Dirty Does It

Friday after thanksgiving I packed up my bike, my bags of cycling junk and headed to a friend’s place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This wasn’t my first experience with the Dirty Dozen so I was fairly calm and confident this go around. I arrived at my friend Jared’s place around 5 p.m. and Ashley recommended Fiore’s pizza as the choice fuel the night before the race.

 

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Photo courtesy of Yelp

The pizza shop was extremely busy that night, by the time we managed to put our order in I was beyond hungry. Naturally, three grown adults ordered two large pizzas to calm our angry stomachs. If you haven’t had their pizza then you would never know that with each slice of ZA comes 5 lbs of cheesy goodness.

After about five heaping slices and a 2XIPA from Southern Tier we headed back to the apartment to get our gear sorted out for the morning and to process all the grease and cheese.

The morning came quickly, I woke up around 6 am( my usual) and drank a cup of room temperature coffee to get my head into the game. I slept really well that night so I was excited and ready to get down to registration. Jared cooked up some fried egg burritos which really hit the spot.

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Sunrise Saturday morning.

Last year the temperature hovered around the mid 30’s so I packed accordingly. This year was totally different and by 7 a.m. the temperature was 49 degrees. I kept debating on how many layers I was going to wear.  During the climbs my body temp would be higher but on the descents and waiting between hills, the wind would chill you down quickly.  I finally decided I would wear a mid-weight base layer and a short sleeve jersey, also I wore thermal cycling tights. (I can’t remember if I saw anyone wearing bib shorts or not). For gloves I wore my blaze orange from Handup Gloves, this isn’t really a marketing plug, but I have owned them for over a year and I am downright amazed at their durability.

By thirty past 7 we were fed, the car was packed and the bikes were ready to roll.

One of the questions I get asked the most is, “What bike should I ride for the Dirty Dozen?” To be completely honest depending on your riding ability, a mountain bike or commuter bike with sufficient gearing ratio would fit the bill. The key though is to make sure your bike is in good mechanical order beforehand. My friend Jared rode a early 90’s Cannondale CAAD road frame with Zipp race wheels on Chris King hubs. Last year I rode a Diamondback cyclocross but this year I was on a Giant Defy advanced road bike with 11-30 cassette.

We got to the Bud Harris cycling track just as other people started to mill into the parking lot from the places they call home.  The registration tent was about to open and Danny Chew was talking to a fellow that was going to attempt the race on a unicycle.

If you are not familiar with the Dirty Dozen and the man behind it all I will try to give you the run down in my own words. Danny Chew, his brother and a handful of friends created the race in 1983 in an attempt to find the steepest hills in Pittsburgh and race them by bicycle. Dirty Dozen Wiki The event has grown immensely since then and according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, attendance was over 450 cyclists this year. Unfortunately Danny Chew was in a cycling accident a couple years ago and it left him with a mobility injury. Cyclists from near and far have been coming out to his event to show their support.

After the registration tent was closed down,cyclists were let out at the start line in four waves. The first wave was the competitive racers, the second was club and amateur racers , the third was beginner intermediate ability and the final wave was the party crew!

Last year I was the only individual from my area that attended but this year, several folks from central Pennsylvania took the opportunity.

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Bicycle Shop represents (Lauren, Tanya, Bri, Mike and Me).

I was in the second wave and we headed out at 9:15. The first couple hills (Aspinwall and Sharps Hill) were shorter but enough difficulty to open up your lungs to the cold air and knock the winter congestion loose.

With each new hill the body kept telling the mind, “That last hill had to have been the worst.” But in reality every hill killed the legs equally.

Even though the race states that there is a dozen hills there is a fair amount of climbing in between. Below you can see the elevation profile and each peak represents a climb.

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It took me a couple climbs to really get warmed up and the muscles limber, My friend’s Jared and Lauren crushed the first couple of climbs with ease. Once we got to Rialto I was feeling pretty strong. Jim Libecco took this footage of the climb at Rialto: Rialto Climb

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Rialto- Photo by Jaye Greenfield.
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Chris Townsley – photo Mike Mihalsky
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Tanya Putting the hammer down – photo Mike Mihalsky.

I think my favorite part about this event is the crowd and the positive energy riding a bicycle can bring to an area.  This is especially evident on the infamous hill Canton.

