Wyebrook Farm Event and Newbie Thoughts

Basil and I managed to sneak in a second event before what amounts to the end of the cycling season.  This one was at Wyebrook Farm, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

All ability levels were welcome, which was (theoretically) perfect for an event newbie like me.  As I’m still learning how Basil and I handle hills, I opted for the ten-mile route. Much to my surprise, there was no cue sheet — instead, we were to follow  orange arrows stenciled on the asphalt.  Some were faded, but, thanks to the flash of the color, easy to spot.  Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, the organizers failed to mention that orange was the color used for the ten, 35 and 55 mile routes.  It hadn’t occurred to me to ask, either, since I had also seen white hieroglyphs painted on the roadway, along with the orange.  These, I assumed, were for a different route.  I was quite wrong; it was orange for all. This (defunct?) herb farm may have been where I went wrong; there may have been orange arrows going in two directions here, though I saw only one set.

Once again I was riding on my own.  The cyclist who started out just before me passed me within the first quarter mile, and I never saw another.

Nonetheless, the route seemed clearly marked, and just when I was beginning to get seriously concerned, around mile 13, I reached a unmanned rest station that should have been irrelevant to my particular route.

The table was set up next to a closed bike shop, out all by its lonesome in the country.  Sunday closings aren’t unusual in Lancaster County, but it seemed odd that the table wasn’t attended, and that there was no indication whatever that it had anything to do with the event at Wyebrook Farm.  There was no indication, either, that the bike shop had anything to do with the event, though mere coincidence seemed quite unlikely.

At that point, I called home, and learned that I was still 11 miles from the farm.  Unfortunately, I  had no way to determine if the route I was on was only 11 miles longer, or a different thing entirely.

I kept on, and, within another mile or two, saw a new set of orange arrows:  one, oriented to the left, had the numeral “35” written under it.  The other, pointed to the right, was associated with the numeral “55”.  At this point, out of water and depleted — those last few hills had been tough — I called home again and asked to be rescued. I wasn’t going to make it another 20 miles.

There was a general store a half mile ahead, in a small village, but, as this was a Sunday in Lancaster County, the store (a rather decrepit one, in any case) was not open. I sat on a bench outside and waited for rescue, in the meantime, photographing Basil among the morning glories.

I was unprepared for such a strenuous ride on this particular day, much less one that tested me so much on the inclines (the ten-mile route was touted as an easy loop around the farm), and ended up being fifty percent longer than expected.  It was another perfect day, though, and apart from the exertion (and thirst!) it was a beautiful ride.  I’m a sucker for country scenery, and the inhabitants there-within.

Farm buildings here are almost always white, with white, silver, or gray silos.  I was regretting not having photographed the one farm I passed that was enrobed entirely in traditional (elsewhere) barn red.

(Some of the landscape was flat!)  Some spots had a lot more leaves than others, too.

I do love me some cows.

There was still a lot of color, but quite a few trees were missing substantial quantities of leaves.  The final weeks of October generally mark the end of both.

Lancaster County is famous for its Amish and Mennonite populations, and the covered carriages used for transportation by those sects.  This ride was notable for three spottings — two of them on Route 23, as I waited to be picked up.  The Amish, in particular, do not wish to be photographed, so I was careful to take all of these from the back, though the woman in this buggy smiled at me, and waved:

This carriage moved so quickly that I almost missed it; it takes a minute to figure out that those really are horse hooves making that noise on a state highway.

This buggy whipped along at an incredibly fast pace,  and was notable for having no visible driver; presumably, he was far back, clutching long reins.

In talking with one of the organizers once we got back to Wyebrook Farm, I learned that the route I’d mistakenly taken was, in his words, a “killer”.  He’d had to rescue someone on it during a previous event, and said he’d been berated for 45 minutes on the way back, with the cyclist complaining bitterly, and vociferously, about how much more difficult the route was than the description implied.

I suggested that cue sheets would have been a very good idea, allowing for course correction for someone like me, who suspected something was wrong by mile 11 of the 10 miles course. The fellow said that he’d “thought” he’d had the web guy upload the routes, but it was pretty apparent that this hadn’t been done — if only because I’d looked for them earlier in the week, and discovered that they didn’t exist.  (I like to prepare!)  He agreed that cue sheets would have been a good idea, particularly in light of his previous experience with the rescued cyclist, and that the description of the routes needed updating for accuracy.

Without a cue sheet and contact information, of course, I was on my own for rescue.  Apparently someone had done (or planned to do)  a half-hearted “sweep” — looking for leaves that might have obscured the arrows, I was told (I saw no significant number of leaves on the roadway).  However,  I’d seen virtually no traffic, and all of that ordinary cars, not a van or a vehicle that could have picked up a standard bicycle — and nothing, of course, marked with the event name.

Back at the farm, there was a free beer to be had, which I skipped, but my rescuer and I did poke around.  Wyebrook is a working farm, and it’s utterly beautiful.  The farm store is stocked with meats from the farm’s own livestock (which didn’t make me very happy, as I find meat-eating appalling), as well as farm produce, dairy products, and local cheeses.  (We took home a very nice blue).

A surprise was the smattering of curated books for sale, including several on factory farming and the meat industry.  (The argument, of course, is for more humane, small-scale, raising of animals for consumption.)  My rescuer, who is fascinated by fermentation of all kinds, was delighted to find The Art of Fermentation by Katz and Pollan, which we took home with us, along with the cheese.

On the reverse side side of the table were relevant antique books, in which, amusingly, this advert was featured (note that the modestly-clad woman is riding a tricycle with two large rear wheels, between which she sits):

There’s a cafe behind the store, mostly, if not entirely, of interest to meat-eaters (there was no clear hearty option for me, as a vegetarian, though I’d have loved a portobello burger at this point), a walking path, and a fantastic view.

I didn’t see any other Bromptons (that’s a joke, folks — I’ve met someone else who claims to own a Brompton in Chester County, but no one, yet, in Lancaster County); road bikes abounded.

As other cyclists pulled in, we noticed that many were wearing team jerseys, suggesting that this was a training run for them. I hope Wyebrook is mindful that this event (and others they sponsor) is a great introduction to Wyebrook Farm, even for cyclists who don’t belong to organized clubs.  And I hope, too, that some improvements can be made to the way the routes are managed in the future; it would be a pity to exclude the newbies from either the cycling experience or from a potentially wonderful introduction to the farm.  Simply supplying cue sheets would go a long way toward ensuring a wholly positive experience for all, and a potentially safer one.