Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Why the MS 150 Is Going to Kill Me

Because these 30 miles, a mere 20% of what I'm going to have to ride in two days in June, almost killed me. A brief pithy narration follows.

As for the start, I've already bemoaned the 5-7% grade of Stanton Avenue from Lawrenceville into Stanton Heights so I won't waste my time doing it again. Today, I noticed, while I had more trouble holding a steady pace out of the saddle, once I got past the back and forth changes of the hill's brutal beginning, I found myself in the saddle up into the Heights, holding down a respectable pace without standing. Nevertheless, I feared I was in trouble, underfed, underhydrated, over-cigaretted, something.

I pressed on, of course, to meet Moon's riding partner (MRP) at Enrico's in Highland Park, which explains the quick left turn off Stanton. At the cafe, MRP was drinking the last of his coffee and reading up on the methodology of a little diversion I found and passed on to him and a few others last week, an asteroid / comet impact simulator that is entirely too fun to play with. He had scrawled equations in the margin, checking the scientist's math. Engineers.

After a few wardrobe adjustments -- it was at once mild and chilly, with a significant breeze, making it very hard to figure out what to wear -- we were off. We rode uneventfully into East Liberty until at Penn Circle and Penn, yours truly in the lead, a woman crossed against the signal with her stroller in front of her without so much as glancing our way. I could tell by her body language that she was going to do just that, and I had already confirmed that there was no traffic behind me, so I swung left into the lane, clearing her by a bit more than an arm's length. MRP reported that as he passed he heard her say "Whoa." Responsible parenthood.

From there, we rode into Shadyside and then Oakland, cutting through the University on Fifth Avenue and proceeding downtown, where I led us on a meandering path through the triangle, the belgian stone of Grant Street clacking beneath our tires as we passed. Through the park we then rode, picking up the trail along the Ohio and heading out toward SCI-Pittsburgh, our second time riding out that far. We discussed as we rode the prospect of getting across one of the bridges in sight ahead of us and returning via Carson.

As we neared the big blue superstructure of the McKees Rocks Bridge, however, we realized that there was no direct ramp and that it crossed the river from high on the palisade to our right. We contemplated what we could do to get up there, and my testicles shrank as MRP, who is much fitter than I, manifested an increasing commitment to finding our way up the ridge one way or another.

Jumping off the trail at the decommissioned prison, we first tried to continue downriver on Preble Avenue. Very quickly, however, we reached the barricades and guard stands at the entrance to the Alcosan water treatment facility, the fence rimming which was adorned with a Terorism Threat Warning jammie (we're currently at yellow, in case you're wondering). We turned back, rebuffed but not deterred.

The alternative had been visible the whole time; a cut in the ridge that led back across the highway, 65, that fed the bridge. We'd climb up from behind, somehow, and get there that way.

And it was directly under that overpass that I found myself suddenly in the grips of a profound deja vu that it took very little time to replace. Directly under the 65 overpass stood a looming, narrow building that looked all too familiar. It was Eagle, a rather daunting gay bar that I've visited a couple of times over the years with friends, the last time probably a good five years ago. Three or four levels of exquisite, thematic gayness. Truly, a very entertaining place. I knew only that it was north of the rivers, all these years, having never driven there on my own. I never would have been able to find it, but here it was, a stone's throw from a sewage treatment plant at the acute convergence of a couple of dilapidated streets.

I noted this to MRP, and we slowed a moment while I explained the barely marked building's odd significance as, among other things, one of the very first gay bars I ever visited -- certainly, the first of its over-the-top fetishy ilk -- back when I was still coming to Pittsburgh as a tourist.

MRP indulged me for a moment, and then cut left against a Do Not Enter sign to climb an intimidating hill with crumbling asphalt. There was no choice but to follow. Had my goal been to reach the bridge, it would have been my choice too; my goal, at that point, was to lead MRP to believe that my goal was to reach the bridge, a fine but important distinction.

