The Road to Gettysburg

It was mid-March and I was getting antsy. Two and a half months into 2018 and I had done fuck-all for stupid rides. My mileage was the lowest it had been in three or four years. Marathon training was filling in the gaps a little, but my soft, easily-damaged body kept forcing me into taking extended days off. Then on March 19th at 4:53 PM,  my friend Brad asked in a group chat:

Brad: anyone want to take off Friday and do one of these routes with me?
beach day: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/27051499
harper's ferry https://ridewithgps.com/routes/27051226
bloody gettysburg https://ridewithgps.com/routes/27048520 
(preferably not the one where everyone dies)
Chris: I might be up for Gettysburg

That was an understatement. I was dying to get out on a long ride. Over the previous few months I had watched century after century roll through my Strava feed and the best I could muster were a bunch of local (albeit great) hill rides. I had become an endurance cyclist that didn’t ride long or far. A poseur. I was also starting to freak a little because our annual 24 hour team ride (the fleche) was on the calendar for April 7th and I was running out of time to get ready.

In the days leading up to the ride I ordered some Profile Design aerobars to attach to my bike. I had banged up my left wrist in a dismount crash while pretending I was good at handling my bike and it was still bothering me any time I bent it too far. Plus, I’ve seen endurance cyclists use them to stretch out and get in a more favorable position on long rides. Mostly, I’m just a psychopath that isn’t happy unless I’m spending money on questionably useful gear.

Up at 5am the morning of the ride, I was in full toddler mode. It was 33 degrees outside and I stood in my laundry room throwing a silent temper tantrum because it was too cold to wear my newly purchased Rapha brevet bib shorts. A normal person would have  just sucked it up and worn their thermal bibs, even if the chamois was somehow thinner than is plausibly explained by physical science. Tights underneath bibs were a non-starter because why pay all that money for buttery chamois when you have some dumbass tights wedged in there?

Shorts it was!

I tried to make up for it by wearing my excessively long Ridge Supply socks and some of those DeFeet slipstream shoe socks. Yes, socks for your shoes. Just take my money and let’s not make eye contact. Thanks.

I wore my Rapha long-sleeve windblock jersey, then some great glov…

Haha just kidding. This is not going to be one of those trip reports where I meticulously detail every stupid fucking clothing and gear decision I make. Just assume that I will always be 1) under dressed 2) short on all types of fuel 3) in danger of losing power to all electronic devices.

Brad and I met up at 6am-ish and enjoyed a nice roll down 123 to Chain Bridge. Once we turned on Canal the ride took a turn for the absolute worst because it was still dark but a bunch of go-getters were already in their cars speeding the fuck down what’s supposed to be a 35 mph road. Canal sucks. It always sucks, and I hope whomever designed it eventually got fired or died from syphilis or both.

After doing our best to cause an eight car pileup just trying to merge into the turn lane, we turned left on Arizona and headed up, up, and away from the river. The ride up to Rockville via Seven Locks Road was the opposite experience. It’s a great road, with bike lanes or wide shoulders throughout much of the route. The problem is it dumps you in the middle of Rockville which is a really terrible area for bikes (or so it seemed). Rush hour is always going to be bad, but there were a number of the roads which I absolutely despise: two lanes in either direction with zero shoulder. I just don’t get that design. You are encouraging drivers to speed from light to light with little to no margin for error. At one point I think we were on a 50 mph road for a mile or two and to have a non-highway designed like that in the suburbs is just criminal. Stick all those roads where they belong. In Manassass and Woodbridge. Oh they already have nothing but those? Ok then.

Eventually we made it out of the burbs and into the exurbs and then in to the country side and everything got better. It also got colder. While the roads were dry, the snow still blanketed everything and was keeping it pretty chilly. 35 miles in we hit Patuxent River State Park and I had to stop and shove toe warmers in my shoe socks.

2018-03-23 09.11.06

Long rides are extremely solemn business.

One of the best things about rides like this is getting to ride through quaint old towns with cool main streets. Mount Airy, Unionville, Taneytown, et al. all looked like they could support a brewery or two, and might have that perfect old fixer upper that you could score and move into. Of course if I took that path I would be unemployed and addicted to bathtub meth and dead inside my unfixed-up fixer-upper within two years. Still, it’s fun to pretend.

