Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The October Fall Classic: Chamounix 200K Brevet and 107K Populaire

Recognizing the number of Pennsylvania Randonneurs that hail from Philadelphia, we are returning to Philadelphia for a newly designed Fall Classic event on October 17.  The starting point is Chamounix Mansion, located in Fairmont Park overlooking the Schuylkill River.  We are running both a traditional Fall Classic 200K Brevet, and a 107K Populaire.  Details for both the 200K event and 107K event are on the web, including links for online registration.

A RUSA membership is required to participate in these events.  Membership in Pennsylvania Randonneurs, while encouraged, is not required to participate.  If you already have a RUSA membership for 2020 you're set.  If not, you should wait a bit.  RUSA memberships paid on or after October 1 will be valid through the end of 2021.  If you apply for RUSA membership in now, it will only be valid through the end of 2020.  Yes, this differs from the approach that Pennsylvania Randonneurs is taking, but we don't make the rules for RUSA.  

These events are being run under RUSA "soft start" COVID-19 rules. The route passes convenience stores, including the iconic Sheetz in Morgantown, but all controles are optionally info controles (bring a pencil); riders are not required to enter any businesses.  That said, all riders must bring a pre-completed waiver to the start, and must have masks at the start and finish. Masks are required if you do choose to enter any of the businesses.

The 107K route is substantially identical to the International Women's Day 107 K held this Spring. The main difference is that the start/finish is now Chamounix rather than the Art Museum area. You can read the pre-ride notes and  ride report from the Spring edition of the IWD Populaire to get some sense of what this populaire route is like.

The 200K is a totally new route. A pre-pre ride of the 200K was conducted by organizer Iwan Barankay and the "Rat Pack". Here are the preliminary notes from their first-ever check-out of this new 200K.

200K Pre-pre-ride

Though not a control, there is a WAWA of to the left at mile 26.5 as we cross US 30. Be very careful as you cross this highway.  Fortunately, US 202 and I-75 will both be crossed more safely via bridges.

A non-negotiable feature of a PA brevet that reaches this far West is a Sheetz control. Be very careful as you enter the control as it is on the left side of a busy road. (Pro tip: to refill water bottles press the unlabeled bottom-right button at the self-service fountain bar).

You continue on Hopewell and then the full length of Harmonyville Rd. The road surface on both of these roads switches arbitrarily between brand new and rumbustious with some steep technical descents.

Continuing north it is advisable to refuel at the CVS as you reach West Ridge Pike at mile 74.9 since there won’t be another easy option like this for quite some time.                                                                      
We cross the Schuylkill River via Linfield Bridge, a rare example of a surviving, 1930s, 3-span Warren-pony-truss bridge with polygonal top chord, which for us translates into a narrow bridge with no hard shoulder or bike path – be alert and make yourself seen when on the bridge.

On the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen trails, be courteous and always announce yourself when passing.  At times your GPS might complain but you always want to stay on the Perk trail.  Be alert in turns as depending on the weather the deep gravel can turn into a non-Newtonian fluid and spare a happy thought for the route planner as you go up a rather unexpected, brief 12% climb at mile 88.1.

There is an expanded 17.8 mile gravel experience (suitable for most tires) on the Perkiomen Trail (PT). You stay on Perkiomen until you reach the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) at mile 101.2. Don’t miss the turn to go up the bridge as otherwise you end up in Phoenixville which is a different brevet altogether.

Sometimes the SRT is a time-trial fest interspersed with some more inexperienced riders exhibiting artistic sudden turns.  Stay alert and consider refreshments at the Conshohocken Brewery (mile 112.8) or carefully navigate around its patrons. Shortly after the brewery we leave the SRT turning left and go past Riverbend Cycles and then up steep Barren Hill Rd named after what it does to your virility.  As you then scream down the hill towards Manayunk make sure not to miss the left-turn into a small road misnamed “High Street” after the traffic light but before the bridge - listen to the custom cues! – to reach a pleasing former railroad bridge turned now into the Manayunk Bridge Trail to join Cynwyd Trail.

Free Bridge 200K Ride Report

Free at last to ride our bikes again, Pennsylvania Randonneurs began the "after-times" of randonneuring with a challenging 200K, a totally new route that visited many familiar places through unfamiliar routes. Despite the Corona virus pandemic continuing to raise concerns, a brave group of 29 randonneurs clipped in for the first running of Free Bridge 200K brevet. Despite the anxious context and difficult course, maybe (see below) 28 of the 29 starters finished under the time limit for  a 97% completion rate. Congratulations and well done to all, especially our first time riders Ellen Houle and Ello ShertzerWelcome to PA Randonneuring! I can promise you that it will get easier. Also welcome to two-time PBP ancien Rene Mortara from NJ who was riding his first PA brevet.

Riders of the Free Bridge 200K
Brave Randonneurs of the Pandemic

Preliminary results for this first event post-Covid-lockdown, have been posted on the PA Rando website.  Please review the results and let me know if something doesn't agree with your recollections.  The results will be submitted for ACP certification later on and become final at that time. 

