For those unfamiliar with Crush the Common Wealth, it’s a ride starting from either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia and ending in the opposite city and switches start locations each year. It consists of a handful of cyclists, their bikes, and whatever gear they need to combat the randomness of April’s weather. There is no entrance fees, no support, no nothing, just you, your bike, and ~400miles between you and the finish. Last year was my first go at the ride (Day 1 & Day 2) and it was quite a learning experience to say the least. I was lucky enough to ride with two experienced cyclists the second day who both taught me a thing or two about randonneuring.
The start was at Point State Park in Pittsburgh so the journey this year started with getting myself and the gear packed up. I made some food for the trip which included some dehydrated fruit, raw nuts, fruit roll-ups (which didn’t turn out as well as last year), some extra food for the bus, and Lauren made me some energy bars. I was a bit busy before the trip so I didn’t get as much together as I would have liked, but it all got done in the end.
We decided it would be cheapest/easiest to hop on the greyhound and box our bikes up. Greyhound has policies about charging extra for oversize luggage but I wasn’t charged. Jamie and Ben (my riding partners for the trip) were charged at their station so it seems a coin flip. Either way I think they were only charged $5 so no big deal. Our bus left Philly around noon and was suppose to get into Pittsburgh before 7pm but we had a mishap or two over the way we booked our tickets which consequently slowed the entire bus down… oh well. We finally made it to Pittsburgh a bit later than expected and proceeded to assemble bikes out front of the station before riding to the restaurant.
There were lots of bike boxes coming out of the greyhound.
Ben won the assembly race and I came in last.
We did have to make one quick stop before dinner at Advanced Auto Parts which involved a cotter pin and a washer to mend Jamie’s shoe that broke while he was stomping around the greyhound station showing his annoyance because of the debacle over their tickets. We were hoping that would be the one and only mechanical during the trip.
After picking up the supplies we cruised over to the Double Wide Grill on the South Side of Pittsburgh. I had never been before, but the restaurant had everything that we needed, vegan eats, beer, and some omni food for Ben. We grabbed some seats out side, pulled our bikes up, and ordered some seitan wings to start. I grabbed a East End Brewing Big Hop IPA and a veggie burger as well. The menu was long and included an entire back page of veg/vegan eats as well as a nice draught list of 30+ brews.
After dinner we were all stuffed, jumped back on the bikes, and headed to the Days Inn which was ~4 miles away. We quickly received a rude awakening and realized we weren’t in Philadelphia anymore when we hit the first steep hill about 500ft from the restaurant. The hills never let up and we soon got a sweat going. After navigating some wild terrain, we finally made it to the motel. We got in a bit after 11pm and we still needed to get packed and grab showers. We probably got to bed around 12:00am only to be woken up by drunken people outside the room around 2:00am for a while, and by the alarm clock that someone before us had programmed in the middle of the night…
Cell phone alarms and a front desk wake up call had us up and alert at 4am. Lucky for us the royal wedding was in progress so we were watching that as we geared up. Note: smart individuals would have had the weather channel on, but not us. That was until we hear an unusual sound from outside. We opened to the door to see rain, pounding rain. It was seriously a monsoon out there and none of us were expecting that kind of weather for Friday morning, and to top it off it was in the low to mid 40s. I seriously was not excited at all. I was running on very little rest and the last thing I wanted to do was leave the motel in the pitch dark, cold, pouring rain to start a 400mile ride.
We all made sure things were in bags and threw our rain jackets on and started to leave a bit after 4:45am. Somehow as we were leaving the rain let up for the most part. I was very, very thankful for this. Our motel was close to the start as the bird flies, but these were some legit highway roads between us and the park. Because of the hills, the weather, and we were running a bit behind we (i.e. I was out voted) decided to take the direct route… Let me just say, it was up there with some of the wilder riding I’ve done, which included a half-ass paceline and mashing in the drops, not all that fun on cold legs before an epicly long ride. Our motel was right off of rt19 and we cruised south on that until we merged onto I-376. This is one of the only routes into the city of Pittsburgh which includes a ~1mi long, 2 lane tunnel that as it ends turns into a bridge that crosses over the Monongahela River. After bombing the parkway and being thankful that there weren’t too many people on the road at 4:45am, we made it to the start at Point State Park.
