Monday, June 7, 2021

Ride Report: Philly - Pagoda - Pocono 600K

Preliminary results for the final and most epic ride in our ACP Super Randonneur series, the Philly - Pagoda - Pocono 600K brevet, have been posted on the PA Rando website.  The record high heat wilted a good portion of the field, as only 7 of the 12 not-heat-acclimated starters finished under the time limit for a 58% completion rate. Congratulations to the finishers and chapeau to all who attempted this very difficult event. Please review the results and let me know if something doesn't agree with your recollections.  The results will be submitted to RUSA for certification later on and become final at that time. 

Greg Keenan completed a Pennsylvania 600K brevet on a fixed gear, joining an elite club of very few riders who have accomplished this difficult task. 

This ride also completed Greg's sixth Pennsylvania SR series. Only Greg and Guy Harris have ridden six PA SR series. The only person with more PA SR awards is Bill Olsen who has ridden nine. Greg also rode the 400K and 300K fixed, so Greg still needs a fixed-gear 200K this year for a fixed gear SR. For some reason Greg thought the Pagoda 200K would be too hard on a fixie, so he rode that one freewheel. Really? 

If Greg rides a PA 200 fixed this year, he will unseat James Haddad as most recent fixed-gear PA SR badass. James did it in 2018. Records show that Guy Harris and Paul Searce did it in 2013. It's possible that Rick Carpenter also accomplished a fixie SR but Rick doesn't remember for sure and early PA Randonneuring records are spotty. The secret may be locked in ancient rando scrolls buried in the basement of Tom Rosenbauer's house.

Fixed gear fanatic and soon to be sinister nut recruit, Greg Keenan, finishes the PA 600. Volunteers Scott Franzen and Bill Olsen are his welcoming committee.

With their 600K finish, three other riders completed the PA SR series this year, albeit on freewheel bikes: Iwan Barankay (2), Vadim Gritsus (2), and newly minted Super Randonneur Brad Layman who was first finisher.

Also, a fifth rider Nicolaas Van Rhede van der Kloot who finished this 600K is still in the PA-SR hunt as he has completed the 300, 400, and 600K PA brevets in 2021 and just needs an PA 200 for his second Pennsylvania SR. He hopes to pick up a PA/ACP 200K later this year. 

Niccolaas is clearly crushed in disappointment upon learning that he doesn't yet qualify for a PA SR despite his achievement in finishing three of the hardest events in the PA rando menu. Just come back and do the Hawk's Nest 200, Nick --- you can ride it with Greg Keenan!

Gavin Biebuyck and Gert Schmitt completed the 600K as well, and are congratulated for their impressive efforts. They are missing a Pennsylvania 300 and/or 400 required for the SR, and these distances will not be offered again by PA in 2021.

Congratulations to these Super Randonneurs, 600K finishers, and all the riders attempting all or part of this difficult event series on any kind of bicycle.
And a super randonneur thanks to all the volunteers that made it possible. Volunteer support for this event was phenomenal.  As soon as they were able to speak coherently, the first words out of the mouths of finishing riders was how much they owed to the volunteers. Even the DNF-ing riders were expansive in their praise of the volunteers. With the excessive heat, the inherent difficulty of the course, and the remoteness of some parts of the route,  the volunteers made finishing possible for many, and survival possible for all.
Setup and registration at the Holiday Inn Express were handled by Steve Schoenfelder and yours truly, Chris Nadovich

