May 18 was the PA 600k, the last brevet in the Super Randonneur series. This 600 was new from last year’s. It featured the same amount of climbing – over 19,000 feet, or close to 22,000 feet, depending on which site or app you believe – but, unfortunately, the first 125 miles was flat, with the climbing back loaded on the final 250 miles.
The route started at in Easton, PA and took a mixture of rail trails and rolling roads for about 65 miles to Philly. Unfortunately, the ride started with CJ getting a front pinch flat about an hour or so in. CJ, Ryan, and I got everything fixed quickly and were back on the road in time for sunrise. The remaining distance to Philly included a nice ride by Peace Valley Reservoir and several miles of bike path along Route 202. We had a brush with a ton of traffic on the Germantown Pike before getting back on bike paths, finally ending up on the Schuykill River Trail in Conshohocken. After a quick stop by the art museum where we were treated to donuts and words of encouragement from some Philly friends, we headed back out on the Schuykill River Trail, which we took all the way to Phoenixville.
We took a longer stop in Phoenixville, where several other riders caught up with us. Apparently some cops thought my bike was a motorcycle and almost issued a ticket until Paul talked them down. Phew. Never had that happen before.
Cj, Ryan, Paul, and I stuck together for the remaining miles into Reading. The trail turned to gravel, which was pretty awesome, before dumping us back onto paved roads. At the stop, we were greeted by Matt who would have ridden the 600, but, at his own admission, he was too smart to brave it. The stop before Reading marked the end of the relatively flat portion of our ride, and this was Matt’s stomping ground. He knew all too well what was to come.
Leaving Reading was all uphill to the Pagoda, the first big climb of the day. The climb really wasn’t as bad as we feared though, and my legs were still fresh afterwards. From there, it was just over 10 miles to the next Turkey Hill in Fleetwood and about 60 miles to the Turkey Hill in Wind Gap. We ended up stopping at a Wawa about halfway to Wind Gap to restock. We caught up with Steve there and had a dinner stop before setting out close to sunset.
The group ended up getting split up when Ryan got a gash in his tire from a piece of glass along a busy road in the dark. Steve kept chugging, while Paul, CJ, and I stayed behind to help/watch Ryan fix his tire. We got back on the road and rolled into Wind Gap after 10 pm. We saw Len Z there, who is always a welcome sight on the PA 600, but usually he is much further in right before the climb up Old Mine Road. Len offered words of encouragement and refreshments and a promise of meeting us again many miles up the road.
After rolling out of Wind Gap, we started to get sleepier. Even worse, the cues got longer, with two 10+ mile stretches to end the trip to our next stop. The first of those stretches felt like it went on forever, and it was oddly busy for the middle of the night. Len met us again in Canadensis and gave us his five star treatment as always. He even had pie.
The trip to the Mobil in Promised Land was another 10 mile shot, and our legs and minds were pretty weary. Once there, CJ and Ryan wanted to take a bit more time to rest, so Paul and I rolled out together to the “overnight” control in Pocono Village. This basically included a thrilling descent followed by a miserable climb and then potholes gravel roads. We arrived shortly after sunrise, and Ryan and CJ came in only a few minutes after.
We waited for them, and the four of us took off together again. At some point, Paul rode on ahead, and Ryan, CJ, and I rode the rest of the way together to Eldred and then Port Jervis. The climb into and out of Port Jervis is always mildly brutal, but the descents definitely make it all worth it. I think we hit 40 mph two or three times without even trying. The way into Port Jervis through Hawks Nest is always pretty heavily trafficked, but also the most beautiful sight of the ride with overlooks several hundred feet above the Delaware River. We stopped to collect ourselves at a diner in Port Jervis and set off through the Delaware Water Gap recreational area.
The ride through was hot and humid, and I quickly ran out of water. Knowing that Len would be at the base of Old Mine Road kept me going. We finally reached him after about two hours, and he replenished our water and our spirits. The climb up Old Mine Road was not too terrible, but the climb up Millbrook Road promised to be worse. We had already done this climb on the 300 several weeks earlier, and it’s definitely up there with some of the most conscious climbs I’ve ever done. This time, we’d attempt it with over 300 miles in our legs.
Although I’ve never walked a hill before, I resolved that I would most likely have to on this one with a fully loaded fat bike. I rode until it got too steep and started to walk it. Turns out, walking was actually more difficult. Go figure. I hopped back on and limped my way to the top, and it actually felt easier than on the 300, probably thanks to Len’s hospitality.
We ended up in Blairstown for a longer stop than I would have liked, and when we rolled out, I started to get really worried about time. We had about 30 hilly miles to the finish and a little less than 3 hours. Our group splintered right after we left due to a flat tire and other issues. I rode solo as hard as I could for awhile and finally caught Paul with about 15 or 20 miles to go. Shortly after that, we saw Ryan coming up behind us. We did several climbs together on Foul Rift and then River Road and finally crossed the bridge to Easton. We finished our ride at just over 39 hours, with a little less than an hour to spare. CJ and Paul came in together just a few minutes later.
This was definitely the hardest 600 I’ve done. I’ve only attempted three, and each had their own challenges. The first one plagued me with saddle sores on the final 200; the second one featured rain and unseasonably cold temperatures for all of day one, and heat stroke conditions on day two; and this one packed a punch with all its hills. Even though I did this on my fat bike, it would have been hard on my road bike.
Overall, after completing the series on fat tires, I’d have to say it was an interesting challenge, though one I wouldn’t eagerly repeat. The 200, 300, and 600 were definitely more difficult than the 400, which had mild climbing and more favorable winds. The bike and gear weighed in fully loaded at 50 lbs, including 2 liters of water on my back. Even though I had slick tires on the bike, the tread was pretty thick, and I was running them with tubes. I’m sure this helped prevent flats, but the rolling resistance seems similar to my knobby tubeless setup. Every pedal stroke seemed to feel like a struggle to keep moving, but I’m sure the weight of the bike, upright position, and Bluto fork didn’t help. I think if I did this again, I’d probably get a pair of Jumbo Jims or a lower rolling resistance snow tire and set it up tubeless.