Monday, April 26, 2010

It Was a Nice Weekend Until…

Warning: This post has very little tandem or randonneuring content! Sometimes, though, life trumps cycling. Such was the case this weekend.

It was supposed to be a nice relaxing weekend for Barbara and me. No brevets on our schedule. Catch up on some yard work (at least enough to keep the township health inspectors away for a few more weeks,) relax a bit and let the body and mind recharge a bit before heading up to Quakertown for the PA 400k next weekend. I went out early Saturday to go chase a little white dimpled ball around some local parkland while Barb went out for a spin on her C’dale over our standard 50 mile loop. Later, in the afternoon, I did battle with the lawn while Barbara took her son Dale out to shop for some new summer clothes. Steak on the grill for dinner, a Stoudt's Kolsch or two and all was good in suburbia…

Sunday started early for us. We crawled out of bed at 5:45am and hopped in the car to drive 40 minutes to Peddlers’ Village in Lahaska, PA for breakfast. But, believe me my friends, it wasn’t just the thought of fresh Pennsylvania scrapple that lured us out of bed so early on a Sunday; we had a plan in mind. We were off to meet former fleche teammates Paul Shapiro, Todd Kerekes, and Jud Hand who, along with newcomers Shane Beake and Roy Yates were en route at the PA Fleche with their 2010 fleche squad the “Cyclepaths.” We’d planned to meet them for breakfast at their 22 hour controle at Sweet Lorraine’s restaurant in Lahaska around 7am just for fun, and to perhaps give their morale a bit of a lift for the final push to the finish in Quakertown. Our mission took on a slightly more tangible purpose when Paul called me from his cell phone at 6am to ask me to please bring along a spare front wheel – he’d hit a nasty hole hidden in a puddle early that morning and dented his rim badly. Paul wasn’t at all sure the wheel would carry him safely to the finish. So, I ran to the garage, grabbed a spare wheel and Barb and I made it to Lahaska right on time, where we ordered coffee and sat in wait of our pals.

We didn’t have to wait long before our mates rolled up to the restaurant looking a bit tired and cold, and absolutely soaking wet. It had been a rather rough night on the road: The had together suffered 8(!) flat tires over the course of the ride and endured a steady cold rain through much of the night. They were all definitely ready for some hot coffee and a bite to eat before tackling the 20 miles remaining to the finish. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast together (the scrapple was tasty!) The guys warmed up and dried out a bit while color and life gradually returned to their weary faces before they had to hit the road again. Barb and I bid them farewell and safe passage to the hostel then jumped in the car to drive back home again feeling happy to have helped out a little. (Thanks for picking up our tab at breakfast guys! I’m not sure why you felt the need to do that, but thanks.) We pointed the car south toward Trenton and decided that while we were out we’d go do our weekly grocery shopping – take advantage of our early start and beat the crowd at Shop-Rite.

This is where things take a sudden, drastic turn for the worse. We made it safely all the way back to Hamilton where we waited at the traffic light to cross route 130 into the Marketplace Shopping Center talking about all we’d be able to accomplish before noon. The light turned green, we pulled away and…

Next thing we know a loud crash, the car is spinning around and we come to rest with a thud against a low grassy median.

I never saw it coming.

Barbara, sitting on the passenger side, did see the little silver car speeding toward us just in time to lean in toward me a bit. She didn’t have time to get a word out of her mouth. In the last instant a could see her flinch from the corner of my eye.

A young guy driving a Dodge Neon north on Route 130 had tried to beat the traffic light. He didn’t make it. Not even remotely close. He tried too late to hit the brakes, but on the wet roads it was useless and he T-boned us directly on the center of the passenger side of the Altima at about 55mph. We both spun and he hit at least one other car crossing the highway before coming to rest.

I was completely stunned, but remarkably unhurt. Barbara had taken the brunt of the impact and was clearly in shock and hurting. We were both terrified. I knew she had taken a vicious hit and suspected she must have suffered serious injuries – perhaps to her arm or shoulder, her ribs or hip. Or maybe all the above. She never lost consciousness, though and there seemed to be no blood or obvious physical deformity. Barb complained of chest and knee pain; she was trembling with fear and adrenaline as the horn of the Dodge blared and people began to gather around. I have enough medical knowledge to realize that her chest pain could mean a punctured lung or worse. I didn’t like the pale color of her fingers. All we could do was comfort each other and wait for EMS to arrive.

The ambulance did arrive pretty quickly. Assessed Barb and got a cervical collar on her. Jaws of Life to pry open the crushed door. Backboard and a short ride to Hamilton Hospital.