In 2016 as I was waiting to start Rialto, I remember thinking,.. Here we are, people from different vocations, cultures and different societal classes just riding bikes for the fun of it. It is a powerful image and a perfect example that recreation brings communities together.

Throughout the ride I saw a lot of friendly faces and I want to thank each one of you for your positive vibes and cheers.

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Mike Holtzinger catching a shot of Bri
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Race marshal Ted, reassuring me that everything will be over soon. -Photo by Dante

Canton Avenue is by far the most famous hill of the whole race. According to Wiki, Canton is the steepest officially recorded street in the United States with a grade of 37%

The crowd at Canton is quite the experience. As you make the turn to approach the hill, you can hear a dull roar of applause, music and celebration as people successfully and unsuccessfully summit the cobblestone monster.

 

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Drummer Boy- Jaye Greenfield
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Crank up the band – photo Mike Mihalsky.

The best advice I’ve heard to get up Canton avenue is to push as hard as you possibly can and avoid getting taken out by other cyclists with the same goal in mind.

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Photo Mike Mihalsky
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Piling in – Mike Mihalsky

Canton wave 2 by Jim Libecco

I mentioned before that there was a uni-cyclist attempting DD, but one of the most notable storied this year was Jeremiah Sullivan’s successful climb of Canton Avenue on a Pittsburgh Healthy Ride bicycle

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Jeremiah  by Mike Mcneil

This was Jeremiah’s 3rd attempt at Canton on a healthy ride and he was successful. I couldn’t imagine pushing a 37 lb bike up that wall. Congrats Jeremiah you deserve the kudos.

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Canton rest stop – Mike Mihalsky

There were three food stops along the DD route and they were much needed.

I had begun to cramp in my quads after hill 10 which was Boustead. At the top of Boustead  I used my water bottle as a muscle roller hoping that I could work the lactic acid out my muscles.  I had been taking electrolytes but for some reason my legs were not thankful for them. Chris Townsley told me that pop tarts were a miracle endurance food, but all I could think about were the jar of dill pickles Mike promised me at the finish line.

At this section in the ride I decided that I really needed to conserve my energy and try not to push so hard that my muscles seize into a major cramp. I knew that the ride was coming to a close and just maybe I could finish without any major problems. Last year I didn’t have this issue, but with the beautiful weather and amplified crowd, I do think I pushed harder on some of the climbs.

At the top Of hill 12 on Eleanor (arguably the worst climb in my opinion), is the final and my favorite food stop. This family (I didn’t get a their name) year after year opens their home up to the cyclists and provides coffee, hot chocolate and water. I think there was also a bowl of candy on the table but at that point I was a little delirious. I combined a cup of hot chocolate with a cup of coffee,added a teaspoon of Morton salt and I was ready to rock the last hill with my friends.

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Salt is your friend

I took hill twelve nice and easy and with some final painful effort managed to finish the race with both legs intact. I remembered the water tank finish from last year and words could not describe the feeling of relief when I reached it and grabbed my finisher ribbon.

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Lauren finishing with a smile
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The picturesque water tower finish.- photo Mike Mihalsky.

This was my second year finishing the Dirty Dozen and I see this experience becoming just as much a tradition in my life as the Thanksgiving feast the days prior.

There were so many personalities and perspectives that day, I’m sure everyone walked away with a different sense of accomplishment. For me the event is somewhat symbolic. Sure, I finished the ride and climbed those hills with my own strength and willpower, but the encouragement of my friends that were alongside me and the friends cheering me on as spectators are what gave me the motivation to see it through.

If you are considering doing the Dirty Dozen I encourage you to give it a shot, you never know what your capable of until you try.unnamed.jpg

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Wake up grab a coffee, grab my bike, climb a hill.

I have always said that it was a goal of mine to live within biking distance of work. To be honest though with every new career change my distance commuting with car has grown longer.

I just accepted a position at Penn State College of Agriculture in their  IT dept.  State college is home to Penn State University and is a busy college town from July to May. University park has over 40,000 undergraduate students on top of the local Centre County residents that make commuting traffic very slow.

My first week I had the option of parking in either the East desk parking garage or parking out at the stadium and either walking or biking into work. Originally I decided on parking in the closer garage because of convenience. After an experience of sitting in line for a half hour waiting to leave the garage I figured I would give the commuter lot a try.