With a finish in the Free Bridge 200K event this month, this was the 12th consecutive month that Paul Weaver completed a Pennsylvania Randonneurs event of 200K or more (Covid shutdown months ruled nonexistent).  Consequently, Paul has earned the "covited" Pennsylvania R12 Award, admitting him into the exclusive club of only 16 people in the history of PA Rando to earn this award. Also earning the PA-R12 this year was Greg Keenan. Congratulations Paul and Greg!

It was almost a picture perfect day to ride a bike. It started out moderately cool at dawn, for the socially distanced "Free Start" format. As the day developed, despite the copious sunshine, it stayed in the 70s and never quite became overly warm. There was a steady breeze that provided some challenge at points in the course, but overall the weather was about as good as we could ask for this time of year. 

The start of the course is a relatively easy spin up to Wind Gap on paved rail trail. The relaxing ease of this warm up was marred somewhat by a mishap that befell Robert Dye as he approached the Wind Gap controle. It seems that as Dye was messing with his GPS, a telephone pole tried to cross the road in front of him. Fortunately, he looked up in time to avoid the pole with the bike; unfortunately he bashed the pole with his shoulder, breaking his left collarbone.  After calling in to report the incident and assure the organizer that he was OK-ish, Bob mounted his bike and soldiered back to Easton via the slightly downhill rail trail. Not having any duct tape to fasten the hand of his bad arm to the handlebars, Bob had to ride one handed home. Occasionally he would go no-handed to ring his bell on the opposite bar, warning walkers on the trail of his approach. Tough bike rider!

After following the Southern edge of Mt Minsi for a while, the route turns into a gravel road and then a steep gravel descent. This was the first of several gravel sections in the course. There were a few reports of flat tires, it seemed mostly from the go-fast folks that run the lightweight, narrow rubber. The rest of us that ride wider, heavier tread had an enjoyable time gravelling along. 

The  controle at Point of Gap has a beautiful view of Mt Tammany across the Delaware River. So many times we have zoomed past this spot without looking over our shoulders at the amazing mountain. This time, because it was a turnaround info controle, there was a moment to stop and appreciate the grandeur of the location.

Another amazing sight at that same location was Tom Rosenbauer, RBA emeritus, volunteering to staff the Point of Gap controle. When PBP ancien Tom completed the pre-ride for this event, it was the first brevet he had completed in the last 5 years. Health problems had kept him away from the bike, but now it seems he's climbed back on. Randonesia? Chapeau Tom. Bon courage! 

Many riders commented that the new routing back to Easton that avoids at couple of the "little bastard" climbs on River Road was an appreciated improvement.

After a halfway replenishment stop at Jimmy's and/or their parked cars, riders attacked the signature climb of the route, the one-two punch of Ciphers and Shire Rd. This obscenity of a hill was conquered on foot by about half the field. Quite impressive was the tandem team of Cecilie and Patrick Gaffney, who unhesitatingly pedaled up the near 20% grade with no visible strain.  

Ellen Houle
First timer Ellen Houle conquers Shire with aplomb.

Yet another amazing sight at the Weisel Hostel "Watch for Geezers" controle was none other than the Covid Bearded (and PBP ancien) Ron Anderson volunteering to staff that nostalgic location. Thank you Ron!

Ron posted some photos from the Geezers controle.

The new routing from the hostel to Easton was complimented by many, although the bumpy covered bridge just North of the hostel unsettled a few GPS-only riders who missed the explicit warnings on the cue sheet. Everyone liked going down Stony Garden and the Gallows Hill rollers. 

Joe Ray and Greg Keenan
Watch out for them!

Almost everyone loved the rather lovably downhill Coon Hollow gravel road -- everyone but Scotty Steingart, that is.  Scotty, it seems, lost his brevet card while changing a flat (his third of the day) on that road. At the time of this writing, the RBA and other supreme randonneuring authorities were in conference determining the fate of Scotty's brevet result.

After Coon Hollow (thank George Retseck for suggesting that fun short-cut, BTW), the new climb up Cider Press was universally praised as better than the double hump of Lower Saucon. 

At the finish, riders gathered on the grass and picnic tables in front of Jimmy's, eating hot dogs and slurping ice cream. All riders stayed very socially distant from the "mini Sturgis" motorcycle rider gathering over at the Sand Bar. There was a live band playing "classical music" like Monkeys and the theme song to the Beverly Hillbillies. Ahh, the things you run into as a randonneur. 

Thanks again to Andrew, Tom, Ron, Bill, and others that helped with organizing this successful return to the sport we love.

Iwan Barankay writes...

What a great route and what a wonderful set of people to ride it with!  We are so lucky and privileged to have this sport!

That one hill really gutted me, though! It took me an hour to recover from that one alone and I still am. So sorry for calling [the organizer] names there but it came from a place of sheer desperation!       

Joe Ray writes...

Thanks for putting on a terrific brevet and for arranging such great weather!

Highlights -  Gravel!  My phone fell from my front bag at the top of National Park descent without me noticing for a mile or two; huge thanks (and a six-pack reward) to Greg Keenan for observing it and picking it up. Cypher-whatever did not disappoint; Jimmy's hot dog and milkshake worked as described (promised?) in course notes. Geezers!  It was great to see people I have missed riding with for months.  Including goatee-disguised Tom and beard-disguised RonChris’ covid beard was not fooling anyone.    