Fast forward three hours or so and Barb and I were walking out of the emergency room together. Barb with a souvenir plastic bracelet and a couple prescriptions for pain. X-rays and a CT scan of the neck had come back normal and although she was sore, Barbara was all in one piece. The worst injury she appeared to have was a very small abrasion on her right collarbone caused by the seatbelt. Not so much as a bruise anywhere. I’m still not sure how it’s possible – we had really dodged a bullet (no pun intended.) By the Grace of God, good luck, and a well-constructed car we had both managed to survive a very nasty accident with barely a scratch. If we'd been hit at that speed by a bigger, heavier vehicle this story could have had a very different ending.

The moral of this story? Be careful out there folks, both on the bicycle and in your car. The roads can be a dangerous place and the consequences of an accident can be dire, even life changing. I've been employed by UPS as a professional driver for nearly 22 years now, and I've always considered myself to be a pretty safe, conservative driver but I believe I'm going to use even more care out there on the streets from this point forward.

And take the time to enjoy life. Go ride your bike if that's what you like to do - the lawn can always wait. Apologies if I'm beginning to sound a little mushy, but I think this weekend I just grew a little more appreciative of everything I have - especially my lovely and talented stoker.

Today (Monday) Barbara is still a little stiff and sore, but she’s already talking about riding the PA 400k on Saturday…

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Modest Proposal

'10 PA 200k

Before I get started on the day’s post I have to give a nod to the RUSA Blogs page for giving me the little kick in the chamois I needed to give my poor neglected Tandem Rando Society some attention. In case you haven’t checked it out, RUSA maintains a neat little site RUSA Blogs with links to dozens of rando themed pages from across the country with a list of recently updated blogs – a great source of rando-centric information and entertainment. My DSSTRS was sadly languishing way down near the bottom of the list – just a little embarrassing. So, time to correct that situation…


The Eastern PA 200k was on tap for last Saturday 3/27. The PA Randonneurs had already run several “R-12”events in 2010, but this was the first big ride of the spring ACP series. Turnout was good with 35 riders taking the start at the Eastern PA home base – the cozy Weisel Youth Hostel in Quakertown, PA. Energy was high among the assembled riders – a good mix of Eastern PA “regulars” along with a few faces new to the series - and three tandems. After the usual ceremony and safety speech by RBA Tom Rosenbauer the riders departed into the clear, if somewhat chilly early spring morning.

The PA Spring 200k course is an old standby of the Eastern PA series now having been run over more-or-less the same course since at least 2006. It includes generous amounts of climbing – over 11k feet according to the PA website – with a half dozen major climbs and lots of “static” in between – a decidedly “un-tandem-friendly” course. However, I think most riders would agree that along with being perhaps the toughest 200k in the region it’s also a very beautiful, very scenic route.

Over the first few miles Barb and I enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with Philadelphia-area couple Patrick Gaffney and Cecilie Adams who were out this day on their beautiful custom Bilenky rando tandem. We spent quite a few miles riding with Patrick and Cecilie over the roads of South Jersey during the spring of 2007 – our first year of randonneuring. Barb and I have fond memories of that year – riding the NJ series as complete newbies with a real cast of characters, many of whom were busy qualifying for PBP. Pat and Cecilie rode a “Rent-A-Wreck” of a loaner tandem from Bilenky that spring while their custom two-seater was being finished up in the Philadelphia shop – it really was quite a sight! We chatted about their beautiful Bilenky, picked their brains about their experience in France that summer and generally caught up on things.

At last year’s edition of this ride Barbara and I suffered the only DNF of our rando career. We only made it about 3 miles before we were forced to turn around with mechanical trouble. This year we were out to redeem ourselves, and fortunately the Burley was in a more cooperative mood this time around - the bike performed flawlessly all day. As a result of last season’s DNF, it had been quite some time since we’d ridden the first 30 miles of the course and I couldn’t picture the first big climb of Lower Saucon Rd. in my mind - perhaps that was a good thing… But, with the help of our friend “Granny” we made it over the top, then up the more familiar Mud Run and on to the first controle at the Petrol Mart in Wind Gap as the sun climbed higher and slowly tried to warm the day. After a quick break we remounted, and pedaled off to face the mighty Fox Gap.

Topping out at just over 1400 feet elev., the two and a half mile climb of Fox Gap is the feature climb of many of the Eastern PA series rides. Today was no exception – coming at around mile 54 the top of Fox Gap was the pinnacle of today’s brevet, but for a completely different reason than usual. It was there that Patrick proposed to his long time girlfriend and stoker Cecilie – and she accepted! They were engaged! (It could have made for a pretty awkward remaining 73 miles had she said no!!!) Unfortunately Barb and I missed the moment – we were a bit late arriving. We could see a bit of a gathering at the information controle at the top but by the time we arrived everyone had gone. Little did we suspect what had transpired… It wasn’t until after the descent down Fox Gap and the run around Lake Minsi where, at the Portland Diner controle, a beaming Cecilie told us what had happened and showed off her new ring! She was only a little upset that her fingers were too swollen at the moment to get the ring on… (Can you imagine Patrick packing his stuff for the ride…? Cycling shoes – check, water bottles – check, engagement ring –check!)

