Corey, Alex and I arrived in PGH around 6PM on Friday. After running a couple errands and getting dinner at Salems, we went back to the AirBnB, stretched, and were ready to go to sleep by 8:30pm. About an hour later, just as we were actually falling asleep, the fire alarm went off and the entire building got evacuated. 3 firetrucks drove up, and the firemen went inside to see what was up. Apparently someone had set the alarm off while cooking. We were all very pissed. About 20min later, we all went back inside and went to sleep. Both Corey and I had dreams (nightmares?) about the impending ride.
Our alarms went off at 3:30am we ate our respective breakfasts and drank coffee. We were out the door by 4:30am and at Point State Park by 4:45am. A couple people were already there, and several rolled up just as we did. Spirits were all high, people were smiling and talking about this or that person they heard was going for it in X hours. My favorite (which turned out to be very real) was rumor of a bike messenger from NYC who was aiming to finish sub-30hrs then continue up to NYC and make it by Saturday night. Didn’t hear anything as of Saturday night, but I know he rode through the night on Friday and was at the Liberty Bell very early Saturday. We met a few Drexel cycling people, as well as others from NYC, PGH, etc. Met a girl named Leann who did the ride solo last summer and finished in 34hrs. She was very quiet but I heard from other riders that she kept trucking through the night.
At 5am people all hopped on their bikes and we rolled out. Everybody was talking and still smiling at this point, but it was definitely a little anxious and tense cuz we all knew what was coming. We rode the first 15mi to McKeesport together, then as soon as we hit the GAP trail everyone broke off and started riding at their own pace. My rear light popped off right outside the city...jumped off and grabbed it quickly so as to not lose the group.
We were on the trail by the time the sun came out. I was feeling good, towards the front of the pack with Corey up until around 40mi, when I got my first flat. Cursing very loudly, I told them to go on and I would catch up. I quickly put in one of my spares, which I discovered had a tear in it. Not wanting to use my only other spare, I patched up the original one, pumped it up, hopped back on the bike and gunned it to catch up. I caught up with everyone in Connellsville. 10mi past Connellsville I got my 2nd flat. More yelling at my bike happened and I told Corey and Alex once again to keep going and I would catch up. At that point I was out of CO2 because I had been re-inflating the patched tube periodically to try and avoid another flat before I got to Ohiopyle. I put in my last good spare, then pumped it up the best I could with my hand pump (which was not enough for the GAP). I rode maybe another half mile, then got the 3rd flat of the day. I had nothing left to repair or replace it with, so I weighed the options and figured the only thing to do was to ride on my front rim the next 10mi to Ohiopyle, where hopefully the bike shop was open. I limped the bike along for over an hour, very worried I was going to do permanent damage to the rim. Finally got there and dropped my bike at the shop while I washed off my face and grabbed some quick lunch. At this point I was already pretty shaken mentally because of losing so much time to mechanical issues. Tried to pull it together, then hopped back on the bike and kept going. The last 15mi of the 75mi stretch of GAP is particularly demoralizing. Slightly uphill on packed limestone that was a little wet from rain the night before and behaved like quicksand. I ran into the bike shop in Rockwood as soon as I got off the trail and asked them to clean out my drivetrain and check the tire pressure. Real roads from here on out mostly and I wanted to move quick. The next ~90mi through Somerset, New Baltimore and Bedford were pretty uneventful. I kept running into a group of 3 from PGH (Noah, John and Greg). The first couple times we saw each other we talked for a minute, then gradually started talking less and less. By the Burger King in Bedford our conversation had been reduced to a nod and fist bump on the way out the door. I rode the 20mi between Bedford and Breezewood at sunset...that stretch is so awesome. A couple big climbs but then a huge 3mi downhill that I did around 40mph down. I got into Breezewood around 8:30pm. I felt good physically but was pretty demoralized from all the days setbacks. I decided to call it a night and come at Saturday fresh. I took a quick shower, set my alarm for 3:45am and passed out.
I got up at 3:45am, quickly packed up my bike, and rolled next door to Sheetz to grab some breakfast. It was slightly drizzling and very dark. I rode out of Breezewood and onto the abandoned turnpike around 4:30am. Doing the abandoned turnpike and tunnels in the dark alone was not fun. Really crappy gravel/broken up asphalt for 10mi with 2 tunnels, each about 1/2mi long, that were very spooky to ride through. The 2nd one was filled with mist and my front light just got washed out in front of me. I was listening to S Town, a podcast recommended to me by a couple friends, so was able to distract myself a bit and not get in too dark of a place mentally before the sun came up. After getting back onto real roads, I started making my way through Cowan’s Gap and approaching Chambersburg. I rode in a thunderstorm for about an hour through Cowan’s Gap. S Town saved the day once again, giving me something to focus other than getting drenched. The rain started to clear up a few miles out of Chambersburg. After riding in the dark through the abandoned turnpike then getting drenched for an hour just after sunrise, all on top of the soreness from day 1, I was starting to feel a little battered already, which wasn’t good because I still had ~150mi to go. I stopped at the Sheetz in Chambersburg and got some more food. Noah, John and Greg rolled up while I was there. They told me that they had gotten caught in a storm at 1am the night before between Breezewood and Chambersburg and had to bivvy under a pavilion in Cowan’s Gap, and that they were calling it quits after being stuck outside shivering all night. They also told me 2 other people (Sean and the guy he was riding with) had gotten stuck in the same storm and also had to sleep outside with no gear and threw in the towel Saturday morning.
Some combination of the food/caffeine, conversation, and the sun starting to come out re-energized me and I rolled out of there feeling ready for the rest of the day. I made it from Chambersburg to York (50mi) in about 3hrs. On the way I ran into CJ, a Philly randonneuring guy who Corey had introduced me to. We rode together for a few minutes and I learned that his riding partner had thrown in the towel a few miles back. I wished him luck and pushed on to York. After grabbing a quick bite in York I started riding again. As soon as I crossed the bridge over the Susquehanna River I started to feel lightheaded and nauseous and very close to throwing up. Probably dehydration as it was starting to get pretty hot. I chugged a bunch of water at the Sheetz just west of Lancaster and put a bunch of paper towels with cold water on my head and neck. I closed my eyes for about 15min while doing this, then noticed another rider, Michael (from NY) had rolled up. I talked to him for a few minutes and we left the Sheetz together. He told of at least 2 other people who had dropped out...1 girl had gotten hit by a car and another was throwing up pretty violently after Somerset. We rode the next 30mi together to Morgantown, stopped to refill our water, then left Morgantown. Michael and I checked our phones and saw Corey had finished at 36hrs. Incredibly psyched for him and Alex (39hrs). Both sick times, especially considering it was their first year. We all trained hard together and it was so awesome and rewarding to see them not only finish, but get the times they did. I was feeling very good at that point, like we might be able to get in by 10:30pm (41.5hrs total).
A few miles after Morgantown I got my 4th flat. I quickly put in a spare and hopped back on, but Michael had kept moving and I didn’t have enough steam left to gun it to catch up with him. I got to Phoenixville just after dark and starting having some stomach problems which added another couple stops, one at a very fancy Mexican restaurant that I ran through to get to the bathroom. I downed a few more Tums then kept going. I physically started giving out around Conshohocken. Everything hurt, I had no energy left to pedal, couldn’t see straight or hold my head up, fingers were starting to twitch and arms/shoulders were giving out, etc. At that point I had been on the bike for 16hrs that day and was really starting to feel everything. I really didn’t want to stop again before finishing, but I physically couldn’t keep moving the bike forward so I decided to take 5min at Conshohocken Brewery to get ready for the 15mi home stretch. I ordered some hummus. I had to repeat my order to the bartender 3 times because I was slurring my words and staring at the ground. I finished my food, drank some 5hr energy, and got back on the bike. I didn’t take any painkillers, and every pedal rotation from Conshohocken to center city me wince. As soon as I hit boathouse row and could see the city I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I rode the rest of the way through center city and touched the liberty bell visitor center at 12:11am, putting my total elapsed time at 43 hours and 11 minutes.
The reason CTCW is done in April is literally just to make it harder...the weather is unpredictable, you have to train through the winter if you want to participate, nobody is in top riding shape, etc. I was disappointed with all the setbacks on the first day that ended up throwing a wrench in my plan to ride through the night (or at least make it to Chambersburg) and finish in the low 30hr range. However, I still beat my 2015 time by 15hrs and felt good that my ankle held up for the whole ride (was actually re-learning how to walk just a little under a year ago), so I was glad that despite all this I still finished in the low 40s. Looking forward to walking normally again in a couple days.