It is a mile straight shot from the commuter lot to the building that houses my office. I would leave my house 10 minutes sooner and just ride the mile to my office before work.

But a mile on the bicycle was not really worth it in my opinion. I wanted to incorporate a decent ride into my every day commute. A way to functionally exercise every day was optimum.

In State College I would say there is a large cycling culture. There is a huge network of bicycle paths going from town all the way out to Rothrock State Forest or Scotia Game lands. If I lived within town it really wouldn’t make sense to drive.

Below is a link to maps of the local bike paths.

http://www.crpr.org/Parks/bike-hike/bikeway_map.html

PSU bike path map

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Besides the paths and trails in town there are also a huge network of mountain bike trails and fire roads on Tussey Mountain in the Roth rock State Forest.  People love to get outdoors in this area, I can ride up to Bear Meadows in Roth rock any time of the day and find a group of people riding or running the beautiful single track that area has to offer.

Photo of Roth Rock found on mtbproject.com

 

Photo I took of a gravel ride with Freeze Thaw bicycle shop.rothrock.PNG

 

Last week A friend of mine told me about the Bellefonte Rail Trail in town.

Bellefonte Rail Trail

One lunch break I rolled down on my single speed and checked the trail out. It is a beautiful trail with many off-shooting connecting trails to various other parts of town.

After riding the trail I kept thinking of a way I could make this into a morning ride to and from work? I started making routes in a program called Strava. If you aren’t familiar with strava, it is a online riding and running app that tracks your runs or rides and offers many widgets to tailor your training and performance. I would highly suggest checking out the program, plus through their online community you can join challenges and compete with your friends.

Once I had my route created I started to plan out my morning gear.

What goes in my backpack for my new commute:

  • Wallet and phone
  • Lunch
  • Nalgene of Water
  • Rain jacket
  • Mini Bike pump
  • bike multiool
  • bicycle tube and tire lever
  • bike front light and taillights
  • helmet and cycle cap.

The commuter steed: It is a 2017 Cannondale Slate Apex.

It is a 1 x 11 Sram Drivetrain with Surly Knard 650b x 41 gravel tires and on top of that I ride a Brooks Pro Imperial saddle.

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I only have to leave 20 minutes earlier every morning to commute by bike and that is okay by me. My commute is 6.5 miles one way and that is a total of 13 miles both ways with an elevation or climb of 800 feet. There are two major hills on my commute.

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These hills are great little training climbs.

I have been riding my daily commute for a full week straight and I notice a difference in my fitness. I normally ride between 50-100 miles a week normally but I can’t say that I normally do a large amount of climbing. With this daily commute and 1 extra ride a week I have ridden over 80 miles this week and climbed over 6000 feet of elevation.

Bellefont Rail Trail.

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I’m glad I started riding this route, I see wildlife early in the morning, It helps me relieve stress and clear my head. I get a good morning workout of a half hour (if I’m really speeding) and I show up to work relaxed and ready to take on the worlds problems.

Like I said, I don’t live within optimal distance from work, but I made the best of it and It makes me happy. If you do live within walking distance or a few miles from work, grab a bike and start commuting. It takes time developing your system at first but you’ll instantly thank yourself for making the effort and getting out there.

 

Perspective.

I started taking more photos of the who, what, when and how of life. This is a photo on the 6 to ten trail. Often we think people in our circle see things from our point of view or perspective, but that is definitely not the case. Don’t be afraid to share your view of the world, it may create positive change.

“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.”
― C.S. Lewis

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Elmo’s Creation BrewToBrew100k

I live a fairly structured life and lifestyle. I work an 8-5 tech job for a large outdoor retailer, am married with two children and am involved in various local organizations. Fitness is very important to me and with a family and a full time work schedule that often means riding the trainer during odd hours or suffering a little sleep to get a solid workout in. Luckily my wife is very supportive of me and my kids love to go hiking or spend the majority of their time outside as well. Whenever I’m given an opportunity to test out my training and break free from my “day job” I have a hard time saying no.

Most of my friends are involved in the outdoors in some fashion or another, whether it be biking, running, climbing or hiking. One of these friends is Elmo Snively.

I have known Elmo for about 11 years in one fashion or another. When we first met, we both had an energy that probably was not always safe to keep in one place at the same time. Luckily through growing up and meeting new people we both transformed that energy into something a bit more positive.

