After a rough couple of weeks of trying to get my emotional exhaustion and anxiety under control, I finally pulled it together in time to make my long-awaited first trip to Pennsylvania to visit Frank in his home territory. I was aware of the State College area's mountain biking reputation long before he came into my life, and very early on he told me about all of the grindy gravel climbing he'd been up to. Of course, I had to defend the Southern Indiana's cycling honor and prove it to be much different than the "Midwestern" box that he put it into. I got to do this over the 4th of July weekend, and he seemed reasonably impressed, so it was now time for me to see if State College riding lived up to the legend.
Um, it did. With my general level of exhaustion and loss of fitness in recent weeks, I expected that he would take it easy on me. A 20 mile gravel ride in Rothrock State Forest at which "you shouldn't hate me too much by the end" seemed reasonable. I did somehow interpret "you shouldn't hate me too much by the end" as easy, but it wasn't. At the beginning I locked my heavy legs into the slow rhythm of climbing the gentle but consistent 6-ish mile ascent that started almost immediately out of the parking lot. It wasn't fun, but it was okay. Then we were rewarded with a nice descent, followed by a long stretch of downhill-to-flat riding where I kept myself near threshold just because it was fun to go that fast.
Then I was given the choice to go back the way we came or do a loop where the climb back the other way was "a little steeper". I didn't feel awesome, but I figured not completing the loop was too wussy, so I opted for the loop. It was more than a little steeper. It was five miles of constant steep-ish chunky gravel that hit 17% in a few places. (Strava file here.) In the beginning I tried to tell myself that it was still easier than our Tennessee training camp, but instead of switchbacks, it was straight and relentless. Every hump I muscled over just revealed a new long, straight stretch of up. And then there was that gravel thing. I eventually gave up any hope of looking tough and stopped to rest three times on the way up. I didn't cry or complain, but I did stop, which is embarrassing in itself. We did eventually make it to the top, enjoyed the view, and still seemed to like each other when we got there.
The next day I got to see more of Rothrock via singletrack. Since I was already trashed from the day before, I mostly opted to "see" the famous rock gardens, but was hoping for easy-ish actual riding. The thing is, for this now admittedly Midwestern mountain biker, it was kind of all rock gardens. Some were more rideable than others, but I was pretty much bouncing the whole time and really wishing I had a full-suspension bike. Someone has a lot to learn and a lot fitness to gain back. The ride was pretty short with my struggling and whatnot, but it was still nice to have gotten some PA gnar experience. I hope to be back and better in the future.
Aside from introducing me to his world, he got a little closer to mine. He's all excited about doing to some OVCX races when he comes to visit me in the fall; so much so that he did, in fact, buy a tubular wheelset. So I guess he is officially dateable now, for those that were worried about that. Whoosh.