Friday of Week 9 is a day that people have been talking about now and again ever since leaving the Rockies at the end of Week 4. Today’s ride included the greatest elevation gain of the whole tour in a single day (our detour up Mt Evans was significantly more but was optional). After my 3 hour nap the day before and quite a bit of sleep again at night when things at camp started to get moving around 5:30 am I just gave up trying to sleep, got up, packed up and was in line for breakfast at 6:05 am. I had quite a few comments to deal with from all of the early risers who I like to give a hard time to… and good for them, they were right, it was too early for me to be up.
Josh Nyenhuis, Eritia Smit and Nathan Beach were to be my riding partners for the day and we rolled out of camp around 7:40 am. The very first thing we did was climb a 200 foot hill that was probably an 8% grade and I said to Nathan that this ride was going to be going down in the history books. 30 years out from now when I look back on this tour I won’t be able to remember every day but this one is one I’d remember forever. Indeed that continued to be the case for the rest of the day as there were so many amazing bits and pieces slapped back-to-back-to-back-to-back.
The hills were steep on the uphill and on the downhill and even though we left rather far back with respect to the group we had passed the vast majority of riders within the first 50 kms because we were taking very few stops (well – no stops I guess). After climbing a 1000 foot hill out of Carbondale PA we blasted down through a little town called Canaan which had a huge jail. From there for the next 22 kms the downhills were ever so slightly longer than the uphills and it seemed like I could ride at a blistering pace forever. I still have no computer so I don’t exactly know how fast we were going but it felt faster than whatever we were actually doing. The trees were overhanging the road, the sky was overcast and it was easy to keep the body temperature down. The road was full of curves and I had a fantastic group of riders to push the pace with. I filmed a video of the descent which hopefully will end up on YouTube sometime in the not-so-distant-future.
The road changed from the little two lane with no shoulders and no traffic to a larger highway for the next big portion of the ride. The hills stretched out a bit longer than earlier in the day and it was finally possible to get into climbing mode on each one rather than the pseudo-sprint method of doing the short rollers that we’d been using all morning. Nathan and Josh are on the “leaner” or “more slender” or “lighter” end of the spectrum. (I’m trying to avoid the term skinny because it’s not appreciated even though it might be somewhat accurate.) That means they dropped both Eritia and myself on each of the climbs and we’d catch them on the downhills. Eritia because she is the most aerodynamic person when all tucked in, and myself just because I’ve got body size to my advantage and don’t flutter like a leaf in the wind.
Those longer rollers came to an end with a blazing fast downhill into the town of Milford that went on for a whole 5 miles and I’m sure we did most of it between 50 and 60 kph. We then had a nice flat-ish section along the bottom of the valley and our team of 4 locked into a big line behind myself as we cruised along in the upper 40s (according to the only working computer in our group of 4!). We then checked off our last state-line of the summer entering New Jersey just on the edge of town.
The last stretch into the town of Sussex included a big climb up to High Point which is the highest place in the State. It was about 3 miles of sustained climbing somewhere between 6 and 7 percent. Almost made me feel like we were in the early weeks of the tour, I forgot what it was like to have a hill go on and on for more than a few minutes. All good things come to an end though and we did summit the pass and were greeted by a little girl (5 yrs perhaps) Anika who was giving out cookies and watermelon and lemonade as she waited for her Mom, one of the other cyclists, to arrive. We probably could have coasted all the way into Sussex from the top of that pass but that wouldn’t be quite as fun as hammering along the road and expending every lastr bit of strength that the day of climbing had sapped from us. Again we tore along down the road with Pieter Pereboom who also does well with the downhills as he’s got body-size to his advantage just like me. I was behind him for a stretch of the downhill that really was crazy steep and could smell his brakes smoking.