The November R-12 brevet heads west into central Pennsylvania. New organizer Steve Schoenfelder serves up The Rusty Rail 204 starting and finishing in Mifflinburg, PA. This route promises to be one not soon forgotten. Registration is open on the PA Randonneurs website through October 31.
Fall foliage was at its peak during the October 24 pre-ride of the Rusty 204 with the mountains awash with color. A hard frost awaited me in Buffalo Valley with the temperature dropping to 29 degrees along Penns Creek. Surprisingly, it was warmer atop Jacks Mountain, probably because it catches the early morning sunlight. Riders are encouraged to bring along cold weather gear. I lost feeling in a few of my fingers in spite of wearing insulated winter gloves.
The route is entirely paved, so if your are riding over dirt or gravel, you are off course. There is the usual smattering of chip seal well known to PA riders. The stretch between Coburn and Woodward (mile 102-108) has a lot of loose gravel. Weiler Road (mile 61) gets my vote for the worst road surface. Be particularly careful on descents as there are potholes and gravel patches aplenty.
The route lands on a few highways where riders are encouraged to ride the shoulder or stay as far right as possible. Be careful on route PA-305 as you climb Stone Mountain (mile 53) where there is not much of a shoulder. Try to stay in the shoulder as you struggle up Tussey Mountain on PA 26 (mile 67) as cars whiz by at ridiculous speeds. Ditto for PA-45 as you leave Woodward (mile 109). Fast descenders usually occupy the lane on the way down as speeds of 45-55 can be easily achieved in an aero tuck.
Rutters at the Milroy control is undergoing a facelift and construction activity limits access. I elected to use the Subway. Don’t pass on the homemade chips at Doan’s Bones BBQ in Whipple Dam. My achievement of the day was keeping down the cheese and pulled pork BBQ sandwich as I ground my way up Tussey Mountain.
There are four epic climbs on the route separated by even more climbing. I used a 34 in the front and back and wished for a lower gear at times. I didn’t have to push my bike up any of the grades in spite of my advanced age and mass.
All in all, the Rusty Rail 204 combines a magical mix of beauty and suffering.