Congratulations, Patrick and Cecilie!!! Barbara and I both think it’s pretty darn cool that the two of you got engaged at that particular moment on this ride… Cycling plays a pretty important role in our lives, as it does for many folks involved in this sport, but the two of you have really taken it to a whole ‘nother level! We wish nothing but smooth roads for you in cycling and in life. Now about the wedding… I think it’s only fitting that you get married at the overnight stop at the hostel on the upcoming PA600k. I think there’s a little known rule that gives RBA’s the authority to perform weddings – much like the mayor of a town, or the captain of a ship – during the hours of an official ACP brevet. (Don’t quote me on this…) We could decorate the common room of the hostel… A wedding gown with integrated chamois and reflective accents… Tin cans and a “Just Married” sign on the back of the Bilenky… You should think about it!

Well, after that moment, what can I say - the rest of the ride is almost anticlimactic…

Barbara and I enjoyed a nice sit-down brunch at the Portland Family Restaurant controle at the halfway point of the brevet. We shared a table and chatted with old bike racing pal and randonneuring neophyte Bob Ellis from Ewing, NJ. (The story of how Bob came to be involved in randonneuring and our common pal Joe Platzner calls for another post all on it’s own…) This was Bob’s second brevet ever – he had ridden a PA event last season with pal Joe Platz. Bob seemed to be faring well and enjoying the day, despite not really having adequate gearing for the terrain on that gorgeous 50th anniversary Ugo DeRosa of his.

The rest of the afternoon continued along the same theme – beautiful scenery, good company, difficult terrain. One-by-one Barbara and I tackled the remaining climbs (with plenty of assistance from “Granny”) – Lommason’s Glen, Jug Town Mountain, Red Cliff Rd., Cafferty Rd. and Tohickon Hill Rd. The afternoon remained clear and pleasant, though I’m not sure the thermometer ever hit 50F, and we enjoyed chatting with Bob E. and Mark Kauffman from Lancaster along the way. Frankly, Barbara and I suffered a bit over the second half of the ride, and we weren’t setting any speed records. But, given the challenging nature of the course, our early season form and the tough winter we’ve just endured here on the east coast, we really didn’t do too badly.

I need to send personal thanks out to DC randonneur Kelly Smith – I have memories of a photo of him taken at the Homestead General Store controle in Upper Black Eddy, PA during the ’08 edition of this ride. Love the fiendish sort of grin on Kelly’s face! I took his cue and “turned to the hard stuff” myself – no doubt it helped us power the Burley over the remaining hills and back to the finish. In the end, Barbara and I made it back to the hostel just after sunset at about 7:40pm. Tom was there to greet us with hot burgers fresh off the grill and an assortment of other goodies. I was pretty spent, and sat down staring into space for about ten minutes before I could muster up the strength to partake in the food. Barb was a little more coherent.

All in all it was a good day on the bike and the memory of our ’09 DNF can be put to bed. Congratulations to everyone who clipped in the ’10 edition of the PA200k – impressively 35 out of 35 riders finished within the time limit (I know Tom is very proud of those 100% completion rates!) And a special tip of the cycling cap to the third tandem team on the ride Victor and Kate who powered over the course in a very impressive 9h39m. Hope to see you guys out on the tandem again this season (even if the only time we see you all day is at the start!)

Also, as a post script to the ride, NJ/PA regular (and Rando legend in the making) Bill Olsen presented me with his shiny XL sized bell straight off his Rivendell back at the hostel after the ride. You see, I commented to Bill at the Wind Gap controle earlier that day that I had a bad case of "bell envy!" You'd have to see it for yourself to understand - this bell is a chrome monster, every bit of four inches across - and with a lovely, very loud chime, too. He was leaving me with feelings of "bell inadequacy" - me with my little inch and a half brass bell... Little did I expect Bill to unbolt his bell straight off his bike and present it to me as a gift after the brevet! How could I say no? I hope you won't be too insulted, Bill, if the shiny chrome monster doesn't go on the Burley - I don't think the clamp will fit our handlebars or Aheadset style stem (and it must weigh about three pounds!) It will, however, go very nicely on my '85 Schwinn Voyageur and see plenty of use there. Thanks, Bill...

Next ride up - the NJ Princeton 200k in two weeks. Who knows what adventures await...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

...Just Another Beautiful PA Brevet

As you may have noticed, it's been over a year now since my first and only post on this here tandem rando blog. So, what do you suppose was so special about the Easten PA June R-12 brevet that would prompt me to sit down at the computer and tap out a ride report...? Well, in fact - nothing! It was just another beautiful PA brevet...!