We arrived and chit-chatted for a bit until everyone was at the start. We ended up leaving at 5:11am with 26 people in a neutral roll out until the new part of the Allegheny Passage Trail. It was a fun cruise in the dark, drizzle with 26 like-minded individuals all on different steeds. The bikes were all over the place from recumbents, to single speeds, to legit touring bikes, to well, even my carbon racer… which I did overhear someone making fun of my aero seatpost, haha. I know its not a real touring bike but she works well.
Before we got to the trail head a few of the leaders stopped off at a gas station which left everyone else on there own. I guess it was game on. The two out front took off and I knew there was no reason to try to keep up with them since those same two killed it last year, so the rest of us cruised to the trail head. I was leading the pack for some reason and didn’t realize there was a new part of the trail that I missed and may or may not have taken people the old way to the trail head. Nonetheless we made it there and it was time to ride ~100 miles on the Allegheny Passage Trail.
The trail is an old rails to trails, really flat, and is constructed of crushed limestone. Unfortunately for us it was raining which lead to a slow trail. There was a good group of us all riding together maybe 12 or so but as the miles ran on rider after rider dropped from the group until there was 7 of us. We took a quick restroom/water fill up break in Connellsville, PA about 60 miles into the ride. Along the trial there are a good amount of restrooms and water stations setup which is really nice.
We eventually made it to Ohiopyle (~75mi) to use the restroom and fill up some bottles.
We were riding in a double pace line most of the time with Dan B and Lane at the front doing some serious work. I also did learn drafting a recumbent isn’t all the beneficial. Because of the storm there were sticks and debris strewn across the trail and plenty of “stick right” and “mud” were called out repetitively. At some point a stick got caught in Bill’s fender and took him down. Luckily it only bent the fender a bit and nothing else on the bike and more importantly on Bill was harmed. We hopped back on and started cruising again. I’m not sure at what point but around mile 75 I started getting knee/foot pain. I was expecting this and tried to work through it for the time being by changing positions and applying different forces to each leg. I realized that my left pedals tension to my cleat would not keep it from rotation and there was way too much float. This was causing my knee to move as it pleased and was quite a pain. My game plan was to concentrate on keeping my knee moving up and down in a vertical plane and tighten it when I got a chance. Unfortunately when I tightened the pedal it didn’t do anything and I realized I would be dealing with this for the rest of the ride, and I did.
At some point around mile 80 or so of the trail I realized my companion Ben wasn’t doing so well. He asked if we could slow the pace down a bit and then started falling back. Jamie and I decided to have the other three go on without us and cruised with Ben. Around this point the hardened crush limestone turned into a peanut-butter consistency due to all of the rain which didn’t help the cause. We were cruising at ~6-8mph and the end of the trail was still 10+ miles away. Last year the ride started the same way, really well until 80 miles or so then it was a slow agonizing day for all of us. I really didn’t know if I could make it through another one of those day and was more afraid that by the end of the day I would be on my own again, which I don’t know if I could do since I’m at best an armature at this touring gig. We knew the other three were stopping in the town at the end of the trail and Jamie and Ben gave me the go ahead to go catch them ahead and they’d be up soon. I felt bad for leaving them at that point but knew if I didn’t catch the others then I might never see them for the rest of the trip. I hopped on it and cranked hard in the muddy terrain, it felt more like a cross race than the beginning of a long journey across Pennsylvania. I could see their tracks in the mud and at every turn that lead to a long straight-away I was hoping to catch just the slightest glimpse of them but I never did. As I got off the trail and turned left through the through the town I finally spotted them stopped at the only convince store. I grabbed some water and filled up a bottle before heading to Somerset. Right around then Jamie and Ben came around the corner. I was planning on riding with the other three to Somerset and meeting back up with Jamie and Ben when they got there since we were planning on a ~30 minute lunch break at the Sheetz’s.
The asphalt under my tires never felt so good even if there were some hills in the way. Its surprising how much energy it takes always spinning the cranks on a soggy trail. On the trail there is no time for a break, no cruising, just pushing the cranks. We finally made it to the Sheetz in Somerset (~115miles) and saw the two lead riders still there. We talked a bit and they mentioned they had been there for about 45 minutes or so and were about to head back out. We grabbed some lunch and mostly ate inside since it was still cold and rainy outside. I opted for a toasted veggie hoggie and some fries because I really wanted something warm. One or both were bad choices and from then on out I had heartburn in my throat. I ran into this last year and I did not learn my lesson at all. Meh. Jamie and Ben eventually made it to Sheetz after a bits and my gauge was that Ben wasn’t feeling too much better. After I heard Jamie talking about a car show he could go to the next day my decision to ride on with the other three was a definite. I wasn’t thrilled to leave them but I knew it was for the best. We parted ways and they wished me luck and I cruised on with Dan B, Lane, and Bill. Now this is a little daunting since I didn’t really know any of them and I hoped they wouldn’t mind me tagging along and/or leave me stranded somewhere if things went south.
