I knew around mile 50 that, barring anything catastrophic happening, I would make it. The first quarter of the ride flew by. Evan and Shannon joined me for the initial 10 miles, then left me to fly solo as I headed due south down Rt. 522. The sun was dropping, the clouds turning pink and purple as I ducked off the highway in favor of some back roads while there was still enough light to see my surroundings. I was feeling strong, but taking it easy. Even so, I finished the first 50 in three and a half hours, much faster than any other 50 mile ride I’ve ever done. I usually add in so much gravel/snowmobile trail/hard climbs that I forget how fast pavement and gradual hills can be.
After the rolling climb up to Cowans Gap, I pull into the park bathroom to pee and decide that it’s a good spot to adjust layers and re-situate things. I walk my entire bike into the bright, heated space and dump the contents of my seat bag onto the top of the trash can, pull out my wool jersey and warmer gloves, and shove it all back into place. I add more snacks to my feed bag, make sure the things I think I’ll need for the next 50 miles are easily accessible, and head back out into the night.
The descent down Richmond Road was cold as ever. I remember it being freezing when Evan and I did this ride on the tandem, and this time was no different. I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom. After a quick stint on Rt. 75, I made a left on 30 and started heading east.
I have a few memories that are super vivid from the middle of the ride, like the smell of apples as I passed through orchards, feeling strong and happy as I danced my way up the climb through Michaux State Forest, the super bright yet empty streets of York, crossing the Susquehanna and thinking about how long the bridge was, and watching the moon move across the sky as the hours flew by. The rest is a blur of pedaling through the darkness.
Around 2 am, I started getting really sleepy. I was on Rt. 234 just west of York, and there wasn’t anything going on except the shadows of silos on the horizon. I saw very few cars. I didn’t have to think about navigation. I switched from music to podcasts in the hope that it would give me more to think about. I needed coffee.
East of York, I caught the “open” sign of a donut shop (Maple Donuts) out of the corner of my eye. I was getting sick of my snacks and could use something else to eat. And it looked like they had coffee. I pulled in, intending to get a coffee and donut to go, but the inside was bright and warm and inviting, so I sat. The lady at the counter filled my water bottles for me. Nobody questioned what I was doing riding my bike at 3 am.
Evan texted me a donut emoji. How did you know I was eating a donut? I asked. Good guess, he said. I had turned on the Beacon feature on Strava and he was following my progress. I figured he saw where I was on the map. We wrote back and forth a little. He asked if I was alright, I said yeah, I just needed coffee. Then he sent me a picture of the outside of the building I was in. For a moment I was confused and slightly freaked out. I looked up. He was parked at the corner of the lot with Dinah in the front seat. I was finished my donut anyway so I walked outside, grinning. He asked if I needed anything. I said no, I was good. We kissed and he told me to get going, so I did.
I don’t remember much between donuts and sunrise, but there was a solid few hours in between. I stopped at Sheetz around 6 am for a breakfast sandwich and another coffee, and finally put on my jacket and warmer gloves. The saying “it’s always darkest before the dawn” is true. It’s also coldest. 6 am was so cold.
The sky began to lighten as I was in the heart of Amish country. A detour on Rt. 340 took me off course and added some extra hills, but the route was beautiful. Frost lay on the fields as the sun was rising in the east and the moon still hung in the sky to the west. Traffic started to increase as the world awakened. I jumped back on 30 because there wasn’t another good direct route into the Chester County suburbs. It was rush hour and the traffic was getting bad, but there was a good shoulder on the road. I passed through Coatesville, Thorndale, Downingtown. It wasn’t until then that I started to really feel physically tired, and mentally sick of dealing with cars. I made a couple wrong turns in Downingtown and added some mileage, but at least it was sunny and getting warm and I didn’t have anywhere I had to be, except drinking a beer and taking a nap upon arrival at my in-laws house.
I found the Chester Valley Trail and got a respite from the traffic. Evan texted that he made it to his parents house and that he was coming to meet me for the last few miles, most of which were up steep hills. They were short, but at that point in the ride, I was crawling up them at a snails pace. I didn’t care. I had just ridden over 200 miles and I was still less tired than I thought I would be, and definitely less tired than when I did this ride on the tandem 3 years ago.
I pulled into Evan’s parents driveway just before 11 am, about 19 hours after leaving home. Final stats: 212.3 miles, 10,474 feet of elevation gain, and exactly 16 hours of moving time.
Overall, the ride was easier than I expected and I got really lucky that everything went as well as it possibly could have. It didn’t rain. It was cold but not THAT cold. I didn’t have any mechanicals or negative incidents with drivers or people I saw along the way. I had some aches and pains late in the ride but nothing debilitating (and they were gone within a day).
Any one of those things could have thrown me into a pretty dark mental place that I’d have to dig my way out of or cause me to quit. But I never reached that place. Going into the ride, I assumed that I would. I assumed that the dark and the cold and being alone in the middle of the night would be harder to get through. Instead, I found peace in the darkness. I felt at home. I felt motivated to keep going through the whole ride. And most importantly, I had a lot of fun.
Sure, there were parts that were hard, like really wanting to sleep on the side of the road at 2 am on desolate roads when there wasn’t anything going on, or stepping back into the cold after a warm gas station break, or feeling nauseous at mile 140 because my body was confused about why it had been up all night and was eating donuts at 3 am. But I never wanted to quit.
Going into this ride, I was really scared that I couldn’t do it. I know there a number of things that could have happened that would have made my attempt less successful that would not have been my fault or anything I could have controlled, but I was scared that I just wasn’t strong enough or tough enough, even if everything did go right. I proved to myself that that fear was unfounded, and beyond. I exceeded my expectations of myself, my strength and my abilities, and the experience exceeded my expectations of how much fun could be had doing something that most people think is crazy.
Thank you so much to my amazing husband Evan for getting my bike ready, for the gear and nutrition advice and words of encouragement, and for doing everything he possibly could to support me. And thank you to everyone who told me that I could do it and who has listened to me talk about getting ready this ride for the past month.
Another post about my bike and gear setup to come!