The College Hill 200k brevet from Tom R.'s house in Easton, PA on Saturday June 6th was part of the Eastern PA R-12 series Tom started last fall to give area riders an opportunity to earn their RUSA R-12 medals without traveling too far or having to search around for a brevet or permanent during "off" months in the schedule. The R-12 series rides are organized as "no frills" affairs - sorry none of the customary PA pre-ride oatmeal or post-ride chicken soup and goodies. Just a RUSA certified 200k route and your brevet card for a low entry fee of $10. Many of the series rides have been hosted by RBA Tom, and a few have been organized by PA rando regulars.

"No frills" or not, you can be assured that any Eastern PA route and cue sheet is always "top shelf" - and Saturday's ride was no exception. The course was largely the same as the '08 Fall 200k - a clockwise loop from Easton taking riders through Wind Gap before tackling the mighty Fox Gap on the way to the first Delaware River crossing at Belvidere, NJ. After a stop at Skoogy's Deli we took on the Lommason's Glen and Staat's Rd. climbs in NJ then crossed back into Pennsylvania at Milford. We climbed south and west away from the river to the southernmost point of the route, and the final controle on the road at the quaint, and always welcoming Carversville General Store. The final 38 mile leg from Carversville north back to Easton traversed "classic" northeastern PA terrain - lots of pretty, quiet backroads including several covered bridge crossings and hardly a yard of it seemed as if it wasn't pitched up or downhill somehow (mostly uphill!)

The Eastern PA ACP spring series of rides had concluded over the final weekend in May with the Water Gap 600k, so unless you were planning to take on the upcoming (very challenging) 1000k, this R-12 series ride was your opportunity to keep a PA R-12 streak alive. The June ride might also have been billed the "siblings and spouses edition" - brothers and PA regulars Ivan and Jerry Umble were in attendance. Brothers, and PA newcomers Ben and Tom Hoen met halfway at Easton to do some riding together - Tom (riding his first brevet ever) made the trip north from Baltimore, and Ben, an experienced randonneur, drove in from the Hudson Valley, NY (if my memory serves me correctly.) Guy Harris, a regular fixture (or fixie?) at the PA series was joined by his wife Barbara on her first brevet of the season, and yours truly was accompanied, as always, by my lovely and talented stoker and wife Barbara. In addition, Bill Olsen came out for a final shakedown ride before heading to Virginia for the start of the Shenandoah 1200k later this week (too bad he couldn't convince his brother to come down from Minnesota a little early - we would have had another set of brothers on the ride!) Christine Newman joined the gang on her Bike Friday (the beautiful Bilenky was in the shop...) and Joe Carbone came out to try another PA 200k (an encore to his gutsy ride at the spring series 200k? - Len Zawodniak showed up a bit late due to an alarm clock malfunction (that's 4am Len, not 4pm!), but that didn't stop him from coming home first in just under nine hours!

In 2009, the Eastern PA series has seen all sorts of weather, much of it less than ideal for a day on the bike. But this day, June 6th, turned out just about perfect. Friday's persistant, soaking rain had (thankfully) moved out overnight and left us with a beautiful late spring day - thick cloud cover hung on much of the morning to keep temperatures pleasantly cool, and road surfaces damp. By noon-ish the sun finally had broken through to bring us a mostly sunny afternoon with a light breeze and temperatures finally climbing near the forecast high of 80F by later on. Friday's rains added interest to the water features of the day's travels - the Delaware River was muddy and swollen, and the various smaller streams (usually flowing charmingly downhill alongside a road we were struggling to climb up) were bubbling along with more zest than usual.

Barbara and I had a pretty good day on the Burley. Despite neither us feeling 100% on Saturday, we managed to get around the course in just under 11 hours - a personal best for us on a PA brevet. We're making an effort, this season, to try to get a little faster - with an eye toward PBP '11. You know the deal - the faster you can get around the course the more time you have available to eat, sleep and recover. These hillier brevets are not so easy for us on the tandem, but we are pleased to see some steady improvement in our riding from last season to this year. Although Barb and I both felt pretty beat up, both physically and mentally at the finish of Saturday's ride, it was very satisfying to finally finish a PA event in less than 11 hours.


Some of the highlights, lowlights, and observations from our day on the road include:

0600 start, 1930 time limit in the month of June - no need to mount the lights today, right? I guess we must have felt pretty confident at the start - this was perhaps the only time we've ever started a brevet without the lights mounted on the tandem. Always enjoy the beginning miles of this route - south alongside the Delaware, cruising at a good clip on Rt. 611, the climbs up Mud Run and Wind Gap, the Cherry Valley - Fetherman Rd. section.

Made it over the fearsome Fox Gap with a minimum of fuss - slow and steady, but not suffering badly. The somewhat technical descent down to Lake Minsi gets more and more fun every time as I gain familiarity with the road. We commented that it was nice to see anglers fishing on Lake Minsi from boats rather than through holes drilled in the ice, like in February while we rode past on the "Beyond Hope to New Hope" R-12 series ride. I'm not sure who was nuttier that day - the cyclists or the fishermen!

