Events: Rapha Rising Queen Stage
Climbed: 13,384 feet / 1,716 feet remaining
(2017) Mike, our constant ride hero, was right: the day had to be difficult. We had to put in a big climbing day to take a significant chunk out of our Rapha Rising total of 15,100 feet (4,600 meters). Inspired by rides of old, Mike sent forth a route that would accomplish the task of going up. It seemed like a great idea at the time.
Rapha Rising ends on July 23. Riders have the month of July until that point to climb the 4,600 meters the Tour riders tackle in stage nine of the race. They only have one day to do it along with 180 other riders chasing them down. Luckily our area lends itself neatly to a challenge such as this. The problem is these climbs are excavating in their effect. Doing one of the harder climbs around here is the equivalent of going full gas for a whole stage. Our climbs, once summited, will make further climbs difficult.
In order to go up Mike pointed the route up the infamous Dogwood Lane climb. We’ve mentioned this climb before. It is quite Euro in its form. At 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) it averages six percent. Any beliefs to blast up this hill are immediately thrown away at its initial welcoming climb that can touch up to 18%. There are at least two more walls to prevent any form of rhythm. The road has the strangest sense of making you realize you are farther down the climb than you thought. Each corner turned heeds the thought, “Oh I forgot about this part.” Thoughts like those are not good for morale. We are out here willingly for a stupid patch, but that patch got us out the door and headed for a difficult category three climb.
Once summited recognizable concerning thoughts began popping up. I tried to ignore them. It was extremely humid and in my rush out the door I forgot cash and ride nutrition. For some reason I thought these two climbs could be powered by water alone. We stopped at a general store in Riegelsville to refill the bottles. More awful thoughts infiltrated my thinking. At one point I got dizzy from standing, with brief vertigo. Mike was asking if the second climb should be nixed. I didn’t come this far north to be beaten so easily. I stated we should move on to Shire. Keep going up.
We wound around our third county as we crossed into our second state. We were now in New Jersey looking for Shire Road, a real meat grinder of a climb outside of the hamlet of Hughsville. Even the approach to Shire was mocking me. It came with brief little kicks to do damage for the upward event about to commence. I knew I had no chance to take on Shire; I planned on simply summiting without walking.
The climb on Shire is reminiscent of the Mur de Huy in the Belgian Spring Classic, Fleche-Wallonne. The Kermesse ode to the same event, the Fleche Buffoon, accesses a nearby climb. It even has a misleading white house tucked neatly up its hill. Most people refer to this white house as the halfway point. It is not. It’s the start of the hard part. The road itself is 1.2 miles (two kilometers) and averages nine percent. The steepest pitches regularly hit twenty percent with a sustained ramp averaging in the double digits just beyond the ‘halfway point’ white house. If Dogwood had beat me up, Shire finished me off. The one positive aspect of Shire is that the entire experience is shaded, so there’s that.
For the next several miles Mike pulled. We descended into the New Jersey river town of Milford. We had entered Hunterdon County, making four counties total for the day. We reentered Pennsylvania via the Milford Bridge and decided to hammer down the newly resurfaced River Road in Bucks County. I insisted on a long pull since Mike was doing all the work. It was here the last amounts of willpower were summoned. Since we had a bit more climbing to do, I suggested we get it over with and storm up the beautiful Stagecoach Road. Though steep, it got the trick down quickly. Even at this point I was struggling to keep up with Mike.
It was not meant to be my day I suppose. On the final climb I felt and heard a familiar sound. By this point I think I had already stated several sentences to Mike that made absolutely no sense. I was craving a candy bar but could not figure out a single name of one. I asked Mike if my back tire was going down and he said it looked low. We pulled over and I actually argued in favor of riding the final five miles back on a low tire. Shortly after our stop, I think the tire gave up for good. I had given up miles back.
Luckily the roads were flat and straight. I did not care one bit about riding a flat back tire; this is how I knew something was not quite right about my riding style. I limped home, feeling as if I had won over a field change. The heat got to my bike and me.
After parting ways with Mike I pulled into my driveway and lacked the understanding as to what to do next. I pinched my back tire. It was still flat. When did that happen? I may have stopped sweating by this point. I gained access to the garage, took off my helmet, then went to the kitchen and swiped a yogurt. The air conditioning felt good. I forced myself to eat, knowing in times like this I forego it because it doesn’t feel right.
All this just to climb. Mike led us down some beautiful roads in both states. This is why we do this. We could have sat on the couch all afternoon waiting for the heat to pass before deciding to do nothing. It took a good five hours for the dehydration to have worn off. Eliminating 4,099 feet in one climb? I had enough sense to know that was a really good day.