I did it! The Serento Gardens Seasons Change Fall Foliage 60k Ride

My alarm went off at 7 A.M., followed by a mad scramble to grab my gear, get dressed and load my bike onto my car. The weather was already sizing up to be a dreary day, but it still felt warm out. At any rate, I didn't think much about it. If it rained, it rained; I wasn't going to let that stop me. I'd been training for this day for 2 months, I was ready for anything.

Registration area.
I was in a hurry, but I wanted to make double sure I wasn't forgetting anything I'd need for the ride. As a result, I was a few minutes late and missed the first big group. Even so, many riders were arriving about the same time I was, so it really didn't matter. Everyone was welcome to ride at their own pace and leave when they wanted.

There were a lot of people there for some of the other events that were taking place, including a 5k walk/10k run with awards. After registering and getting my number, I was ready to go. I'd hoped there'd be a few other riders to ride along with, but as I headed out, it was just me. Well, just me and Adele singing "Rumor Has It" (blech) and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" (double blech) which were the last two songs I heard playing over the loudspeakers as I left. They each got hopelessly stuck in my head and continued playing for the entirety of the ride (triple blech.) I really need to tie a radio to my handlebars, or something, because this happens way too often.

From the Arthur Gardner Parkway, the first turn took us onto Route 309, heading into Hazleton. The course ran through Hazleton and eventually led us to Route 940. There were pink arrows marking the way, but I had the map pretty well memorized. In fact, except for cutting through Hazleton, it's the same course I've been following for weeks.

The first big change from my usual route is where we turn left on State Rt. 2053. I like to go right and ride down Buck Mountain Road, but I was eager to see what this way was like. And that's when I hit the first big hill.

This is one of those hills that, well, you look at them and just sort of want to cry.
The first big hill going up State Rt. 2053/Highland Rd/The Beginning of Pain
Actually, I've prepared an educational film that accurately portrays the exact feeling of riding up these steep hills.

The image doesn't quite show how steep it is because I shot this picture as I left the flat and started climbing, but at least it's a short climb.

Eventually, the road meets up with Route 940 and continues for a bit before we had to make a right on Sandy Run Road. At about 11 miles into the ride, there was a van set up with some water and food at the turn, which I chose not to stop at, but I waved at the people standing there. "Are we having fun, yet?" I shouted, because I'm a dork. The man yelled back, "Yep! It's all downhill from here, pal!" and I was really excited to hear that. I even said, "Great!" and made an even dorkier "fist pump" with my left hand, which is something I've never, ever felt compelled to do, ever before. But it really was great, because I really wanted to go downhill after all that climbing.

I don't know why it's called Sandy Run Road because I sure didn't see any sand, but I did finally see some other riders who were headed in the opposite direction for the 100k ride.

Sandy Run Road goes on and on forever until it hooks up with Lehigh Gorge Drive, which goes on and on forever until Weatherly. One neat thing about this route is that you end up going under these extremely tall high-tension wires. If you listen closely, you can hear them humming and popping as the power flows through them. It kind of freaks me out, and you have to go under them twice, (once on Sandy Run Rd and then again on Lehigh Gorge Drive) so that's fun.

Speaking of fun, after more than 700 miles, my bike is in desperate need of a tune-up. The bottom bracket squeaks like a nest of mice and the chain jumps all over the place on the smallest cog. Either the chain is stretched or the teeth on the cog have worn down (probably because of the chain stretching), but it really doesn't matter which part is to blame because the only cure is to replace them both. That's something that will have to wait until the beginning of next season, but in the meantime, I have to be careful with it. While going up a steep incline, I tried to down-shift and the chain popped off. As I fell forward, the seat caught my "naughty bits" and nearly ripped them off. It was not a sensation I'd care to feel again.

There was a rest stop set up near Eurana Park in Weatherly, so I decided to stop, hoping I'd see some other riders. I didn't see any other riders, but the people inside insisted that I help myself to some water/sports drink, fruits and cookies. I had my usual load of granola bars, but I grabbed a fig newton, asked how many riders had stopped by and headed out. I was about to face the worst part of this course, the Weatherly Plains Road.

Welcome to your doom.
The Weatherly Plains Road just goes up and up and up and up. Then it flattens out, but it's still not a lot of fun. This is why I started riding down it instead, which is probably why everyone continues to just blow right past me.

After not seeing a single rider going my way, suddenly, several went right past me. "Hang in there!" said the first guy, followed by another man who said, "Almost there, keep going!" The last guy said, "Just a few more miles!" And then they were gone, disappearing into the distance. I keep hoping that, someday, I'll be as fast as these guys, but I obviously have a lot of work to do.

On the other side of Beaver Meadows, the weather started to change. The sky had turned some scary shades of grey and a fierce headwind was beating me backwards. Then again, when am I ever not battling a headwind? After going up some tough climbs, this wind was something my legs did not want to deal with, but I pushed a little harder and continued on, eventually meeting up with some other riders and holding my pace with them. Before long, we were at the home stretch.

The home stretch, Arthur Gardner Parkway
More of that fall foliage action, coming your way.
We were treated to a large picnic of hot dogs, hamburgers, fruits and cookies. There was coffee and sports drink and plenty of other treats to enjoy. I met up with some of the cyclists who passed me on the Weatherly Plains Road and we began commiserating about the awful headwinds we'd encountered heading out of Beaver Meadows. I even got props for riding the course on my $200 city hybrid from Walmart while most folks had bikes that cost more than my car. Not that I was going for that -- I wasn't really trying to make that kind of an impression on people, it's just that this is all the bike I can afford, so I make do with what I've got. Also, I don't get to humble-brag very often, so this is one time I'll gladly do so.

I stuck around to see some of the trophies and medals get handed out to the runners who participated in the event, but then it started to rain. Cold and tired, I was eager to get home.

Prize bikes for the kids. Note the loudspeakers. RUMOR HAS IT - RUMOR HAS IT - RUMOR HAS IT
Awards and trophies.  
It's been exactly 2 months since I started this blog on August 6, 2012. The primary driving force behind that decision was to keep myself motivated and to hold myself accountable by making my effort public. This was my first ride like this, and it won't be my last. Until then, I'm just happy to finally look back and realize that I was able to stick with it and achieve this goal. I don't know exactly where I'm going from here, but I intend to maintain this blog with plenty of information about biking in North-East Pennsylvania, as that continues to be a deep passion for me. If you've followed along this far, thank you. But there's definitely more to do!

And, just for good measure, one more time.


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