The Jersey side: Skoogy's Deli was hopping at prime time on a spring Saturday morning. The babbling brook alongside Lommason Glen Rd. was babbling quite vigorously. The Staats Rd. climb hurts every time, but the payoff, the descent of Sweet Hollow Rd. to Little York is always pretty and fun. We ran across two Princeton Free Wheelers rides along the way - a gang of at least 15 taking a break in Bloomsbury, and a smaller group enjoying some goodies at the Milford Bakery. Barb and I paused there, too, to enjoy some delicious pastries and coffee - how can you not?

Back in PA: Once you cross the Delaware at Milford back into PA, you've got 71 miles done and less than 55 miles remaining. If you look at the elevation profile, all the major climbs are behind you - it ought to be smooth sailing to the last controle on the road in Carversville, then a pleasant tour north to the finish in Easton, right...? Wrong!!! The last half of this brevet is very scenic and deceivingly tough. It becomes that much tougher if, like us, you have a serious case of rando amnesia, you can't recall your last ride over this same route in the fall, and your mind genuinely believes all that stuff I just said about only 55 miles left and all the major climbing is done! The fact is, there is very little level road over the final 55 miles of this course (or at least it seems that way.) There are no really large gains or drops in elevation to register on the elevation profile, but your legs tell you a different story. Often during this stretch we wondered why we were creeping along in the granny ring, when the pitch of road under our wheels didn't really look so bad. Oh well, this is beginning to sound like I'm whining - and we can't have that! If you can put aside the heaviness in your legs the Bucks County countryside really is very pretty - as I mentioned earlier, we pass through several (4, in total?) historic covered bridges.

We grunted our way up the penultimate hill of the day - the innocent sounding Buttermilk Rd. then made the right onto the 50 mph descent of Lower Saucon Rd. We knew we'd make it, now as we sped over the final flat run-in toward town. I tried not to glance at my watch as I knew we'd be flirting with the 11 hour goal I had in my head (I'm careful never to announce these secret goals to my stoker until after the ride is over - it would surely kill some of the enjoyment for her...) We picked our way through downtown Easton then the formality of the final climb up College Ave. to the finish at the WaWa. My watch said 4:53OBT (Official Brevet Time) but somehow, by the time we made our purchases and got to the checkout the clerk wrote down 4:58pm on our brevet cards - I can't fuss about a few minutes, we'd made it in before the magic 5 o'clock hour!


A big thanks to RBA Tom Rosenbauer for putting on another fine PA brevet. Tom decided not to clip in and ride with the group this time - he had a few things to catch up on around the house, and there were events going on all day at nearby Lafayette College for his 25th college reunion. Rumor had it that if he had failed to make it back from riding in time get get ready for his reunion dinner, there would have been trouble... ;>) Thanks Tom for taking the time out of your busy schedule.

And there you have it... The long awaited second installment in the Double Super Secret Tandem Rando Society. There have surely been memorable rides over the past year that deserved a write-up in this space, but never got it. What can I say...? Until the spirit moves me to blog again...


Post Script

I failed to include a couple important details about our day - As Tom mentions in his ride report e-mail, Bill Slabonik was there at the finish with Tom to greet riders as they finished. Bill has been unable to ride as much as he'd like recently due to a shoulder injury which will require surgery soon. That didn't stop him from joining the post-ride festivities on Tom's front porch, though. We enjoyed your post-ride banter, Bill, and what a beautiful machine is that Campy equipped '84 3Rensho. That must have been a fine winter project, indeed... Good luck with the impending surgery - hope to see you back on the bike soon.

Riders paused for a while on Tom's porch after finishing the day's ride, but there was no post ride meal gathering this time. Barb and I decided to point the car towards home and keep our eyes open for a diner along the way. We came across several, but decided to stop at the Clinton Station Diner alongside westbound Route 78, just west on Clinton, NJ. We sat in the part of the diner that is a converted 1927 passenger railroad car - quite charming! We didn't order the 50 lb. "Mt. Olympus" burger, but we did enjoy generous slices of key lime pie and chocolate mousse cake for dessert - we'd earned it, right?

And finally, congratulations to Joe Carbone on his first official PA finish! Barb and I wondered all day Sunday how Joe had made out - once Tom posted the results we learned Joe made it back to the WaWa in 13h17m - a huge improvement over his previous two PA series attempts and a testiment to Joe's perserverence. We're sorry we weren't there in person to cheer for you at the finish. (I can assure you that our thoughts were with you as we worked on the previously mentioned desserts, though!) Congrats, Joe!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Barb & Ron's Eastern PA 400k and 5th Wedding Anniversary Extravaganza

Welcome to the inaugural posting of the Double Super Secret Tandem Rando Society (which in an effort to save keystrokes shall heretoforth be referred to as simply the DSSTRS.) My name is Ron Anderson and my lovely and talented wife and stoker is Barbara and we reside in Hamilton, NJ. In my blog I will attempt to share stories of our experiences randonneuring on our tandem - the beautiful Purple Burley Paso Doble. I'll make no promises as to the entertainment value of this space, or the frequency of our postings - quite honestly I consider writing to be something of a chore, and neither Barbara or I are especially good at taking photos while on the bike. Nonetheless, I really enjoy reading several other randonneuring blogs, and I'd like to share our stories with friends, and anyone else interested in tales of rando-ing on a tandem, so here goes with the story of our Eastern PA 400k on May 24, 2008...

