Thursday, March 5, 2009

Classically Trained

With winter's wrath waning, whisperings mentioning a triplicate of early vernal events, The Spring Classics, whipped 'round, effectively whetting my two-wheeled appetite. With mere pieces dictated to various peers, "Meet at ten/dress for snow/ Road bike with fat tires or 'cross bike recommended/canned fish optional", some detective work was in order. What are these rides? Who are these people? Road bikes though single track? Why sardines?

Since all modern detective work begins with Google, I promptly entered the phrase "Spring Classics Philadelphia Bikes", and returned with a lot of crap about baseball, some blog mumblings, and an entry dated 2002 from Bilenky Cycleworks featuring a Mr. Allan Rodzinski (Which I recommend reading in its entirety). Recognizing the name and further proving that yes, it's a small (bicycle) world after all, I discovered I was merely one friend removed from him on facebook, which I swiftly remedied by adding him. I also employed serious legwork, as I stopped by no less than two bike shops to ask people what they knew about these rides.

The reactions were rife with fear and venerable awe, with stories bordering on legendary folklore. What I found was that The Spring Classics have gone on for the past 24 years and occur on three consecutive Sundays, from the last weekend in February to the first two weekends of March. The rides employ miserable weather, forests, valleys, hills, mud, Big Al's house, snack breaks, lunch breaks, photo-op stops, and very, very high speeds in an oddly paced 5 hour battle for nothing but bragging rights and this kit:

With that description, my dedication was solidified. As I only started to hear about the Classics after the first one, I made my debut on part 2, March 1st. It was a windy 30 degrees, with a blizzard threat for later that night, so I dressed appropriately and generously applied socks. Dan and I arrived at the Water Tower park around 10:20, thinking we were late. We were in fact precisely on time, as in Spring Classics land "starts at 10" really means "race starts at 10:52".
The ride begins with a winding ramble through suburban North Philly/ Mt. Airy/ Jenkintown and on to Pennypack Park, then down to Center City, and back up through Manayunk and the Wissahickon, and back to the start. Here's one of the few photos with me in it from that day:

As this photo is small and because lycra tends to make everyone look the same, I have attempted to use my vast expertise in photo editing to enlarge the portion with me:

As enlarging digital photos distorts and pixellates them, I have taken further steps in photo-editing in order to clearly see my facial expression:

After hours of serious leg cramping, being dropped, flatting out, and being dropped again, I made it to the meeting stop at Independence Hall (35-40 miles of the 55), ate half of a soft pretzel, and realized every piece of my being was either throbbing with pain or was frozen. At this point I was sufficiently miserable and utterly demoralized, and so I went home and took a nap in lieu of finishing.

It was the best ride so far this year.

Happy (face) riding,