Saturday, October 26, 2013 was it, the day of the Fall Epic! What is the Fall Epic you ask? The Fall Epic is now an annual tradition, a post summer 100+ mile ride through some of the coolest, most scenic roads in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. It is a chance to set a goal a few months after the summer road season has closed, to get together with other riders to enjoy what bike riding is all about.
Since this year was the first annual Fall Epic, it involved some planning and trying to talk some guys into thinking that riding a 100+ miles on a Saturday in October during cyclocross season was a good idea. One of the potentially enticing parts about the Fall Epic is that it contains several miles of dirt/gravel roads thus hopefully catering to the off-road crowd!
The idea of the Fall Epic was to create a ride that would be challenging but not brutal, showcase some of the area’s great roads and provide a training goal during the mid-fall biking season, before winter weather would become an issue.
The day was forecast to start out chilly and calm before turning windy and a little warmer. Since I had never ridden the whole course, I set a goal ride time of 5:30. I knew this would be a pretty good pace given the course design.
The ride started out pretty nicely. There were seven riders that started the ride. Spirits were high and chatter was brisk. We started fifteen minutes late because I forgot my shoes when I left my house and had to turn around to get them before heading to the meeting place. We rolled for a few miles before hitting the first significant climb which featured a stair step type climb with some fairly steep sections. The goal was to start out pretty conservatively to leave plenty in the tank for the last two hours.
After cresting the first climb, partially down the descent we hit the first and roughest section of dirt road. This section had some erosion and some larger gravel and exposed rocks. Two riders got flat tires almost immediately. After about 10 minutes, with the Lezyne Road Drive HP getting a workout, the tires were fixed and we were back under way. This section of dirt road featured not only a mild descent, but a flat section along the Susquehanna and then a steep climb back up the other side of the valley, with some sections exceeding 20% grade making this section of the course a challenge for even experienced riders on a road bike.
It was back onto pavement for a few miles after this with some more descending and more climbing and descending before hitting the next section of gravel road. A short way onto this section, we had two more flats(and the Lezyne came out again) and Aaron discovered that a rear shifting problem that had just come up was the result of a now broken shifter cable(so far that equals 4 flats and one broken shifter cable.) After another stop to fix the latest casualties, Aaron, whose bike had both a flat tire and broken shifter cable decided that his day was done and he was going to limp his bike back to where we started from since the prospect of riding a fixed gear for another 80 miles through some tough climbing didn’t seem like a wise idea and nobody had a spare shifter cable. We parted ways with Aaron and continued on our way uneventfully for another 15 miles or so. During that time there was some more up and down and another gravel road, this one with paved creek crossings! There were no flat tire issues on this road and it was one of the highlights of the whole ride. The road followed a winding creek for several miles through the woods and the smell of the fall air was almost intoxicating. We all wished that road would go on for a few more miles, but it came to an end. By this point, another one of the riders, Jon, was starting to feel the lack recent training and decided that the better part of valor was to use his remaining energy to head home. So the Epic had claimed two. With around 40 miles done, we headed east toward our rendezvous with our support team(my wife) who was to meet us with food and drinks. We enjoyed a strong tailwind for most of the ride to the stop.
The lunch stop was a much enjoyed respite from the time in the saddle and a good chance to refuel(kudos to Kim for doing a great job having everything ready for us when we got there) for what we knew would be a difficult slog back west into the wind. After enjoying some food and time off the bike, it was time to head back for the last 40 miles.
This last section didn’t include the same steep climbing that the first part had but also was very exposed to the teeth of the wind. It was brutal both mentally and physically pushing back into the wind with that much work already in the legs. Jason and I ended up riding ahead of the three other guys. It was both painful but fun to get closer and closer to the finish. The miles and climbing elevation kept creeping up as this ride began to earn it’s name. So did the time on the bike as it became clear that we were not going to make it back by the estimated time. I was definitely feeling the morning climbs as we got within 10 miles of the finish. That’s when we hit a few last short climbs and one last exposed push into the headwind. Somewhere in this section, things started to fall apart for me. I had been feeling pretty strong and had plenty of energy, suddenly my stomach didn’t feel good and I didn’t have any energy left. I pushed on, fighting back nausea and that feeling in the back of my mouth till I couldn’t anymore. With less than two miles to go I couldn’t hold it in. My stomach had seen enough.
After a moment I felt much better in my stomach(still no energy) and was able to limp in the last couple miles.
It felt great to make it back, surviving the Fall Epic! Jason, who stayed with me the last couple miles did an awesome ride. Adam and Matt also made the distance(with a pit stop I hear!) Bryce did 80+miles and packed it in(this was his first big ride after being hit by an SUV late in the summer. Glad you’re back Bryce!)
The consensus from those who rode the Fall Epic seemed to be that it was a success for sure, that the course was great(may need some tweaking) and that they would do it again. That was really satisfying. I wanted to this to be more than just a 100 mile ride, but to feel like a real accomplishment when completed, to be a showcase of the great riding opportunities we have, to become a tradition that will hopefully grow in the future. I wanted it to be a bonding experience, a learning experience and to push us closer to our limits. From my perspective, the Fall Epic was definitely a success. I am looking forward to many more to follow!
There were a few lessons learned on my part. First, plan for the unexpected. I expected that there would be a few flat tires on the dirt road sections(that was part of the Epic title.) I didn’t expect that one of us would have a shifter cable break. I learned that it would be good to carry an extra rear shifter cable. They are small, light and having one could have saved Aaron’s day. I rediscovered why I love Continental GP4000S 25mm tires! I learned that riding with great guys, even if you haven’t ridden together before, on a great course, is a blast. I learned that I need to alter my nutrition plan in long events like this to include more water(not energy drink mix) when I am pushing harder so that my stomach doesn’t fill up with sugar and cause problems late in the ride. I learned that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be to stay hydrated over 6+hours of riding in the cool weather. I learned that by taking some initiative to plan this event I was able to do something that will hopefully be enjoyed for many more years by lots of people. I learned that fall is one of the best times to enjoy the great bike riding in Lancaster County. Oh, and don’t wait till the end to get a group picture, that’s a bad plan!
Thanks to Aaron, Adam, Bryce, Jason, Jon and Matt for coming on this adventure and for the great time. I’m sorry we couldn’t all finish the ride but I’m really looking forward to the next time! See you out there.