So, the Lancaster that I knew before I did this ride consists of rolling to flat farmland. Horse-drawn plows, vegetable stands around every corner, and lots of open space. Well, there was one organized ride I did a few years ago that found some hills, but I had put that out of my mind.
Andrew met me at the K-Mart parking lot a bit before 7 to give me my brevet card and get the registration and waiver forms from me. He kindly rode the first couple of miles with me, and while we were riding he pointed to a range of hills in the distance and said I’d be going over those hills and down into Lebanon County. He also quietly summed up the route by saying that many people think that Lancaster is flat, but that it is surrounded by hills. This ride, he said, takes a loop of the county through the hills. He also warned me to have plenty of supplies when I left Conestoga Wagon Restaurant because “there wasn’t much after that” for a while. And then he rode away and I was on my way–the beginning of a 12 1/2 hour day.
I didn’t start off with the expectation of taking that long, and the 3 extra miles I logged after the Gap Turkey Hill controle (I asked the store clerks for route clarification and two of them insisted that Route 340 only went to the right not the left. I should have trusted my own reading of the cue sheet). In any case, I left the second and third controles with 30 minutes to one hour in the bank–pretty good for me. I even arrived at Conestoga with considerable time in the bank, and because I’d eaten at the Subway in Columbia, I didn’t need to have a sit-down meal in the restaurant. The day was warming up, but I was moving at a good clip, encouraging myself up the hills and keeping the fluids going down.
In the first 70 miles, that is up to Conestoga, there is also a good mix of flat and hilly. The climb up 322 early in the ride is rewarded with a good downhill and decently long flat stretches into the controle in Annville. There is long (12-mile) stretch along Route 441 that is relatively level, and even the climb up to Turkey Hill Dairy is not too long and there is a decent view from the top.
Leaving Conestoga Wagon Restaurant and Store, you take a steep downhill, and of course, whatever goes down, must go up again. And so a stretch of steeper and seemingly unending hills begins. I also hit this stretch in the heat of the day. I was slow, naseous, and cranky for a few hours. I got really discouraged for a short time on White Oak Rd, which comes at about the 80-mile mark. A detour is necessary because of road construction. Talking with Andrew in the morning, I decided that I would take the detour that was least complicated in terms of the number of turns: right instead of left on Main; left on route 222; right on White Oak. What I didn’t know was that it was right on White Oak and CLIMB. The steep hill in front of me made me understand why Andrew had offered other, more convoluted detours, but there was nothing to do now but face the hill. I climbed as much as I could on the bike and when my head felt like it was going to explode, I got off the bike and pushed it, very slowly, up to the top where I stopped under a tree until I could breathe again. Even from the top of that hill, White Oak did not let up but continued to roll along, presumably now along the top of a ridge.
Eventually I made my way down the ridge and finally to the Turkey Hill controle in Gap. Ice cream and ice water were in order here. Then, after making the mistake of listening to the store clerks tell me which way Route 340 went, I climbed another hill for almost two miles–just for the fun of it. Finally back on route, the roads continued to roll but for a short time, a little less than before. If my memory is correct, Seldomridge Rd and Meetinghouse–around mile 110–climb for a couple of miles, and then you finally start to get a bit of a break.
For a while, I was even concerned about having enough time, but finally, you are actually in the valley with the farms, fruit and veggie stands and horse-drawn plows. In the last 10 to 15 miles I was able to make up some time so that I finished with about 45 minutes to spare.
Much of this ride is very beautiful, and I think the hills would have been less taxing if it weren’t so hot. I’d like to do the ride again in the fall or spring to see if I could come up with a slightly faster time. I enjoyed the vistas from the tops of ridges until the middle of the afternoon when I just wanted shady roads going downhill. I also really like the fact that there are controles about every 25 mile. Except for the stretch that Andrew warned me about, you have the opportunity to replenish your supplies and take a short break at pretty regular intervals.
Despite the fact that I didn’t break any speed records, given the heat and the fact that I was riding alone, I’m proud of how strongly I faced the hills, even the last one that is half a mile from the finish. I took each one (well, except for that short stretch of White Oak) as fast as I could and as fast as seemed safe when it got to be too hot. In some cases, I was in my lowest gear just spinning to get to the top without blowing up; in other cases I was able to attack and make better time. I tried to pay attention to my climbing during this ride and learn more about how I could be more efficient and a little faster. I think I learned some valuable lessons, and if I make it to the NYC 200 in a little over a week, we’ll see if all the climbing has made me any stronger.
In any case, I am satisfied with my result. It’s a great route, but don’t sign up for it because, you know, Lancaster is flat. How hard can this ride be?