The hill was pretty rough, and at the top it curved left into an unfamiliar neighborhood that was really rather depressed. Young men stood on porches eyeing suspiciously our slow progress over the peak and down into a small valley; a vicious-looking dog near the bottom of the valley rushed a fence as we passed. At the bottom, another road branched off to the left, and rose quickly at a grade surpassing even Stanton. My stomach sank as MRP withour hesitating turned into it, lifted out of his saddle, and began to climb.

The gmap elevation -- this passage is the sudden crag visible between miles 14 and 15 (you have to scroll right to see it) -- really doesn't do the hill justice. In eighteen months of on-again-off-again riding, almost exclusively on a fixed gear for the past year, it remains a source of pride that I have yet to get off the bike because a hill has gotten the best of me. But on the worst hills, I usually spend the second half of the climb negotiating with myself over whether it would be okay, just this once, to give in, to unseat myself and walk the last little bit. Today, it wasn't so much a negotiation as it was a screaming match, the conflict palpable and adequate to raise veins in my forehead if the exertion hadn't already done so. MRP's inexorable progress a half-block above me, however, furnished enough motivation to hold me in doubt, which was enough to keep me moving, barely.

At the top, winded and entirely drained, having reached the peak of the palisade, we turned right into a gentle grade that took us slowly away from the bridge. Between two houses to the left I spotted the bridge -- below us.

"Dude, we're above the bridge," I panted.

MRP said, "I wondered if you saw that."

A few blocks down, at my suggestion, MRP turned down a dead end to see if we could get a view and figure out how to get to the bridge. The road terminated directly above the intersection at the end of the bridge, and we figured out how to reach it.

The bridge itself was actually quite spacious, and while in our uncertainty we opted for the sidewalk we agreed that in the future that won't be necessary. The sidewalk itself was reasonably clean, except for a few sprays of broken glass, and we stopped at one stanchion to enjoy the view down the Ohio, the circular pools of Alcosan directly below us.

The rest of the ride, once we crossed the bridge, was relatively uneventful. Meandering back upstream, we soon found ourselves on West Carson, which, despite the vaguely uncomfortable rate of travel of the cars at our elbows, actually was relatively smooth and safe. We passed Station Square, and sped through South Side to Southside Works and the Hot Metal bridge, where we crossed over and headed up through Panther Hollow into Oakland.

The rest is familiar. In service of training, I forced myself back up over Stanton, despite my fatigue, and enjoyed a familiar conversation with myself all the way up, which took a while in that I punctuated my slow ascent with several slow-downs to near dead stops for a rotation or two just to get some blood into my thighs and some air into my lungs.

At home, absolutely exhausted, I hit the kitchen before even removing my helmet, where I devoured a quarter-bottle of dry roated peanuts, a glass of water, and a banana, bringing with me upstairs to set up a map and do this write-up a Clif bar and a glass of milk.

I'm still hungry.

The upshot is that I will not be cleaning the house today, as I'd originally planned to do. Indeed, I'll be fortunate to drag myself from this seat and into the shower.

I'm committed to ride to work tomorrow, however, chafed perineum notwithstanding. But I'm none too happy about it.


Blogger emily said...

of course you already know what i'm gonna say, but i'm gonna say it anyway...

150 miles on a fixie is STOOPID!

this is coming from a girl who's done the MS 150, who trained for it on a mountain bike, and who would have likely died somewhere between here and conneaut, had it not been for the sweet sweet action of gears on a road bike.

and so you know, i'm not gonna think you're any cooler just because you do the 150 on your fixie.


2:29 PM  
Blogger rockicemtn said...

Excellent post.

My training has got to begin at some point, give me a yell for the next ride. I will give your ego a boost.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous heather said...

my bet would be "over-cigaretted" but i've been saying that for years and you never listen.

just remember, you would hate riding with steve even more since he can go long distances with NO training (though, to give you credit, with gears)

4:57 PM  

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