Crabs, Beer, and Baltimore


Damn That Headwind!

In Short:

Yesterday, 12 of us (Peter Odell, Bill Cotton, Debbie Hollein, Rob Pardise, Mike Olszewki, Tom Carlin, Paul, Marilyn, Jeff, and Jennifer Stockton, Jerry Adler, and Paul) started from the Christiana Mall just out of Wilmington, Delaware, at 8am. We braved headwinds, cold weather, and various mechanical difficulties, for about 84 miles, consuming much hot chocolate along the way. At about 6:30, 11 of the above (one in a car) arrived at the restaurant in Baltimore, to begin our attack on the crabs. Armored tho' they were, they did not withstand the assault of our mallets and knives... We then took our charter school bus and headed back to the Mall, and then back to Philly in our cars.

In Long:

All of us who were coming (there were originally supposed to be 17, but 5 bowed out at the last minute) gathered at the mall parking lot at 7:30. We piled on the layers and tried to figure out whether that strong wind that made us shiver so would be a head, tail, or cross wind. Soon we learned the sad truth: it would be a headwind for the entire trip.

At 8am we headed out. I noticed pretty quickly the my usual precautions against the cold were not working. I have a hooded winter jersey, and in previous trips out in moderately cold weather the hood has been plenty sufficient to keep my head warm. Yesterday, however, the wind was destroying its effectiveness. Our first stop was at a gas station to use the restroom, since the mall wasn't open when we were there. I took advantage of this stop to extract the hood of my jacket from the collar where it usally lives, and stuck it under my helmet on top of the hood, and that worked just fine, keeping my head nicely warm for the rest of the trip. After leaving this stop, Bill got the first flat of the day, which he fixed in 13.5 minutes. This includes putting in a new tube, *and* patching the tire, which had blown out. Then we were on our way again.

After this stop, we started a pattern that lasted the rest of the ride. The stronger riders pulled away from Peter, who can ride fast when he wants to, but usually chooses not to. We would cluster around Rob, who had a cue sheet holder tucked into his aerobars. We all had cue sheets, but it was easier to let Rob look at his, which was in plain sight, than to dig out our own. The fact that Rob was the only one of the faster riders that had a cue sheet holder kept us together, preventing the ride from breaking up even more.

The next stop was at a little grocery store, where the front-runners (those who had left the gas station before Bill got his flat) had waited for us. We stayed there until our leaders Bill and Peter passed us (without stopping, a clear signal for us to get moving again). The stop after that was the Zion Market. Between the previous stop and the Zion Market, we had noticed the unsettling presence of snow nestled among the grass along the side of the road. My toes were getting cold, despite the warm socks and the neoprene booties I was wearing. This wouldn't have been a problem for a ride of just a couple of hours, but for a longer ride, I didn't think it would be a good idea. Luckily, I had the means to fix it. I have these little chemical packets that when taken out of their plastic wrappers react with the air to provide about 8 hours of toe-warming heat. I loosened my laces and stuck them in between my socks and shoes, and after that, my toes were very happy.

As we were heading out from the stop, it was noticed that two of our riders were unaccounted for. Bill said, suggestively, "If I was as fast as Myra, I'd go back and see what happened to them." I just looked innocent, not taking the bait, and so Bill went back for them on his own. As it turned out, it was good that he did, since he needed to do some wheel work to compensate for a broken spoke, and not only do I not have a spoke wrench, but I wouldn't know how to use one if I did...

After leaving the Zion Market I stopped for a bit to reinstall the hood of my jacket under my helmet, which I'd neglected to do at the market. I didn't get too far behind the front of the group, and as I got to a turn I found them coming back from a missed turn. Peter waved at me, asking me to chase down the two who'd gotten off the front and hadn't heard Peter's whistle calling them back. Oh, well, if one ride leader doesn't get me to chase down lost people, the other one will. So I set off in pursuit. I soon came within sight of them, but I was gaining on them very slowly, since these two people were Rob and Jennifer, two of the stronger riders on the ride. (Rob had missed the turn, despite his cue sheet holder, because he'd gotten confused by the initial left turn out of the market, which wasn't explicitly noted as such on the cue sheet.) Realizing that it would be awhile before I'd catch them, I decided to try sound waves, and shouted at them. This didn't carry against the headwind, so I tried screaming. This worked, and they came back, very worried looking. They were happy to find that I was screaming because of a missed turn, rather than an accident.

We caught up with the group when they were stopped at a gas station/ convenience store. After this stop we got into some very interesting roads, including a one-lane dirt road with a very steep climb and a loose road surface. At this climb, Peter and Mike, who were in front, dropped to their granny gears and went up. I tried to do it in my middle chainring, which I could have done if it were paved, but when I stood up, it took weight off the rear wheel, and it started slipping in the dirt. So I clunked into my granny gear and was making progress towards getting up, when Debbie, who didn't have a granny gear and was trying to go up standing, slipped and fell. Well, she was fine, but all of us behind her had to stop. Being the stubborn person I am, instead of doing the sensible thing and walking up the hill, I tried riding up. Happily, it went very well. I use my granny gear very little nowadays, since I'm trying to improve my hill-climbing ability. Thus when I do use it, I'm astonished by how low the gears are. I got going, clicked into my pedals, and went up. I slipped a bit here and there, but never lost my balance, and I passed the people who were walking up, warning them "Watch out! Faux mountain biker passing".