The four of us kept cruising on hoping to make it to Breezewood without issue (~180mi). The weather wasn’t great but but nothing to seriously complain about. The entire day was on/off showers with little to no sun. The ride from the trail to Breezewood is the toughest of the trip with a great deal of climbing.
We made a quick stop in Bedford (157mi) for a bit more food and to fill up waters to push on to Breezewood.
We finally got into Breezewood to enjoy a nice meal at Sheetz’s. Since Jamie wasn’t with me still I ate a chip butty for him but subbed the ketchup for bbq and the white bread for a sprouted slice of Ezekiel.
After Breezewood you can continue on bike route S (which I hear is very hilly) or you can turn off and take the abandoned turnpike. We opted for the turnpike even though it involves dismounting and a tad of climbing.
There are two tunnels that you get to travel through bypassing the mountains, one you can see the end but the other is pitch black. Last year we got to the turnpike after dark so it didn’t matter much and I remember navigating was much, much harder. But then again we had pretty poor lights but riding this section in the day was a great deal faster.
After that we pushed on to Chambersburg (~225mi) were we planned on getting a little power nap. Sorry no photos in between, but it was dark, and I was hurting. We finally made it there and grabbed a quick eat at Wafflehouse.
Dan had already reserved a room and we gave him some cash to crash on the floor. We got in to the hotel after dinner around 12-12:30am or so and planned to be out before 2am which would give us a solid 90 minutes to rest. I opted again not to shower but try to get as much rest as I could. I pulled the base layers off and let them hang off the bike to let them air dry. I kept the bibs on, found a pillow and plopped on the floor. I probably slept for 30minutes when I woke up shaking. Like uncontrollable shaking with teeth chattering. I didn’t really know what was going on but I knew it wasn’t good. I grabbed my water, some food and hobbled to the bathroom. I really didn’t want to get completely wet so I filled the bathtub up with very hot water, closed the door, and tried to get my body temp up. I started chugging bottle after bottle of water to get myself rehydrated and started force feeding myself food. I sat in there for 30 or 45 minutes (I have no idea) and was hoping whatever this was would pass. I eventually left the bathroom and put on all the layers I had and plopped down on the floor. In about 5 minutes I became so hot and and started sweating hard. Around this time everyone was getting up and knew it was about time to run across the street to Sheetz, grab some breakfast and get the last ~160miles done for.
At another Sheetz’s, see the theme here?
We left Sheetz 2:15-2:30am and had about 60 miles until York which would be roughly 4 hours and we’d be catching the sun coming up right around then. Between here and York I was cold, it was dark, and I swear it was getting colder. I even needed to switch to my heavier gloves so Id guess the temps were in the low 40s. We eventually made it to York and knew we wern’t too much farther from the end.
Next stop was Lancaster then its only 90 miles from there to the liberty bell, not too shabby. As we rolled through Lancaster around 8:15-8:30am we were all surprised how busy the city was. We really wern’t expecting that. We cruised through town and eventually made it to Maple Doughnuts, the boys were really excited and I was a bit jealous when I saw them downing those doughnuts to be honest, but I got over it quick.
I was also cold and saw everyone sipping on coffee so I figured, sure why not Ill have me a small cup. Mind you I don’t ever drink coffee and rarely if ever drink anything with caffeine. I think I drank about 5 sips and felt my heart racing. It was good to sip bit but the acidic nature of the coffee did not go well with my heart burn. I watched the others downing doughnuts and opened up another cliff bar and went to work. It is seriously hard work trying to get enough calories in.
We got back on the road and road through Lancaster’s scenic country side. Its so calm riding through those roads with very little car traffic, lots of horse poop to maneuver around, but you can take the lane and cruise without constantly worrying about cars. There are no big hills in site, just a constant stream of rollers to pedal over and usually a good amount of wind due the lack of trees/plenty of fields. Because bike route S has you going in all sorts of directions at this point even if you had a tailwind it will turn into a crosswind at some point here. We all kept just pushing and knew we didn’t have too many miles left. Luckily for us the sun was coming out which made the day much more enjoyable.
