Last weekend the fat bike was hung up when a few of us packed our skinny bikes with a few essentials and hit the dry pavement out to the local trout stream to do a little fishing. Fishing mind you…not catching!
Cruising around out on the open fields and dirt roads on my Warbird made sections of last fall's ride out of Millheim, Pennsylvania come floating back to memory. It was a gravel ride put on by the local Salsa dealer, Freeze Thaw Cycles. Jordyn and the boys there had extended an invitation to myself and my Pennsylvania cohort Benton Hunt to take part in this beautiful and rewarding charge through the rolling and picturesque country side.
The place; Millheim, Pennsylvania. Time of year; mid November. Now this time of year is obviously unpredictable. Roll your dice and you get either cold rain, blowing snow and ice, or in rare conditions 70-degrees and sunny (meaning sunburn for this fair skinned Norwegian). I dressed and packed for as many of those situations as possible. Rolling into State College the night before it was clear, crisp, and unusually warm compared to what this Wisconsinite is used to. I was psyched. I knew it wouldn't be a walk in the park, but I also wasn't prepared for what was about to go down.
The day dawned rainy and barely 40 degrees.
‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘wool is your friend today.’ After all, a good breakfast and the correct clothing go a long way. It's not every day I get to mentally record the beauty of the Pennsylvania farm country.
The ride started like so many I have done. Dressed and with my Warbird prepped, I rolled over to the group just in time to hear the start of the introduction to the first official Pennsylvania E-Fred Crusher. After a brief rundown on terrain and proper ride etiquette, we rolled out with smiles on our faces, the brisk fall air in our lungs, and anticipation of memorable moments in our hearts.
The first part of the ride went by in a blink of an eye. The smooth pavement and rolling terrain made conversation possible with the other brave riders on this wet and cool fall ride.
Then came the second part. Now if you aren't familiar with Pennsylvanian terrain, you have to imagine ripples on a pond. Now increase the size of those ripples to small mountains. Up until now we had been riding between those ripples. Now it came time to change direction and start going up and over. Needless to say my lungs started reminding me that I live in the western Wisconsin. The climb wasn't necessarily long, but it was definitely steep…quite steep in fact.
This went on for a few miles, up and over a few times, until we settled back into a nice valley. About the time of one of our early water stops, I started thinking about where the gravel would start. We had been going at a good pace and covered almost half of the promised 75 miles. I was feeling pretty good but also starting to notice the climbs. Much as I’d lie to, I can't blame this on elevation.
We hit gravel and logging roads just in time to see the sun peek through the overcast sky. The warmth of the sun and the overall positive attitudes of the group were masking the decline of my physical state.
The woods were calm and free of traffic. But suddenly those killer climbs became slower and more energy-sucking than they had been. We found a spot to rest and chat while someone fixed a flat. I downed some precious water and one of my remaining energy gels.
That’s when I noticed that the sun was no longer high in the sky. I started looking around for Benton, and that's when I saw it: Crouched down by the edge of road, a rider was pulling out a ham sandwich out of his pannier bag. That's right a ham sandwich.
Benton and I made eye contact and we didn't need to say a word. We both knew what that meant. A food item at that point along the ride meant we had a long, long way to go. And worse yet, I had no ham sandwich. In fact, I didn't have much of anything left.
The pit of my stomach started tying itself into a big knot, out of hunger and a little fear of being unprepared for a Pennsylvania 70-miler. From this point on it was about survival. I rationed my supplies as we moved on.
Was it a coincidence that the terrain got rockier as it got darker? I think not.
I was able to latch onto a group and hang with them. I had no choice but to chase them down and hang on because at this point my queue sheet had been left at a rest stop, dropped somewhere, or maybe I just ate it in an act of desperation.
One wrong turn and an unexpected bridge being out put us in a tight spot. The sun was setting fast at this point, so getting to the top of the ridges would bring a faint glimmer of light.
None of us had brought lights so the rough and rocky descents were almost entirely in the dark now. Out of water, food, most importantly daylight, we pushed on. We finally rolled back into Millheim under cover of full-blown darkness.
There was as much light outside as there was food left in our bellies so we headed straight for the Elm Creek cafe. Our physical condition must have been plastered all over our face, for we felt all eyes on us as we dragged ourselves through the doorway. Familiar faces greeted us from the corner so we headed over to their table to order up some much-needed food.
Looking back on it, I wouldn't change a thing. There is nothing quite like getting pushed to your limit. At the time I had no choice, but sticking to the route and riding the entire course felt so rewarding.
So if there is anything I hope to leave you with after telling this tale, it is this: It’s to tell you to keep going long after you feel like you want to quit. And for the long haul, bring that ham sandwich.
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I've been working in shops since before I could drive a car. I feel blessed to be able to fulfill one of my passions here with Salsa. Give me a pair of 29r wheels, one gear, and some dirt and I will be happy. I like to keep it simple. I'm also a sucker for some gears and pavement on the back roads of Wisconsin where I live. When I am not biking, I enjoy spending my time with my BEAUTIFUL wife and daughter. Family-Bikes-Music, my passions are and always will be in that order.