Riders assemble for the start of the Philly-Pagoda-Pocono 600K brevet
The first volunteers that riders encountered on the course were the Rah-Rah Rocky Squad at the Rocky statue by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Members of the squad included: CJ Arayata Woody Felice, Nick Manta, Ryan Stanis, Zack Rachell, Pat and Cece Gaffney, with their volunteer dog, Connie
The importance of volunteers at this location is not possible to overstate.  It's not the food and water they supply -- the riders are hardly depleted yet. Rather it's about the energy.  No other moment in this 600K has as much positive vibe, and the impulse of encouragement riders receive here needs to last them more than three hundred miles further.  It's like launching a moon rocket -- you need to give it a forceful shove at the start to be sure it's still moving forward at the end.   
Rider George Metzler chats with CJ Arayata at the Philadelphia control. In the background are cats of the Philly Rocky Rah-Rah Squad (PRRRS), and their only dog member, Connie.
 Volunteer CJ Arayata, after herding with the Philadelphia RRRS cats for a while at the Art Museum, went out solo to the Morlatton Village control to staff that location, ensuring that riders found their way to the SRT detour, and providing one last impulse of enthusiasm before the climb to the Pagoda ends the party. 
Vounteer CJ Arayata helps George and Vadim replenish at the Morlatton Village Control
CJ also snapped a bunch of pictures.
Bill Slabonik staffed the control in Fleetwood. This location is reached immediately after completing the Pagoda climb and the rolling transit of  the McNight pass through the Reading prong of mountains. The temperature was peaking and riders finally knew that the party was over. Bill was the first in a series of volunteers who helped riders in the battle they would wage against the siren song of quitting the ride. Unfortunately, there were two DNF casualties in Fleetwood and Bill unselfishly drove these lost souls back to the start finish. Thank you so much for your efforts, Bill!
Jan and Vadim thinking that the canoe might have been a better choice on this hot day.

The course segment Between Fleetwood and Wind Gap is generally flat and can be beautiful and invigorating to ride on a mild day. Unfortunately, the record heat turned the big-sky exposed farmland into a hellish furnace. The volunteer fireman in this course segment was none other than RBA emeritus Tom Rosenbauer, who roved the sun soaked land handing out ice socks, water, and words  of encouragement. Sadly, two more PA SR awards went up in flames here, the riders opting to return to the start by bike, using the cool, shady, D&L trail along the Lehigh.

Wind Gap is the gateway to a final course segment leading to the overnight. This final segment is, without a doubt, a supreme test of mental and physical endurance. There are several big climbs, countless small ones, and many long grinds through a remote area with little or no services.  Most riders do this segment entirely in the dark.  Despite these near insurmountable challenges, all the riders who crossed the mountain at Wind Gap successfully made it to the overnight. Their success is a testament to their will power and their strong legs, but it's also in no small part due to the volunteer efforts of Ed Bernasky who dashed here and there through that darkness,  maximizing every rider's chances of success. 
Ed had already helped out at both the Fleetwood and Wind Gap controls, but his real contribution was after midnight  in Promised Land, where the we-are-open-24-hours (but not in a row) Exxon control turned out to be shuttered. As one example of his fine o-dark-thirty volunteer work, Ed had been distributing tea to the riders and this turned out to be so popular and valuable that his supply emptied.  Worrying that Nick and Vadim would go without, Ed darted down to Hawley and back to have two teas waiting when the riders arrived at the service-less Promised Land control. 