Did someone say May 24, 2008? Why does that date ring a bell? Oh yeah! The 24th Barbara and I will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary! Celebrate by riding our bike for 24 hours straight, I've got to be kidding, right? Sounds more like a recipe for a sudden divorce, than a celebration. What can I say? I really know how to show my woman a good time! Besides, what better way to spend our day than riding our bike all day... it's what we love to do...
Saturday, the 24th had all the promise of a great rando day when it began with a sudden jolt of the alarm clock at 2:15am. Great weather was forecast, Tom Rosenbauer the Eastern PA RBA had a beautiful route beginning from his home in Easton, PA laid out for us, and randonneur enthusiasm was high. Barbara and I felt well prepared, having already finished the PA200k and 300k in fair shape, and the Burley was fine tuned and ready for service.

We loaded up the car and made the 1h15m drive to the start in Easton without incident, which was already an improvement over the PA 300k, when I made a wrong turn on the way and we arrived at the start with only minutes to spare before the scheduled 5am start! A hardy group of 12 randonneurs (including us) was assembled at the start, and 10 of the 12 shoved off into the pre-dawn chill at several minutes before five. Barbara and I, since we were riding a tandem, though it was sporting of us to give the rest of the group a 10 min. head start while we finished our bowls of oatmeal and powdered our noses (more likely slathered Bag Balm on our butts!) one last time before we departed. After a couple photos to commemorate our anniversary we clipped in and started our journey.

The first leg to Cherryville, PA was peaceful and scenic - a great way to start a long day in the saddle. We rode by ourselves through a mixture of rolling Pennsylvania farmland and encroaching suburban sprawl. The awakening birds provided the soundtrack to the dawn, the sky was clear with temps in the upper 40's and all was good in our little rando tandem world. There was no serious climbing in the first 31 miles, just typical PA "bumps" in the terrain, as our muscles tried to get used to the idea of spinning the cranks. The idyllic scene was disturbed only momentarily when, as we made our way up the gentle climb of Upper Mud Run we heard something skittering along the pavement alongside our tandem. For a few seconds I wasn't sure if we'd hit something in the road or possibly something fell out of the handlebar bag. We soon realized that one of our two headlights had fallen off the bike leaving a trail of batteries strewn across our path. (Our course, it was the brand new light purchased less than two weeks ago that jettisoned!) By some stroke of good luck, our light suffered nothing worse than a minor scuff or two. We gathered the batteries, put everything back together and turned on the switch to find that everything seemed to be working just fine. Somehow, even the lens wasn't scratched. Surely the rando gods were watching over us this day...

We continued our leisurely pace to the second controle (first controle on the road) only to arrive at the Cherryville Turkey Hill mini-mart to find no other randonneurs in sight! As we signed in, we learned that we were already nearly an hour behind every other rider who had taken the start. I was a bit disconcerted by this discovery (I guess our 10 min. head start for the group had worked better than planned!) It was a position we would hold for the rest of the day and night, as the "Lantern Rouge" of the brevet. Barbara was unconcerned - "we just need to worry about ourselves, ride at our own pace and stay ahead of the cutoff times at the controles." ...Always the voice of reason from the back of the tandem.

The second leg would take us straight away into the serious climbing of the day with an ascent of the Appalachians at Little Gap, past Blue Mountain Ski Resort. At elev. 1118ft, Little Gap would be our highest climb of the day. (Tom inexplicably spared us of the fearsome climb up Fox Gap in his pre-ride edits of the route - no, Tom that's not a complaint...) After some steady work in the 26t granny gear we crossed over the Appalachian Trail at the top of the ridge, and prepared to do what tandems do best - bomb the descent! I was somewhat familiar with the downhill from the PA 300k held two weeks prior, and as we picked up momentum on the descent a pickup truck passed us and provided us with a perfect read of the curves ahead. We tucked in and proceeded to set a new tandem team record for max speed -- 58.9mph boys and girls! Gotta love the downhills! The rest of the second leg was ridden over yet more pretty, lightly travelled Pennsylvania secondary roads, including long stretches on two of my favorites - Smith Gap Rd. and Cherry Valley Rd. We arrived at Controle 3 in Water Gap, PA feeling good and having gained a bit of time since our late-ish arrival at Cherryville. After filling up bottles and purchasing some dee-lish Macadamia Nut cookies we set off for New Jersey and the Delaware River crossing at Interstate 80.