Pat and Cece write...

Thanks for a lovely return to randonneuring on Saturday.  The course was great! We particularly like the detour around the River Road bridge construction and the routing from Belvidere to Phillipsburg.  The climb up Shire was a good smack to the face, but it wouldn't be a PA Rando event without a serious climb. With the exception of losing our 14 tooth cog around the 50K mark it was a pretty perfect day.  Thanks again.  Hope to see you in October. 

Vadim performing a delicate procedure

 Vadim Gritsus writes...

Despite a long hiatus and COVID anxiety, I was pleased to see that PA Rando came back as good as ever on a newly minted Free Bridge 200K.  The ride was as smooth and challenging as one could expect from a PA brevet. Gravel sections were splendid, like a roller coaster ride in a theme park, scary enough to be entertaining but one never felt in any real danger.  New info control routine was a welcomed addition and made the ride even more smooth. Even mechanical issues happened at  the right time, giving us much needed rest before a what seemed to be 40 percent grade climb!  Another treat was watching Mario Claussnitzer doing the whole ride effortlessly on his newly acquired Specialized Epic mountain rig.  To summarize, if one could compare PA Rando to a master brewer, this ride would be a triple IPA!  

Steve Schoenfelder writes...

Thanks to Chris Nadovich, volunteers, and pre-riders of the Free Bridge 200k! Truly an epic restart to the PA rando season, the route was scenic, included  three covered bridges, rolled over gravel, dirt, and paved roads, and introduced us to a fun new climb up Cyphers Road. 

I felt the ride was particularly well organized and provided safety to the riders with the free start format, and the ability to re-supply at our vehicles near the half-way point.

Just let me know how much it will cost to prevent publication of the “walk of shame” photo you took of me near the Cyphers Road summit.

You can't pay me enough not to post this, Steve
How much ya' got, Steve?

[RBA NoteRule 11 requires that all riders sign and deliver their brevet card to the organizer at the ride finish.  RUSA has relaxed rules somewhat to provide RBAs the flexibility to safely organize brevets in view of pandemic-driven requirements of our regions.  Electronic proof of passage (EPP) is on the table.  

Pennsylvania Randonneurs has a long history of upholding traditions.  Paperwork is important whether it be cue sheets with warnings about rough bridges or brevet cards with a general survey on gas prices or geezer sightings in the area.  Our pandemic plan includes increased use of staffed and info controls to minimize the number of people touching a brevet card.  I decided against the use of EPP as the norm.  It seemed unnecessary and I expect a return to normal rules at some point in the not so distant future.  We will continue to use brevet cards unless and until circumstances dictate otherwise.

As for Scotty, there was never any doubt that he completed the route as required.  He had an impressive ride despite flatting three times.  There is even a picture of Scotty with his card at the penultimate controle.  

Scotty and his brevet card
Scotty with his brevet card at the hostel control

The current rule flexibility allows me to to consider alternative means for proof of passage.  In this case, Scotty's GPS file for the ride provided all that was necessary to save his finish result.  The lessons to take from this are to take care of your brevet card and save your GPS files.  Congratulations Scotty.  Sorry Chris Maglieri.  He nipped you by a minute.

Andrew Mead
Eastern PA RBA


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Free Starts at the Free Bridge

To facilitate social distancing with the large group riding on Saturday, we're going to try Free Starts -- like they had at PBP 2011. 

Here's how it will work (I hope).

1) Park your car. Most people will want to park behind Jimmy's on the NJ side. Let's assume this is what you do.

2) Get ready. Since it might technically still be night when we start, you should have reflective gear on.

3) Sometime between 6 and 7 AM casually walk by yourself across the bridge with your bike and your signed event waiver.  The idea is that people should come over gradually, in onezie-twozies. not in a bunch. I'll be waiting with your brevet card on the PA side by the Columbus statue in a small park off to the right after you cross to PA. 

4) Drop your signed waiver in the bag I'll have next to me on the ground. If you forget your waiver, you'll need to do the walk of shame back over the bridge to fill out a blank one. I'll have some under the windshield wiper of my car.

5) After you drop your waiver, I will give you your brevet card. Hold it up with your name facing me. I'll take a picture of you and record the current time as your official start time on my roster. Some people will also be given satellite trackers. If you get one, put it someplace where it can "see" the sky. It can be in a bag or pocket, just don't pile stuff on top of it.

6) Ride your bike!  And don't go faster than your guardian Angel!

Simple? I think so.  Unless somebody calls the cops, worrying about the weird looking crowd gathering around the Columbus statue. So try not to bunch up, and try to look like happy, friendly bike riders who are thrilled to be riding a real, honest brevet after 6 months of lockdown.

Beyond that, I'm not going to lecture further about how you shouldn't  blow snot rockets,  draft riders closely, or go bare-faced when around groups of people or inside businesses. You're all adults and you know what to do by now after months of this.

Have a great ride!


Chris Nadovich, brevet organizer