4 AM tea delivery courtesy of volunteer Ed Bernasky

Ed shepherded six weary riders to the overnight at Pine Grove Cottages, where volunteers Andrew Mead and Jim Bondra did their best to rest and rejuvenate them. Juevos rancheros del Bondra with a side dish of mac-n-cheese smothered in salsa was washed down with Folgers. The coffee was made with real spring water by volunteer and 2AM coffee artisan Steve Shoenfelder, who helped the 600K several other ways, not to mention almost single-handedly running the simultaneous Holiday Inn Hollywood 200K brevet.
Jim Bondra, el burrito jefe at Pine Grove Cottages   
The six riders who arrived at the overnight cottages by bike, left the cottages by bike. Iwan and Brad were on the road 6:12 AM, Greg and Gert at 7:08, and Vadim and Nicholas left at 7:48. Andrew reports that Vadim spent exactly 2.0 hours at the control,  1.5 hours of that was sleep. He was the epitome of efficiency, going from snoring to pedaling in less than 20 minutes: was amazingly efficient. He got up, toted his bag out, ate, filled bottles, and left.
RBA Andrew Mead admires rando efficiency experts Nick and Vadim departing the overnight control.
At this point in the story a flashback is needed.  It should be remembered that volunteer pre-rider Gavin Biebuyck a few days earlier also arrived and left the Pine Grove Cottages overnight by bicycle and completed the 600K practically solo. At the overnight Gavin had no support, no drop bag, no Juevos del Bondra, and no companionship. The other pre-rider, yours truly, fell prey to the sirens of Wind Gap and abandoned him almost a day earlier, so Gavin was on his own through that difficult segment. Doing a pre-ride alone and unsupported is a step up in difficulty for any course, but for this course it's a serious undertaking. Chapeau Gavin.
To be fair, there was some pre-ride support. Cottage owner Donna Grosso  did set out some fresh bagels, bananas, and instant coffee for us that Gavin was forced to take care of alone (glad to help buddy). Donna has been exceptionally accommodating to PA Randonneurs.
Pre-ride support also came from the Philadelphia Rah-Rah Rocky Squad, this time from members Iwan Barankay and Brad Layman who were waiting for us at the Rocky statue with coffee, bananas, jambon beurre sandwiches and my favorite pastry of all, sfogliatella. Thanks Iwan and Brad -- those hit the spot. 
Iwan and Brad, deliver sfogliatella, jambon beurre, and other essentials to 600K pre-riders.
Back to our story. For his day of event volunteer duty, Gavin Biebuyck staffed the control in Port Jervis, an important duty because the ice-cream shop control was closed. Ranging south on Old Mine Road and NPS615, Gavin provided all-important hydration to the riders as the temperature climbed into the mid 90s, helping them make it through another hot, isolated, and hilly course segment with few services -- a segment that ends with the one-two punch of climbs on Old Mine Rd and Millbrook Rd.  Somehow, all riders made it through this segment.
Greg and Gert at Gavin's doughnut control in Port Jervis

The penultimate control was staffed by Scott Franzen. With some forays up and down the nearby roads, Scott spent a lot of time in Blairstown administering first-aid and psychological counseling to six heat-exhausted bike riders. The route from Blairstown to the finish is relatively straightforward, without any significant climbs, but it is exposed to the sun with a lot of annoying car traffic. Riders wisely rested-up in Blairstown before the final push to Easton. 
For the finish and DNF arrivals, the hotel control in Easton was staffed Saturday by Steve Schoenfelder who also ran the 200K event on Saturday. It was staffed Sunday by myself and Bill Olsen. Bill, along with Tom Rosenbauer, helped with the final cleanup at the hotel. 

Newly minted Super Randonneur Brad Layman finishes the 600 in style.
Brad Layman writes...
A great start riding through Bucks and Montgomery Counties into Philly and then out the SRT to Reading. There was a nice fog in the early hours and it was very peaceful with little traffic. It was brutally hot from Fleetwood to Wind Gap. The second day started out beautifully before the brutal heat returned. For that, I was grateful that the second leg was under 200k.

Thank you to all of the support from the volunteers. It was extremely helpful to receive encouragement, ice water, and snacks at the staffed controls.

The PA SR Series was an incredible experience. I originally thought I would start with just the 200, but each time I completed one, I couldn't help but look forward to the next. Thank you for welcoming me to the club. Chris always organizes a scenic and carefully designed route, with a perfect balance of support and self-directed adventure. And thank you Iwan for helping me learn my way around randonneuring (still a lot to learn!).

Vadim Gritsus (from the city of Rando love) writes...

