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Patapsco River Valley 200K

by on September 11, 2012

Late last week, when I determined I needed a “comp” day off work AND a September 200k ride, I determined that Monday would be the day.  The forecast was for cool and sunny temperatures … perfect!

Monday arrived and dawned as promised.  It was 59° F with a forecast high of 77.  I delayed my start until Lori got off to work, and pushed off for a solo 200k on a route that was new to me.  I had a Garmin file loaded up and the cue sheets were hanging from by brake cables.  I opted for two water bottles and no camelback.  That decision, more than any other, would come back to haunt me.

The first part of the route is very familiar.  It takes the rider up to BWI airport, then through Elkridge toward Ellicott City.  Before getting into Ellicott City, the route travels through Patapsco State Park and along the banks of the Patapsco River.  Entering the park, I made a wrong turn, and it was about half a mile before I recovered and made my way back to the proper route.  I remained hesitant to rely on the Garmin, which caused me some additional confusion at another point in the park, but I soon got that figured out.  The best part of the day was along the banks of the Patapsco where I encountered a young buck along the road.  I had the video camera cued up, so I turned it on and captured a clip of this deer running ahead of me, then suddenly cutting across the road in front of me.  You can view the clip here.

Entering Ellicott City gave me pause.  I crossed under the rail road trestle where just a few weeks ago a train derailed killing two female college students.  It was also in Ellicott City where I encountered the first real climb of the day.  It started with a steep, sharp right hand turn and I was pleased to be able to grind it out.  It was here where I discovered a problem that would needle me through the entire ride.  My front derailleur was not shifting properly.  I never got it adjusted to the point where it shifted properly all day.  In fact, I think I can count the times on one hand where it has worked right since I bought the bike.  That was a huge frustration later in the ride.

It wasn’t long before I got out of all the urban sprawl and into the rolling countryside.  Large cumulus clouds were racing across the sky at me.  The sky was bright blue and the temperatures were quite comfortable.  I did note that if there was a traffic light, I hit it red.  One memorable location was a steep downhill with railroad tracks at the bottom and a steep assent on the other side.  No chance for a little boost rolling through the bottom of the hill.  The railroad signals were flashing red.  I stopped, and noticed that a worker was testing the lights.  With no trains in sight, I proceeded on and ground my way up the assent on the other side.

I started noticing the wind in my face somewhere as I reached the higher elevations of the ride.  I had a steady headwind and a steady gentle climb for miles.  I kept looking forward to that tailwind on the return trip since this is mostly an out and back course.  The route descends into a little valley along Sam’s Creek at about mile 50.  It was very pretty and I got a little confused as the road turned from chip seal to gravel.  Both the cue sheet and the Garmin agreed that the gravel was the proper route, so I continued along, grumbling at the route owner for about a mile or two.  Soon enough though, it turned again to pavement and the smooth surface felt like bliss.

By the time I saw the quarry ahead, I was ready and salivating for the pizza to come at Union Bridge, the turn around point for the ride.  It was approaching noon.  I was behind the schedule I had planned for myself, and I was hungry and thirsty.  Others who had ridden this route had recommended stopping to eat, hydrate and rest because some real challenges lie ahead.  When I entered Union Bridge for the open control, I couldn’t believe my eyes!  The pizza joint was closed on Mondays.  One other recommendation appeared on the cue sheet.  It was closed too!  They roll up the sidewalks in Union Bridge on Mondays.  Now I was getting desperate.  Union Bridge is a town with a population of fewer than 1,000 people.  I saw a sign for EJ’s Restaurant.  On the steel door to the establishment was a sign, “Open at 12 7 days”.  I parked the bike, pulled on the door, and walked into a dark, run-down bar.

The bar had two taps, and the guy opening up was cleaning up from Sunday night.  I asked if they had a kitchen and he said they did not.  I ordered a Coke (in a can) and a bag of chips.  My total came to $1.30.  I asked for a receipt.  He didn’t know how to do that.  The cash register was stuck open.  I ate my chips and drank my Coke, apparently the only non-bike food I was going to get for a while.  I asked for a refill of my water bottles and the guy behind the counter said if I was brave enough to drink Union Bridge water, he will fill the bottles.  I asked to use the restroom.  Let me simply say that I know there isn’t much that will kill cockroaches … they will likely survive Armageddon … but there were more dead cockroaches in the restroom in the trough urinal than Orkin has ever seen.  I think I’ve only seen one restroom dirtier in my life.  I’m glad the lighting in the restroom was a single 10 w light bulb.

But hey, I’ve got a tailwind all the way back home now.  How bad can the hills be that lie ahead?  I jump on the bike, head out of town, and the road has a wide shoulder and gentle climbs out of town.  The tailwind helps.  This is going to be a breeze (pun intended).  At New Windsor, I saw a Mom & Pop restaurant open, but passed it by, knowing that I had already spent 1/2 an hour with my Union Bridge experience and figuring I had enough food on the bike.  Immediately after I made that decision, the hills started.  Remember the front derailleur problem?  I set my Garmin to elevation mode where I could see the hills that lie ahead, and when necessary, got off the bike to switch chain ring position.  I also immediately discovered the downside of a tailwind.  Climbing those steep grades, I often matched the speed of the wind.  Now I had no breeze as I’m climbing.   That first or second hill out of New Windsor had my face flooded with sweat so that I couldn’t open my eyes.  I stopped and used a trick I had learned.  I put chapstick on my eyebrows.  It helped channel the sweat away from my eyes.  I had to re-apply only once.

