Sunday, August 12, 2007

Days 44 & 45--The Pop Quiz and The Final Exam

We left the tropical village of Confluence in the early morning of Day 44 for the 84-mile ride to Bedford, PA. Briefly jumping ahead, the very challenging ride on Day 45 from Bedford to Gettysburg is known in Big Ride Lore and Legend as "The Final Exam." Well if that's the Final Exam, then Day 44 is a tough Pop Quiz.

The Day 44 ride started in Confluence at an elevation of 1,353' above sea level, gently rising to 2,106' in 31 miles along the Allegheny Highlands Trail (pictured). This beautiful trail is, like the Youghiogheny Regional Trail the day before, is another abandoned railroad. The Allegheny Highlands Trail follows the beautiful Casselman River (pictured). Though the grades on both trails were not terribly challenging, negotiating their semi-hard surface with road bike tires was very energy-consuming. The surface was in fairly good condition with a thin top layer that had the consistency of kitty litter mixed with cookie dough.

Upon leaving the trail at mile 31, we soon climbed steeply to the town of Berlin, continuing to climb to about 2,800' to the 9/11 Flight 93 Temporary Memorial near Shanksville at mile 57. This very moving "people's memorial" is at the location of the crash of the plane that was intended to hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, but, through incredible bravery and fortitude, the crew and passengers overcame the hijackers and forced the plane down into this remote Pennsylvania area. Briefly visiting the memorial, reading accounts of what occurred, and surveying the surrounding area took my breath away and brought a tear to my eyes.

The climbing continued to mile 66 and the summit of the Allegheny Mountains (pictured). The rest of the ride was generally downhill to our camp at Bedford at mile 84. It was another hot, humid, and hilly tropical day in PA. The day's scenery was spectacular.

Having completed the Pop Quiz, I was ready to take the "Final Exam" on Day 45 from Bedford to Gettysburg. This ride was a century ride with a seemingly endless succession of amazingly steep grades to climb over its 105 mile route.

My right knee was healing and feeling well through the Pop Quiz Ride and I felt I was ready for "the Final." I don't have much to say about the day's ride to Gettysburg other than it lived up to its billing as the hardest day of the whole Big Ride--including any of days in the Rockies or Cascades. It included a 1,000 foot elevation gain in 5 miles, cross-crossing the Penn. Turnpike, and countless other inclines that just seemed to lead to more climbing. I reached the mountain lake (pictured) at Cowans Gap State Park at the halfway point (mile 52)--then gutted it out to the last water stop at about mile 75. From that point, there were rollers, then a gradual climb at mile 85, with a sweet downhill run into Gettysburg for the last 15 miles or so.

It was on my coasting downward that I realized that although there were two more riding days to go, the biggest challenges were over. I felt a huge wave of emotion--joy, gratitude, disbelief, and a feeling that my Dad's spirit was riding with me. At that very moment, I felt a cooling tailwind gently pushing me along to the ride's end at mile 105 in Gettysburg...and the last rest day for the body and soul before the final push to DC.


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