Barbara is never a big fan of bridge crossings whether in the car or on foot, and the I-80 crossing of the Delaware is no exception. It can be a bit unnerving, with fast traffic, including heavy trucks passing at speed just a few feet away with only a hip high concrete median to separate you from certain carnage. Oh, did I mention the watery grave below, if you were to fall the other direction? Perhaps I'm being too dramatic - we crossed into New Jersey without incident and headed for an out-and-back section through quiet park lands along the more northern section of the Delaware River.

We passed through heavily wooded Worthington State Park and into the Delaware River National Recreation Area before passing historic Millbrook Village. Temperatures remained on the cool side, despite the hour of the day thanks to substantial cloud cover, increasing breezes and a well shaded roadway. Neither Barb nor I felt any desire to shed our tights or long-sleeved wooleys. After a sharp climb and descent (a real tester on the tandem) we continued our trek to the northernmost point of the route at the Flats Deli in Hainesville. NJ. We rode this same out-and-back stretch in the PA 300k and found the road (NPS 615) to be a real slog on the tandem. The road surface was slightly broken and the rolling hills were endless and we were steadily, almost imperceptibly, gaining elevation as we headed north. This Saturday, however, was to be a different story... the repaving project that had begun two weeks ago was now completed, and we were left with a beautiful, smooth ribbon of fresh blacktop to guide us northward. Even the strengthening northwest wind did not seem to hinder us as we made fair time over the rollers to our turn around in Hainesville at mile 94.

Barbara and I were greeted at the Flats Deli by the ever-encouraging RBA Tom Rosenbauer decked out in bike gear and ready to ride. Again, all the other randonneurs had already passed through the controle and departed by the time we arrived but we still had a fair time cushion in hand over the cut-off. Barb and I split a turkey sandwich and set out to retrace our route back past Millbrook Village to the Water Gap with Tom joining us on his Merlin XL. The northwest wind had turned into a tailwind, and we were now steadily losing elevation. The miles passed quickly under our wheels as Tom and I chatted about all things cycling. Tom peeled off at his car, and Barb and I continued to retrace our route south to another I-80 Delaware River crossing and Controle 5 the Water Gap Diner back in (you guessed it) Water Gap, PA.

Hey, this post is getting pretty long winded, huh? Like I said at the beginning, no guarantees as to the quality or entertainment value of the writing herein...

Barbara and I had previously planned to stay and have a sit down dinner at the Water Gap diner, and we proceeded to do just that. Two roast turkey dinners (complete with stuffing and mashed potatoes) later we were refueled for the long haul and ready to roll. For the first time all day I felt the need to peel off my tights and expose my way-too-white legs to a little sunshine. We left Water Gap, the halfway point of the ride, before 5pm with our plan to finish the ride in 24 hrs. looking right on target.

We backtracked over our morning route over scenic Cherry Valley and Fetherman Roads heading southwest to Saylorsburg (the flea market looked interesting) where we turned northeast on Route 115 toward our second highest climb of the day at Wind Gap, PA. We again engaged the assistance of our granny gear to take us to the top of the pass with a minimum of grunting and groaning aided nicely by the 15+mph tailwind squeezing us through the gap (thus the name Wind Gap...) We traversed yet more picturesque PA farmland and suburbia on our way to Controle 6 in Martin's Creek, PA as the sun grew ever lower in the sky. As we arrived at Controle 6 we were told by the clerk/hostess at Ahearn's Country Cafe that we had just missed fellow rider Maile Neel who had left shortly before our arrival, after sitting a while for a meal and conversation with RBA Tom (Tom must have logged quite a few miles on the Audi on this day!) We knew that Maile was riding alone, and we tried vainly catch her before nightfall so we'd both have some companionship while riding in the dark, but she was riding strongly and we were never able to close the gap.

We left the cafe shortly before dusk to tackle the last significant climbing of the ride before crossing the Delaware River at Belvidere for our second excursion into New Jersey on the day. We paused for several minutes before walking across the bridge to don our night riding gear and turn the lights on, as we crossed the river just at sunset. We enjoyed a tailwind and the views to the west in the quickly fading sunset as we made good progress down Route 519 toward Controle 7 in Bloomsbury, NJ. (Note to self - breath through nose while riding alongside grassy fields at dusk unless you purposely want to ingest a little extra protein in the form of swarms of gnats!) As we rolled into the Citgo in Bloomsbury at 930-945pm night had fallen heavy, and although all the serious climbing was behind us, 76 miles and the real work of this 400k lay ahead...