Over the next 10 miles the hills were non-stop.  As soon as I ascended, I descended and then another assent was due.  I mostly stayed in the small chain ring through this whole stretch.  It was here that the cramping started.  As I climbed, my thighs and calves started to scream and lock up.  I popped electrolytes and water as often as I could.  I had gels with electrolytes in them.  I rested.  I stretched.  I screamed in agony a number of times.  These hills were unrelenting.  Soon, I had no water left and the cue sheet had no indication that there was a place to get replenished any closer than 20 miles.  I tried to get Garmin screenshots of the terrain, but it didn’t work.  You will just have to look at the profile of the Garmin track.  I promise you, that doesn’t look as bad as it felt.

Near the top of one long climb, I decided to attempt to move my chain into the big ring with my foot, since it wasn’t cooperating with my repeated attempts at shifting on the fly.  My heel got caught in the spokes, then suddenly, I hear the whoosh of my tire going flat.  Ok, I thought, I’ll rest while I change the flat.  I found some shade, and proceeded to change the flat.  As it turns out, I had broken off the valve stem with my foot and now the nut holding the valve stem in place wouldn’t turn.  The threads had been damaged/bent.  I had no pliers.  It took me several minutes of problem solving to finally cut away the tube and push the broken valve stem through the hole where I eventually got enough purchase to remove the nut and resolve the problem.  I was nearly defeated by this little mechanical … more emotionally than anything else.  I just wanted the hills to stop.  I had no water.  I was hungry.  My legs hurt from the cramping.  I had a lot of miles to go.

After the flat was fixed, I focused on getting water.  I rode for perhaps another 5 miles before I saw a guy in his driveway doing some mower maintenance.  I pulled up and he graciously refilled two water bottles.  A few miles later, I saw a High’s convenience store that didn’t appear on the cue sheet.  I consumed a bunch of calories there, including a fruit cup (recalling how Randy Mouri enjoyed those on RAAM), a Klondike bar, a V-8, and some more protein.  I added another bottle of water to my rear pocket, so now I had three bottles of water.  My mood improved, and although the ride still had a lot of hills, they either weren’t so long and steep or I simply managed better.

I started noticing my surroundings again.  I was delighted with some cows that mooed long and loud at my approach.  When I answered them, they responded.  I said hi to a pony.  I found enough ways to distract myself that I completely missed a turn, rode another half mile downhill before I noticed, and didn’t complain much when I had to climb back up just to make the turn.  Soon I was getting into the outer fringes of suburbia and I knew I was home free.

As I descended into Ellicott City, I was day dreaming about an easy ride through Patapsco State Park, a slight climb to the airport (I’ve done that climb on the fixie, so it shouldn’t be a problem) and a long coast into Severna Park.  But no!  The sadistic route owner had other ideas for me.  He had the route climbing out of Ellicott City up a very steep switchback and long following hill.  As soon as I started climbing, the legs cramped again, and I resorted to walking about 100 yards just to stretch it out again.  That was really cruel 25 miles from home.  But I had managed other hills, and I managed these too.  I didn’t like them, but I kept my wits about me and I managed.

I finished my water bottles just before the airport.  I rode the last 10 miles without water which shouldn’t have been a big deal, but I was already dehydrated.  Those last 10 miles were fairly quick-paced.   I gained some confidence that I hadn’t worn myself completely out.  I think the nutrition was finally kicking in and I had the horse to the barn syndrome.

When I pulled up at the 7-11, I was just under 11 hours for the ride.  If you want the other gory stats of the ride, you can click on the map below and it will take you to my Garmin log of the ride.

Of the 14 200k’s I’ve completed, there are only 2 slower (not counting the Fleche).  I did manage my off the bike time pretty well.  I was under 2 hours including a couple of “food stops”, cramps, and a flat.  I would have liked 20 minutes less, but with traffic, traffic lights, and the problem with the chain, I doubt I could have done any better.  I think a more food laden stop at Union Bridge would have also made a difference.  My Garmin shows 9,400 feet of climbing.  The official climbing is 6,300.  Others who have ridden this got 7,500.  I think I did the 9,400.  Obviously the hills have been growing this summer.

This Ride: 129.3 miles
Month: 227.4 miles
2012: 4,194.5 miles
Total since 1/1/2010: 18,048.2 miles

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2 Comments
  1. Way to overcome some significant obstacles. I need to brush up on my Maryland geography – I had no idea central and eastern parts of the state were so hilly. You topped my Civil War Brevet climbing by 300 feet and I was well to the west of you. Speaking of which, I was hoping to see you on Saturday. One of these rides I’ll finally make your acquaintance! The Garmin discrepency discussion was also interesting to me. We had wildly varying altitude estimates during the DCR brevet and that is not the first time I’ve seen this issue with two or more cyclists on the same route. Apparently, altitude estimation is an inexact science.

    • ponderingpastor permalink

      Steve, there are few brevets I ride. I reserve Saturdays for home since I work so many evenings. We had quite a few Severna Park Peloton riders at the Civil War Brevet, at least 8. Re: climbing estimates. One rider on the Civil War Brevet noted that his showed a 300 foot climb at 59% gradient as the storm blew through. Barometric pressure changes on long rides changes these elevation readings.

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