As we steamed toward Gettysburg the headwind and climbing combined to put me in the mode of just staring at my Garmin as the miles sloooowly went by. There is nothing worse or less enjoyable than that. All you want to do is get to your destination but it’s the hallway scene from Poltergeist – you run toward it but it just seems to get farther and farther away.

Despite my silent whining and sobbing, we rolled into Pennsylvania and then Gettysburg shortly thereafter.

We made it to the Gettysburg National Military Park just after noon. We entered through the south end of the Park and then did a nice short climb over Little Round Top. After meandering around and getting some pictures, it was time to actually take care of the whole reason we came all this way. To eat cheeseburgers and drink beer.

2018-03-23 12.05.58

The sky was the bluest of blues.

Fortunately Brad did a great job of staking out a good spot – Blue & Gray Bar & Grill. Seriously, this place could not have been more perfect. They gave us a seat next to the window so we could keep an eye on our bikes and immediately brought us water. They had a killer lineup of beers on tap, including a bunch of stuff from Wicked Weed. They even had a ton of burgers, organized into Union Burgers and Confederate Burgers.

2018-03-23 12.43.33

USA! USA! USA!

I’m no traitor, so I ordered from the Union Burgers side of the menu – a General John Buford with a side of sweet potato waffle fries. Brad ordered the Treason Burger from the Confederate side of the menu which was still really good but probably also tasted like guilt. Which I am told can be delicious, but still.

HOWEVER! Planted right in the middle of that General Harry T. Hayes aka Traitorburger he ordered was just an outstanding piece of ornamentation, befitting his absolutely terrible choice. The Confederate battle flag.

2018-03-23 12.42.33

At least a surrender flag is stitched to it.

Flags aside, the meal was incredible. Like super duper incredible like I could not stop groaning and moaning and remarking like a goddamn diabeetus patient after his emergency sharing-size Snickers fix. So good that I briefly considered a second beer (always a good choice when you have 6 hours of riding ahead of you) and dessert (another good choice). Fortunately they were out of the dessert I wanted and Brad tricked me into not getting another beer and just like that we were back on the road.

Now the return trip was borderline incredible. Mostly because we FINALLY got to stop at a convenience store and get some GODDAMN TRASHPANDA FUEL. I made the wise choice of strawberry pop-starts, payday candy bar, and then a nod to my health with a coconut almond butter clif bar. I ate the payday bar and immediately felt like fucking Zeus hurling lightning bolts down from Mount Olympus. Never underestimate the power of refined sugar.

We also had a nice tailwind, which really kicked in at Union Bridge as we diverged from re-tracing our route and headed east through Woodbine and then south to Olney. Eventually I was hungry enough again that I ate my pop-tarts and then just to cut down on weight ate my clif bar too. I was down to two gels and since there’s no way I am eating that shit (why do I even carry it again?), I was effectively out of food.

That was fine though, because suddenly we were on Georgia Avenue in rush hour traffic. At some point we decided that it made more sense to trade the clusterfuck that was Rockville for something more exciting and dangerous. In this case, being on a three-lane commuting artery with speeds approaching 50 mph. It was fine though! Our lane was a sharrow! So what if no one but us even knew what that even means. Brad will always take a lane and I was just as happy to let him take first impact. It’s what friends do.

Connecticut Avenue was about the same, but again it was mostly downhill and we had the wind at our backs. By the time we hit Bethesda and hopped on the CCT we were on cruise control. Which was good, because I was completely destroyed. I even passed my friend Ricky on the trail and was barely able to silently mouth RIIIII as I passed him.

We crossed over to the towpath and then over Chain Bridge for the climb back into Virginia, where Brad and I said our goodbyes. This was the longest ride Brad has ever done and it was the longest I had done since the unsupported C&O ride I did last spring (yes I Everested after that but that was less a bike ride and more me riding up and down the same hill like a goddamn moron). For sure, this was the farthest I have ever ridden my bike to grab lunch and it was completely worth it.

When are we going again?

https://www.strava.com/activities/1468049901

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/27103469

2 thoughts on “The Road to Gettysburg

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