Elmo is a local endurance running “prodigy”. He is one of a handful of pioneers in our local area that has tackled 100 mile distance runs and now has moved on to even tougher ventures like completion of the Last Annual Vol. State 500k.

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Vol State 500k

Elmo just moved back from the state of Tennessee and is in the process of starting a new job, becoming a father and settling into a new life. On the back burner He had been cooking  for a while a run/hike from Altoona to Milheim Pennsylvania. The run didn’t originally have a name but through the evolution of a month or so it got the title “Brew to Brew 100k”

The B2B100K would start at Rail Road City Brewing in Altoona , Pa and stretch 62.2 miles of country roads to finish in the quaint town of Milheim, Pa  at Elk Creek Cafe. The trek would be self supported and would be a straight thru (no extended stops) adventure.

Most people that know me are aware that I prefer to bike over running any day. But regardless I love being outside and pushing myself to see how far or how fast I can go at any discipline.

Last fall I completed Danny Chew’s Pittsburgh Dirty Dozen bike race(I still need to do a recap) and that experience taught me that I can pretty much handle anything as far as endurance goes.

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But when Elmo proposed that I join him on the b2b100k I had my reservations. I hadn’t run more than 5 miles distance per run in about a year and the farthest I had ever run was 37 miles.

I think my biggest fear about the whole venture was stirring up a new injury or possibly irritating my meniscus.

On a side note, I am attempting the Crush The Commenwealth bike race on the 28th of April and I was nervous that this would put a kink in my performance for that.

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CTC 391 miles from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in 48 hrs.

Finally after giving it some thought, I knew I would benefit from b2b100k.  A couple of things b2b would do:

  • It would help me learn to function on little sleep (this will be a big deal at ctc)
  • It would give me a chance for some r&r and a chance to meditate.
  • Overnight adventures are the best!
  • I was excited to catch up with Elmo and make some new memories.

I was in and committed. We had a few other friends that showed interest, but when you are talking about a event of this caliber people rarely toe the line.

We planned to leave on Thursday the 17th at 8:00 p.m. from Rail Road City and our goal was to arrive at Elk Creek before last call which would be 11:00 p.m.

I packed my hydration bag early that morning and laid out my clothes, headlamp, food, and knife for the trip. Another item I brought was a backup battery for my phone. Both the knife and battery came in handy on the trip.

I had originally taken off work that Thursday so after my wife got home from work we headed down to RRC to meet Elmo.

Not going to lie, I wasn’t feeling it. I had a migraine for a majority of that afternoon and I thought a nap would make it go away but I was wrong. Cayt said that the fresh air would probably help with the headache and she was right!

We arrived at RRC, Mikalee (Elmo’s Lady) and Elmo were there waiting, so I said my goodbyes to my family.  Jordan ( a mutual friend) showed up as well and we had our maiden voyage beers.

Matt from RRC took our picture for the Facebook page and wished us good luck.

In hindsight, most of the people that we told about the trip either didn’t believe us or thought it was the most ridiculous thing they ever heard. Central Pennsylvania is not exactly an area where people break free from the mold or try to not be the status quo.

Some people even sit around all day and compute why people would want to be vegetarians.

Don’t get me wrong, recreational activities are on the rise in our area, but what we were doing was far from the norm.

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Elmo and I leave Rail Road City. (I’m not wearing a bonnet)

B2B had begun, we headed out of town and everything was new. We were wearing bright colors and got alot of smiles and waves. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

Elmo and I discussed prior to departing that we would keep running at a minimum because of my fear of injury, but as we made our way outside of Altoona and up Kettle Street we were making great time.

Our route had us on rt 45 for 75 percent of the event. Anyone that knows that route can tell you that there are a fair amount of blind spots and little to now shoulder to get off the road for approaching traffic. Luckily our departure at night kept the traffic levels at a minimum.

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B2B100K

As we were heading up over Kettle and out of Altoona I was starting to feel much better we were making great time and were almost out of the windy part of the road when Elmo asked me if I had a knife in my pack. Part of Elmo’s shoe that reinforced the construction was actually rubbing his Achilles raw. After a couple of miles we took a quick stop and Elmo performed surgery on his shoe. We were back on the road and he said his foot felt much better. As I said, we were booking for the first part. I remember texting people letting them know we had already done 10 miles and were in the agriculturally rich part of rt 45.