Moral was a bit down at this point as everyone needed some food so we made a quick stop in Morgantown (~330mi). This was going to be out last stop of the trip until the liberty bell. Only ~25 more miles until the Schuylkill River Trail and from then on out it was going to be smooth sailing. That’s all I had in the back of my mind, get to the trail and its done. Unfortunately for he others who probably expected me to know where I was going so close to home, we got lost. A few of the bike route S signs were missing and we ended up cruising a few extra miles trying to get back on track. We eventually made it to the trail head and it was almost over. Since it was a Saturday afternoon and pretty nice out at this point, the trail was bustling with walkers, runners, and plenty of cat6 racers. We were going to comfortably make it in before 3pm so we cruised and talked a bit.
Then we hit the unpaved section before Manayunk which I had never actually ridden before. It wasn’t actually that bad.
We eventually made it to Kelly Drive which was even more packed which is to be expected. We dipped off the trail and cruised the parkway and its “new, even scarier” bike lanes. I tried to lead the pack as well as i could off Kelly drive, on to the parkway, around city hall, and onto Market St. I figured it would be a little bit more epic. This way We eventually came up to 6th and Market and it was all over.
We got in on Saturday at 2:35pm with a finishing time of 33:24 with a rolling avg of ~15.6mph. We ended up in second place this year but beat the previous record by over 2hours.
Our journey started with 26 and got boiled down to the four of us who rode together from more or less start to finish. We hung out for a bit, talked and said our goodbyes before everyone went in their own directions.
A big thanks to Dan B, Lane, and Bill for one, putting up with me (I know its hard) and two letting me tag along. I don’t know if I would have made it with out those guys and I’m sure I wouldn’t have pushed as hard. Those three are some serious randonneurs and it was definitely my pleasure to ride with, share stories, and learn from them. Thanks to everyone else who came out, the rest of the veterans for keeping this things going, and especially Eric for putting on the event. I had a such a good time (looking back, not so much at certain points along the way) and dare I say can’t wait for next year??
The aftermath this year wasn’t as bad as last. I got in Sunday and was hobbling pretty hard. My left knee was in bad shape and swollen enough that you couldn’t feel my knee cap. I tried to stretch and ice it at much as possible. I went to sleep early since we had to be up early for the broad st run the next day and when Lauren came to bed she said the sheets were soaked with my sweat. Like the entire bed, and it was sweat, i swear. She summed it up to I had a fever but who knows. I was more or less delirious all day Sunday running on no sleep. I was able to get some active recovery in the next day and walked to city hall to cheer Lauren on for the run. The knee was feeling better.
I didn’t commute in on Monday and opted to borrow Lauren’s car. It felt weird driving but was definitely for the best. We jumped on the bikes after work and cruised to the grocery to pick up food. I really wanted to test out the knee and to see how the butt was feeling. Not 100% but pretty good. I ended up commuting in the next day and have been feeling great since. Life is back to normal and I have one more year to have CTC in the back of my head.
Overall this year was much more enjoyable than last year. The weather wasn’t perfect but that’s part of CTC being in April. I came into this year much, MUCH more prepared than last and it really helped. Things I learned/took away from this year:
Always have a backup plan. The people you start with may or may not end up finishing with you because ~400miles is a long haul.
Legit headlights are needed. I learned this last year and picked up two tactical flashlights with rechargeable batteries. They worked amazingly well.
An extra pair of bibs might not be a bad idea.
Think about getting a real touring bike.
Run a plastic bag on your saddle or have shorts on over your bibs. I don’t know but this really helped me have less friction from the saddle to my sitbones which kept my butt happier.
If you going to pack powder for liquid calories pre-package them because you’ll never want to measure out amounts when your on the bike.
This is manly for me to look at next year so I’m sure ill add to it as I recall things.
It was a big month for me. I had two goals and I got both were completed. The first was to ride over 1k for the month. I ended up riding a bit over 1100 miles in April and couldn’t be happier. Second was to finishing CTC in under 40 hours. At the end of it all I talked with many friendly like minded people, heard some epic stories, saw some wild sights, learned even more about touring, but most importantly I can say I crushed the commonwealth, again!