wheat bread) and went to bed early.

Sunday I was out of bed at 4:45am to get a quick shower (nothing like starting an all-day ride fresh), breakfast, and finish up last-minute preparations. Breakfast consisted of a Morning Star veggie sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and my daily multi-vitamin washed down with a full glass of water. I carpooled down to the ride start with my commuter friend and another woman from our general neighborhood – they were riding the century on a tandem. (MAJOR props to them)

The weather day-of was spectacular – blue skies with fluffy clouds, high in the mid-70s, low humidity. I found Lou, a guy I’ve ridden with on other Philly Bike Club rides. It’s his first century too … hooray for a ride buddy! Interestingly, there were a lot of first-timers like myself on the century ride – many of them older gentlemen who I’ve ridden with before and thought they ate centuries for breakfast.

The start of the ride was kindof spectacular. 700 riders came out for the event and the century riders were up first in the gate. The sheer spectacle of us coming out of the parking lot and riding around the front Philadelphia Museum of Art was awesome for sure. Spinning down West River Drive to the Falls Bridge en masse – and then rolling into Manayunk and the first of many hills to come.

Happily we did not have to ride the towpath – but it sure is beautiful. (Image credit: http://www.comitta.com/blog/?p=52)

(You may have heard of the Manayunk Wall – a fabled half-mile of sheer 10% grade pain. These weren’t that bad – but still had significant grades around 5%.)

The rest/aid stations are set up in camp facilities – very rustic but welcoming. The mechanics were stationed outside the “mess hall.” The atmosphere around each one was warm and welcoming; the spreads were incredible. Homemade cookies, brownies, fresh fruit like grapes, c antelope and watermelon, pb&j sandwiches on whole wheat … and plenty of ice water and gatorade for all.

A brilliant move on the part of the organizers was positioning the rest/aid stations at varying increments: the first was a mere 13miles in. The next was another 19miles. Then 24 miles. Then 13miles, 25 miles, and 12 miles to finish. Many cyclists skipped the first rest/aid station but Lou and I opted to stop for a few minutes (bathroom break, fuel and water).

Next we rode to Evansburg State Park. The highlight of this portion of the century is riding along Potshop Rd, which has a stunning view of the Schuylkill River Valley and Philadelphia’s skyline in the distance. Truly a sight to behold, especially from two wheels!

31 miles in and still feeling fresh!

Also interesting to see how strung out the riders get over time … for much of the ride, Lou and I didn’t see any other riders around us after we left the second rest stop.

I met a guy named Austin. He’s a PhD candidate in Physics and was riding his Surly CrossCheck (light blue) in linen shorts and a T shirt. Bold move for a first-time century rider – but he hung in our group until very close to the next rest station. I’m hoping to connect with him on MapMyRide – could be an awesome ride buddy.

The next leg of the trip was easily the hilliest portion – to Camp Hope near Schwenksville, PA. Turn after turn of just Going Up. One hill claimed not one but two cyclists who dropped their chains mid-hill – henceforth to be known as Chain Drop Hill. It was a beast of a hill.

(I was kindof annoyed to see my Strava app took into account the time I spent waiting as riding time – it says I only did 3.2mph up the hill, but my on-bike computer registered 6-7mph when I was actually riding. Oh well. )

We just had to laugh when we turned on the road to go the last .7 miles to the rest/aid station and the road turned upward again. You really had to earn that rest stop. We kept our rest station visits to a minimum – 15min or so. Just enough time to use the bathroom, refill water bottles, get a quick snack, and shake out the fatigue. Spent some time talking with Skip, a guy I’ve ridden with on other Philly Bike Club rides. Coming out of Camp Hope resulted in a few more miles of climbing before the flats and descents started to become common.

I also gobbled two ibuprofen to quiet my aching lower back. Note to self: adjust seat position back a touch!

Quick stop back in Evanburg State Park – this one a touch longer because I called my husband to tell him I was about 35 miles from the end and to expect me in about 2.5 hours. I also shut off my Strava app because I was at 25% battery and wanted to be reachable at the finish line. Ended up being a smart move, even though I cheated myself out of more data, because I had 5% remaining at the finish line.

(Note to self – pick up a Garmin of any sort that will give you gps data to upload later!)

Lou and I decided to skip the last rest/aid station and just bring it home. We met another guy – Dima – who ended up in our little group charging to the finish.  Soon after we added another rider into our little peloton – a guy with blonde curly hair henceforth known as Surfer Dude. We rode the last 35 miles hard – pushing 20mph on flats, 12+mph on the hills, and bombing the sharrows through Manayunk. Almost got hit by a car a couple times – people who don’t know how to parallel park are THE WORST.

Did I mention I was leading this little ragtag group of century riders back into the city? Because I totally was. The guys were very thankful I “brought them in.”

All in all, a great day in the saddle – and we got to the finish line 5 minutes before they stopped serving pizza. Hooray – GOAL ATTAINED! My family met me at the pizza tent – I was so happy to see them.

Lou and I at the post-ride pizza party, celebrating the completion of our respective first century rides!

Stats:

101.5 miles

average of 13.2 mph

7 hours, 40 minutes, 12 seconds of ride time

5,797′ of elevation gain (4,022′ in the first 66.5 miles)

route here

Ride Fuel:

three small bananas

two halves of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat

one package of Clif Bloks in black cherry (with caffeine)

one Clif Gel in vanilla (with caffeine)

one Clif bar in white chocolate macadamia nut

three small bunches of grapes

one slice of watermelon

six 24-ounce bottles of Propel Zero in grape flavor

Post-ride fuel:

two slices of plain pizza

one can of Coke

one cheeseburger

handful of potato chips

 

 

See you on the road!