Sunday, June 26, 2011

Garret County Gran Fondo: The Savage Century

A friend sent me the link to the Garret County Gran Fondo several months back.  A Gran Fondo is basically like other supported charity cycling events.  This one had four options for length of ride and our friend called thinking the metric century (100 km) sounded like fun.  I talked us into doing the full century, which was named the Savage Century.  It was listed as 102.5 miles and 12,700 feet of climbing (SSW Spouse insists that he was deceived, having assumed it was just titled after someone named Savage).  I'm not sure what possessed me to think that was a good idea, but we went ahead and started training, spending a lot of time climbing hills on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. 

The forecast was pretty good:  cool and cloudy in the morning, followed by sun and a high in the 60s in the afternoon.  When we arrived in the parking lot, it wasn't cool, it was downright cold (probably in the low 50s) and windy, especially when we are used to the heat and humidity of the DC area.  I bought arm warmers and threw in my tights and long-fingered gloves at the last minute.  I was glad I did.  I didn't want to spend energy being cold that I would need later in the ride.

We started at 7:30 a.m., pretty much assuming that it would take all day.  The only requirement was that we finished by sunset at 8:45.  The first leg had a few climbs, one of them fairly steep, but was mostly downhill.  The route wound through beautiful wooded valleys and pastureland on the hilltops.  It rained for a little while, but stopped by the time we reached the first checkpoint.  By that point, I had warmed up enough to drop off my tights and long-fingered gloves.  I kept my arm warmers just in case, which turned out to be a good decision.

The next leg was fairly brutal.  Our friend dropped us within the first few miles.  We wouldn't see him again until the next checkpoint.  This leg had 3,700 feet of climbing and basically regained all of the elevation that was lost on the first.  The first leg had taken us about 90 minutes.  The second took us almost 2 1/2 hours for 21.3 miles and we weren't the slowest riders on the course. The second checkpoint was at the top of a hill at a stockyards.  It was cold.  Our friend had waited for us, so he was freezing.  We grabbed some food and continued.

The first few miles of the third leg were a nice downhill, which brutally ended in a two-mile long steep hill.  Watching other riders, I decided to try zigzagging back and forth across the road.  It helped, even thought it looked ridiculous.  At mile 48, we had a decision to make.  We were all cold and tired and we reached the turnoff for the metric century.  It was very tempting to finish in just 14 more miles, instead of 54.  Most other riders were only doing the metric, which only made us think harder about bailing.  After much debate and looking at the elevation profiles, we finally decided to continue with the century.  We were rewarded with easy riding for a few miles followed by the steepest hill that I think I have ever climbed on a bike.  It is the only hill (labeled on the map as the "Killer Miller") that I've ever found myself thinking that I might just fall over backwards or stall out and tip over. Fortunately, the third checkpoint wasn't long after that hill.

After taking a longer break, we started the best, longest leg of the event.  After a short, easy climb, we had a nice, easy downhill, followed by mile after mile of level riding at 20 miles per hour.  The road, though New Germany State Park, followed, first, a stream lined with blooming rhododendrons and mountain laurel, and then wound along the shore of the Savage River Reservoir.  We blasted through 15 quick miles before finally reaching the longest hill of the ride.  Although it was an easier climb that some of the earlier ones, it was also miles 75-78, so my legs were tired.  I climbed pretty well, but took a few breaks along the way.  Our friend is a stronger climber than either SSW Spouse or me, so we saw the last of him until the finish line.  By the time we reached the top, I was pretty much out of gas.  The final leg of the ride was only 15 miles and most of the hills weren't terrible, but I was ready to be done.  I was not really prepared for how tough the final hill of the ride was.  It was the final two miles of the ride, ending at the top of Wisp Ski Resort.  It was as steep as the steepest hills on the rest of the ride, but because of traffic, I couldn't zigzag.  I had to ride straight up.  I was exhausted, tired of sitting on the bike and ready to be finished.  I had to take a couple of breaks along the way, but I didn't walk, although it was tempting.  In the final mile, people had set up tents and were cheering riders along, which was a nice morale boost.  We finally finished at 6:30 p.m., 11 hours of riding.  Seeing the finish line, and hearing the cheers of people I've never met were a great feeling.  I crossed the finish line with SSW Spouse.  We were relieved to be done and and proud that we had been able to complete the ride. 

All in all, it was a grueling, awesome ride.  It was one of the harder physical things I've ever done.  I discovered that when I can keep my pace above about 5.5 miles per hour (ridiculously slow), I can spin at a reasonable cadence and climb pretty much all day long.  We had trained well for that type of climbing on Skyline Drive, where the first hill is 6 miles long.  When the hills gets steep enough that my pace drops below about 4.5 miles per hour (painfully slow), I really struggle because I can't spin.  Each pedal stroke requires much more muscle strength.  On the really steep sections, my pace dropped down around 3.3-3.5 miles per hour (absurdly slow).  I can walk faster than that.  There were guys who passed me on the uphills like I was standing still, but there were riders who were slower than me as well.  I also discovered that I really can ride all day.

I am so glad we stuck with it and finished the full century.  

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 A great view on the first leg of the ride.
 An interesting stone country church on the third leg.
 A close up of the stonework on the church.
 The view from the top of the Killer Miller on the third leg.
 Hemerocallis fulva (Day Lily) along the roadside.
 A waterfall on the fourth leg.
Satureja vulgaris (Wild Basil), a member of the mint family, along the roadside.

1 comment:

  1. Great writeup, beautiful pics. Glad you took your camera with you on course.