Only two weekends ago we were wishing for warm weather and I must say our wishes came through this weekend, and then some. This was truly an amazing event, a combination of fatigue, sleep deprivation, scorching heat and 15% climbs. What more can a rando wish for?!  This event made us truly reevaluate our strategies and certainly made us appreciate our volunteers even more!
Special thanks to Ed B who was making jasmine lavender green tea at four o'clock in the morning for two very cold rando guys trying to make it to a sleep control!  Speaking of temperatures, the range was from 50 to 97 in the span of less       
than 24 hours.
*An unexpected discovery: O’Doul’s alcohol free beer works wonders for hydration and electrolyte replacement. That certainly takes place of V-8 in my book.* 
Once again, many thanks to the organizers for making this potential disaster into yet another smooth experience 
Vadim with the Philly cats
Ed Bernasky writes...
Great job organizing [Andrew and Chris], excellent!

PA roads are not unlike those on PBP, old farm roads that inflict with a thousand cuts, none of which is particularly difficult but cumulatively extract a mental challenge that resides close to the core of randonneuring. It was my pleasure to see this courage up close. Canadensis to the Promised Land had to have been quite the test at 3 am. That 600K was one beast of a ride.

Again, great job putting this all together.
Our "Angel of the Promised Land", Ed Bernasky, isn't too worried about Iwan.

Iwan Barankay writes...

Let me start by thanking from the bottom of my heart all the volunteers who spent countless hours waiting in the heat or darkness to offer refreshments and moral support.  Being able to see a familiar face on the route and have them sit with you for a while was easily the best thing about this 600K. I can only imagine all the glorious chit-chat that happened on the volunteer sms feed.

Everyone who started this 600 was a hero in my book.  I was rather nervous about this 600 and barely slept the previous days and when I did I dreamed about the weather forecast. Shout out to the fixie-SR Greg Keenan! It takes a certain kind of insanity to come up with the idea to do the series on a fixie and special sort of sanity to complete it.  Congratulations also to Brad Layman for his first series. He only started randonneuring this spring and finished first in Easton on Sunday.  It goes to show that riding with a boombox gives you wings – being a supreme endurance athlete also helps. I look forward to many more accolades for him.

This time, allure libre meant how fast one can ride without collapsing from the heat.  The flat undulating stretch on Walpack Flatbrook was when my thermostat finally failed.  I stopped just before Old Mine to put my feet in the water under the bridge whilst a local showed up and waded into the water with his fishing rod. Rando romanticism at its finest. In Blairstown I thought I had suffered enough and just did not want to ride any further. I felt like we were cycling on Mercury. Scott sat with me patiently at that control and talking to Chris and texting with CJ helped me regain my wits. Plus two V8 and a prosciutto sandwich. And a Coke. And a Pepsi. And a coffee.

Also a very special thanks to you, Chris, for having the vision and perseverance to organize this SR series. Not so long ago it was not yet clear how this year would evolve and whether new strains would make vaccines ineffective but you were undeterred and just went for it, went over each route, cue by cue, hauled all the breakfast items from the storage, and drummed up volunteers. That is the difference between commentary and leadership.

At Blairstown, vacillating on the edge of self-doubt, Iwan phones a friend.


With the Pennsylvania SR series now in the history books, we turn back to our traditional summer events that head into the higher elevations seeking some relief from the heat. Next month it's the Hawk's Nest 200K using the Bushkill Falls approach. Information is on the PA Randonneurs Website. Hope to see you there.


Brevet Organizer

Chris Nadovich


  1. This was my first ride with PA Rando. I expected a challenge and it delivered and then some. All the marks of a great brevet experience - varied terrain and scenery, roads ranging from smooth sailing to pot hole filled treachery, beating back the nagging self doubts, the encouraging feeling of reaching the next control and the exhilaration of a finish in sight - were amplified by the brutal heat. What made this one really special was the awesome volunteer support - thank you all! It is such a motivational boost to be greeted by a friendly face at each control no matter which hour of day or night. The comradery of Greg Keenan kept me going through the long dark ride from Wind gap to the overnight.

    Thank you PA Randonneurs for a great experience. I will surely be back.

  2. Film photos from the first two controles: