Steve's Big Ride in progress

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Into Gettysburg

Success! The 100 miles from Bedford to Gettysburg were all they’d been advertised – hilly, steep, congested, beautiful and challenging. The Turtle Peloton had several equipment problems and the ride took us nearly 12 hours start to finish, but we pulled into Gettysburg this evening happy and safe.

I've written before about The Turtle Peloton – five of us in our late 50s (or more) who've taken to riding as a team. “The Turtles” are Molly Douce, Cookie Chandler, Rick Stark, Jim Sheridan and me. We’ve conquered the last several weeks’ rides together.

For the ride to Gettysburg we had a strategy. There were several long climbs with a 10 percent to 12 percent grade, and a total of more than 7,000 vertical feet of climbing for the day. (By comparison, the seven-mile ascent from sea level to the top of Turnagain Pass south of Anchorage is said to be about a 7 percent grade and 1,500 vertical feet.) The indomitable Molly – who can run all of us ragged on the flats – struggles most on the uphills. Ordinarily we’d all crest each hill ahead of her and then wait at the top. Today we decided to put her up front and follow her no matter how slow the grind.

It worked. The hills were as tough as ever for Molly, but the rest of us just went into granny gear and spun easily uphill behind her. Our heart rates stayed low(er) and we actually enjoyed the scenery. Rather than struggling through every ascent, we just pulled steadily to the top and kept our stress levels low. Molly worked as hard as ever, but with the rest of us behind her she didn’t have to feel like she was always chasing us uphill. All this turned a long, hard day into a long, enjoyable day. And it gave us confidence in the ride.

Pennsylvania has been hilly indeed – but fair, too. Every ascent has been followed by a descent, always fun and occasionally thrilling. On Tuesday we had one long descent of more than 5 miles; today we had one of more than 3 miles.

Equipment problems took Molly and Cookie off the ride at mile 83, but by that time 95 percent of the hills had been covered and the ride was a success. Rick, Jim and I pushed on and were rewarded with a gradual 10-mile descent into Gettysburg that topped off a beautiful day on the bike. We pulled into our quarters at Gettysburg College literally three minutes before a thunderstorm arrived to drench the streets and everyone on them.

We’ve ridden 12 of the past 13 days, covering roughly 1,000 miles during that period. Thursday’s rest day in Gettysburg is welcomed by all – but wistful, too, because our Big Ride is nearly complete. We’re 101 miles from Saturday’s finish in Washington DC, and both eager to finish this accomplishment and sorry to put it behind us.  

Bedford to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by the numbers:

Today’s ride:  100.66 miles
Total distance:  3,258.99 miles
Distance left to reach DC:  101 miles
Time on bike today:  8 hours, 2 minutes
Total time on the bike:  224 hours, 42 minutes
Average speed today:  12.51 mph
Maximum speed today:  41.68 mph
Average cadence today:  65 rpm
Today’s climbing:  7,179 feet
Total climbing to date:  94,060 feet
Maximum altitude to date:  6,536 feet
Average heart rate today:  109 bpm
Maximum heart rate today:  147 bpm


  1. Steve -

    What a delightful and poignant post. I so enjoyed learning more about your riding group, and the ways in which you've stuck together. I hope that a bunch of you will find it possible to stay in touch and perhaps even do some group riding together in the coming years. I have done so with several of the 2008 alums and it has been so much fun to get back together and ride (and camp) with people who know you like no other.

    Keep and slow and steady pace for the next two days. You may find that the finish line is not actually one at all!


  2. Steve, you are an inspiration to me. I've followed you and your mates' blogs since the beginning. After hearing your story in May at the Talkeetna Lodge I have been an enthusiastic follower.
    Congratulations on meeting the challenge.

    Michael Snyder