I got to the top, greeted Peter and Mike, and noted that only those of us with granny gears had managed to ride up the hill. And then, from right behind me, I heard a voice say "No, I did it too". It was Jerry Adler. He said that my passing him on the bike had inspired him, and he got back on too. Now, Jerry has a racing bike, and the biggest cog on his freewheel has 25 teeth rather than the usual 28, and yet he was able to start from a dead stop, and go up this very steep hill *sitting down*. This requires an incredible amount of leg strength, and I was truly impressed. In fact I noticed that his hill-climbing ability was in general awfully good. He'd often pass me, sitting down, riding along looking just like he does on the flats. He has this perfectly smooth pedal stroke that doesn't alter in the slightest going up hills. Most people revert to a kind of push-push pedalling style going uphill, only applying pressure on the down stroke, while Jerry is the very model of how to go up hills efficiently.

After this big uphill, there was a nice downhill, still on the dirt road, and we went along a swollen muddy river. This, and many other scenic areas, made me feel that this would have been a spectacular ride in warmer weather. However, in this weather, much of our energy was sapped in just trying to keep warm, and it became almost more of a challenge than a pleasure.

Soon after this, we crossed the Conowingo Dam, which stops up the Susquehanna River to provide hydro-electric power. Our final group stop was in a convenience store about 30 miles from Baltimore. More hot chocolate, soup, and coffee was consumed. The cashier asked us where we were going. We said "Baltimore". She was impressed. "Wow! You're riding from here to Baltimore!". We replied, "Well, actually, no, we're riding from Wimington to Baltimore". She was amazed by this, but showed some true southern hospitality by responding "Oh! That's nice!". I noted that there were some other adjectives that seemed more appropriate, like perhaps "insane"...

While downing our hot foods and basking in the warmth of the store, a good number of us agreed that we would have been happy calling it a day right then. In this weather, the 50 miles that we'd done would have been enough. We saw Peter on the payphone, and we fantasized that he was calling the bus to come and get us. When we mentioned this idea to Peter, his only response was "There's miles to ride, places to see, and not much daylight left. We'd better get going." This man doesn't know the meaning of the word quit.

We headed off, and we soon noted that the wind had died down, so finally we weren't battling a headwind anymore. Us faster folks soon joined Rob and got ahead of the others. We were anxious to get to the restaurant: it was 3:30 by the time we left the last rest stop, and there were 30 miles to go. We stayed ahead of the leaders until we stopped at a restaurant to use the restrooms, and they passed just as we were getting back on our bikes. After that, we stayed together: it was rapidly growing dark, and it was much safer to stay together for visibility. Not to mention that soon there would be too little light for Rob to read his cue sheet. We picked up Mike, who'd gotten separated from the group, just as we were getting into Baltimore.

After this, darkness settled in, and those of us who had them turned on our blinking lights. Three of us (Jerry, Peter, and myself) had front and rear Vistalights (I had picked up a front one after having been caught in the dark without a headlight a couple of weeks ago), and two more (Jeff and Bill) had rear blinkers, and almost all of us had some reflective stuff somewhere on our bikes or bodies. Debbie was terrified by the idea of riding in the dark, so I let her go in front me, so that my lights would be visible by oncoming cars. At one point she asked me if riding in the dark bothered me. I replied, "I'm wearing a neon yellow jacket with lots of reflective stuff, I've got reflective stuff all over my helmet and bike, I've got front and rear Vistalights, I'm wearing clear glasses, and I've ridden in the dark quite a bit. No, it doesn't bother me at all."

Eventually, we were in Baltimore, and we made a left turn and sighted the bus. YAY! We loaded our bikes on the bus and invaded the restaurant. The host, in his nice suit, didn't blink an eye at us disheveled, strangely-garbed bikers, and he lead us to our table. Soon beer and food had arrived and we celebrated our successful trip. After beer, crabs, sodas, and much enjoyment all around, as we were getting ready to leave, our waitress asked us "why did you do this?" I don't think any of us gave a coherant answer, but I think the overall feeling was that we did it, despite the cold and wind, because we were too stubborn to give up. But we noted that it would have been a real plesure to do the same ride in warmer weather (Peter and Bill, are you listening?)

We headed to our nice warm schoolbus, which had lots of room because of the last-minute cancellations, and went back to Wilmington and then back to Philly.

So in all, this was a great ride, extrememly well run by Peter and Bill. It was very good that we had two ride leaders, each of whom knew the route, on such a long ride. It was also useful that they rode at different speeds, since that meant that they usually rode separate, and gave directions to different groups of people.

So, Peter, where are we going next?

Myra's ride stories