The final two legs of this 400k would take us on a largely out and back course from Bloomsbury, NJ south to the penultimate controle in New Hope, PA then turning around and retracing nearly all of our route back to Bloomsbury before breaking off, and heading west across the Delaware yet again to our destination in Easton, PA. While the route should have been relatively easy given the mostly flat profile of the roads we were riding (including a long stint on NJ Route 29,) the psychological toll of riding away from the finish on roads we knew we'd have to retrace in the opposite direction, combined with the mounting fatigue from the day's effort and the chill of the night air combined to make this a pretty tough 76 miles. It didn't register in my brain until later, that as we stood at the Citgo (Controle 7) in Bloomsbury we were just a few miles across the river from our final destination. Sometimes ignorance is bliss! Barbara, however, had a better understanding of the situation and the flat ride south on the Jersey side of the river, along with fatigue and increasing saddle discomfort made the penultimate leg of our trip pretty tough on her.

As we headed south from Bloomsbury it wasn't too many miles before we saw a single set of lights that obviously belonged to a randonneur heading back toward us. It was fun to see another rider out riding in the night (remember we had ridden alone all day long,) but it was also somewhat discouraging to realize how many miles and hours this rider was ahead of us. This lead rider (I still don't know who it was) would be back in Easton by midnight or shortly thereafter, while we still had 5 or 6 hours left in the saddle. A few more miles along the road we saw the awesome sight of a large group of 7 or 8 randonneurs all heading north with their lights ablaze. As we made our way toward New Hope the rest of our group appeared one by one, heading toward the barn and most many miles ahead of us. We made pretty good time on Rt. 29 - I felt good while Barb was having her difficult patch, and I did my best to keep the Burley powering along on the flat road. Just a couple short miles before reaching our penultimate controle we saw the last member of our merry band ahead of us and starting the journey back north - it was Maile. She passed with a wave and shouts of encouragement as always. This was perhaps as close as we got to catching her in our half day pursuit.

We arrived at the Eagle Diner in New Hope, Controle 8, at about a quarter past midnight. I called Tom on his cell phone, as I had agreed to earlier, to update him on our progress, as well as the rest of the group. I told him we'd stop for at least 1/2 an hr. to regroup, and don't look for us until around 4am. It felt good to get in out of the now cold night air, have a bite to eat and try to gather ourselves for the final 40 miles of our voyage. We hung out until just about 1am before paying our tab, adding extra layers of clothing and setting out into the night. I'm not quite sure why, but at the start of the day's ride, almost as an afterthought, I decided we should throw our balaclavas in the trunk bag. At this moment we were very happy to have them with us... We pointed the Burley toward home and shoved off.

The final leg to Easton was, without a doubt, long, cold and tough. The terrain, as I mentioned earlier, was benign, but the fatigue of the days efforts was really beginning to show. The meal we had eaten at the Eagle somehow didn't translate into energy for my heavy legs, and I was feeling discouraged at the thought of all the other riders who had finished already or were nearly done. Barbara was feeling better than she had on the last leg now that the tandem was pointing home, but she was really feeling her saddle in a bad way at this point. But, there is only one way to the finish - just keep those cranks turning over. Sure, it was tough to stay focused, and we had to take numerous "hiney breaks," but we did our best to keep the bike moving forward and gradually watched the miles tick off. Mini goals - made it to Stockton - made it to Frenchtown, a seemingly endless stretch on Route 29 - Milford is next - got to make it to the end of Route 627 - tear open a pack of Clif Shot Bloks and share them... The mood on the Burley was quiet, but we were steadily, if not quickly, getting the job done - together. When we saw the Delaware River bridge between Phillipsburg and Easton we knew we had made it. The short steep climb up College Ave. was nothing but a formality - one last hurrah for the granny gear. We pulled up to Tom's front porch at 4:38am, mission accomplished! 400k medals earned!

Ride statistics --
Total mileage: 253.5mi
Total time: 23h 38m
Time on bike: 19h 20m
Avg. speed: 13.1
Max. speed: 58.9mph
So, that's the story of our Eastern PA 400k. I hope you've stayed with me through this rather lengthy story and found it interesting. Despite my misgivings about writing, I did enjoy putting together this account, and reliving the day in my mind. I think it will be important for me to sit down and write up any future stories soon after the day's events while details and feelings are still fresh in my mind, just like I did today. I hope to post a post script to this article sometime in the next week, perhaps adding a few photos gleaned from other sources, and adding some links to additional information pertaining to the Eastern PA 400k.

Special thanks to Tom Rosenbauer for taking the time to organize and put on a beautiful ride. Thanks also to Tom for having us all at his home (at all hours of the day and night.) Thanks to Tom's Mom for helping out at registration - you seemed to be enjoying yourself - perhaps there is an assistant RBA position open!) Further thanks to Tom for always, always having an encouraging, positive, supportive demeanor.

Extra special thanks to my wife and stoker Barbara without whom this story wouldn't be possible. It has been an extraordinary five years and I look forward to the next fifty. In the Fall 2006, when I first ran the idea of trying a couple brevets on the tandem by you, I was kind of shocked that you said yes. Now I couldn't imagine riding them alone on my single bike. Riding the brevets on a tandem adds a whole other dimension to the experience that I wouldn't want to pass up. Happy 5th anniversary, I LOVE YOU!!!