The weather was crisp and cool as the night continued on. We had discussed that we thought it would be a benefit that the temps were cooler, but as we climbed down into Spruce Creek the temperature was starting to drain our energy.

I couldn’t believe it, but I had forgotten to pack my gloves. Elmo was generous enough to let me use his and that helped immensely. We made our first real stop at the tavern in spruce creek. I just got into fly fishing and anyone that is familiar with the area knows that it is home for some great trout streams.  We both ate a cliff bar and in 5 minutes were back on out feet.

That whole valley has a strange feeling about it at night. I know two hundred to a thousand  years ago that land was home to many native cultures. As we cruised onward with only the moonlight to light our steps, I felt like I was part of that culture and it made me sad how we have become so engulfed in “Necessities of convenience”.

The moon was bright that night and we rarely had to use our headlamps. We would use them to warn approaching cars of our presence, or to see the horse that scared the crap out of both us in Sinking Valley.

By now we were over twenty miles in and it was getting colder. The dexterity in our fingertips had long gone. We also were having problems with the gps bouncing around in the valley for a while. We got off course for about a mile but quickly realized our error and re-corrected.

The night for the most part was uneventful. We were stopped by two cars. The first group was a “gang” of individuals that were looking for an address. Elmo said that he thought they were on a paper route, but the large gold chains gracing their neck made me think otherwise. The other car were two lovebirds looking for Indian Outlook. First of all who looks for a lookout at 3 a.m. So I think they had other plans in mind!

We were approaching mile 30 and I’ll be honest my feet were killing me. I had never been on my feet for more than 9 hours running and we were approaching the 10 hr mark. I had plenty of energy, my legs felt strong, but every time I pushed my foot onto the pavement to take another step was excruciating pain.  Another thing that didn’t make sense to me was that Elmo’s legs are shorter than mine but his walking gait was twice that of mine, Elmo was increasing the distance between he and I and I couldn’t make it up. I mentioned to him that and he told me he had a friend from Vol State that could walk just over 11:00 minute miles. I made a mental note that I need to decrease my cadence and increase my gait.

Elmo and I took a break and I decided that I needed to get something to eat, something warm that would give us a burst of energy. We both were cold and hopefully If I got something to eat I could get a second wind and make it to the finish. We turned off some Whitehall or some road I don’t remember the name of and headed to the land of a Unimart. Elmo told me there was a Unimart in 2-3 miles. The thought of gas station burritos at 5 a.m. appealed to me somehow and gave me the will to push.

Well that 2-3 miles turned into 5-6, then it turned into a cold headwind. We were approaching what I thought was mile 37 and I was done. Elmo was putting a huge distance between he and I and I could tell I wasn’t getting any better. My feet were bruised and in pain. I decided that I had given it a good effort but I would finish in State College instead of Milheim.

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Sad Ben/Happy Elmo

5 miles later we rolled into Unimart. I was done. we both got a coffee, a donut and a sandwich and just sat there trail buzzed and cold.

Because I dropped out I missed out on a food drop in boalsburg, but Sara was kind enough to let me have a voodoo ranger later that day anyway . HA!

Elmo later continued to finish the b2b100k at a time of 22hrs. When I uploaded my route my total mileage was 45 miles in 12 hrs and 7 minutes.

I had such a great time and since last weekend I can’t stop thinking of more multi day adventures I can get into.

Our friends Benjamin Mazur, Mikalee, Sara and her boyfriend Travis all joined in at Elk Creek later that evening to celebrate the day.

Ben got some vegetarian cuisine:

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We later went to the groves house to play a couple racy rounds of speed darts! If you don’t know how to play ask Elmo to explain the rules.

Even though that day I became known as quitter Ben, I won. I can tell people I trekked from Altoona to State college overnight. I can tell people that I didn’t have any aid stations or assistance getting there. I didn’t have anyone but myself, a good friend and the open road.

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Yeah, I would have loved to finish the entire course, but I gained alot of good memories that night and I learned alot about myself as well.

I could insert some thoughtful quote but all I have to say is… Don’t wait to live your life and don’t forget to switch things up sometime and take a chance on a new adventure.

And as cheesy as it sounds, its about the experience not the destination, so try something until you know you cannot fail.

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Im sleeping already, also Ben Mazur drives a spaceship.