Events Iron Tour

French Creek Iron Tour 2014

Last year I unwittingly rode the French Creek Iron Tour in only two gears, having failed to notice that Basil’s gear indicator had slipped.


This year, all six of Basil’s gears were fully functioning, and I also had a much better idea of how to use them.  What a difference!


This year, Dr. Diarist and Argyll joined us for one of the prettiest rides around:  Thirty-plus miles /49 km in the rolling terrain of Chester county, Pennsylvania.


Mile for mile, it’s the prettiest long ride we’ve taken, which is only right, as the tour benefits open space preservation.


The entire route is on open roads, but occurs on a quiet Sunday.  Motorists were relatively few, and, for the most part, considerate when dealing with the 1500 or so of us who did this ride.


Riding on public streets meant that we saw our share of private homes, most of them with at least a little rustic, or historic, charm .  (Or both!)


The county has plentiful creeks, burbling quietly alongside.  I’m sure we failed to see quite a few; hidden, as they often are, in the shadows of the greenery all around.


There were two rest stops on our route:  At the first, a friendly Alpaca was soaking up admiration in the parking lot, while these much tinier guys were frolicking in open pens — and posing very nicely!


Southeastern Pennsylvania is dotted with old stone buildings, many of which date from when the area was first settled by Europeans, and which are still lived in; we spotted them all along the ride.


Covered bridges are another hallmark of the geography, though there were only two on this route.


Sometimes the woods and the earliest buildings meld until the structure almost disappears, and sometimes it’s hardly possible to spot the farm across the fields.


This abandoned out-building looks a bit Potemkin, with an almost one-dimensional aspect.  It’s not just that the windows are gone, but, I suspect that the whole back wall has collapsed, allowing that perfectly-aligned glimpse into the field beyond, through the building.


Rolling hills, woods, flowing water, centuries-old architecture, covered bridges, stone walls and the bluest sky — it was a perfect ride!


We were relieved to see that this sign said “no peddling” instead of “no pedalling”, which, at this point, we’d been doing for quite a while!


Montana has nothing on this landscape; this is Big Sky Country, Pennsylvania-style!


Decrepit small-scale farms probably shouldn’t be so appealing, since their demise is almost never a good thing, but the organic way the old silos weather and the structures decay has an inherent appeal.


Not all covered bridges are aesthetically pleasing, but they, too, all have a certain charm, regardless.  And they’re a lot of fun to ride through.


The second rest stop was at a pavilion behind a school, only about 10 miles/16 km from the finish.


Argyll and Basil enjoyed comparing notes, and I took a picture of a happy Dr. Diarist.  He’s gotten used to longish rides on new Brompton Argyll, but this was his first cycling event.


Based on my experience last year and this year, I can state unequivocally that the Iron Tour has the best snack support ever and the nicest volunteers, too!   The organizers have also mastered the art of real-food cycling fuel:  providing little bites of tasty carb treats like brownies, cookies and so on, but also bananas, tiny sandwiches and a variety of fresh fruit (and lots of it!), as well as chips and pretzels for the salt-depleted.


This is the event where people are the most surprised to see my small wheeled Brompton bicycle, and where people ask the most questions.  It’s not just Bromptons that seem to be new art, but also the concept of folding bikes in general.  I’m guessing this is because it’s so far into the suburbs (exurbs?);  here, road bikes rule, everyone has a spacious garage, and mass transit hardly exists.

it-wtI met a man who recognized basil from last year’s Iron Tour; that was fun!  I think he was a little stunned that I’d ridden the tour not once, but again, on my little Brompton.

Since Dr. Diarist handled the photos for this tour, we’ve got documentation of some of those hills that vexed me so last year.  There are quite a few like this one — not steep, but with a steady incline.


Quite a few cyclists gave our Bromptons a thumbs-up, but one fellow, dressed in expensive road-racer kit from head to toe, and, I assume, riding the equivalent bicycle, did a bit of sneering and snarking.

I was more than a little amused when I saw him by the side of the road on one of these hills, catching his breath, and wearing an incredulous expression as he watched Basil and Argyll zipping past.  Heh, heh . . . never underestimate a Brompton bicycle!


But I wasn’t zipping everywhere.  I didn’t  walk the incline below, but did stop near the top, as did Dr. Diarist, along with others a lot fitter than the two of us.  This climb came after a long stretch of open sun; we were all feeling it, and the day was getting a lot warmer.


Later on, during a long run of inclines, I resorted to zig-zagging up a hill; it may be just as much exertion, but it’s exertion of a different kind.


That road looks so innocuous; what could be the issue?  My posture suggests that I’m working hard, though!


Dr. Diarist burst up this hill — he’s passing me, here.  You can just barely see Basil’s mirror in the lower right corner.


I did walk on one very short section, but I was back on Basil before I got near the top.  Still, I was a bit crushed:  I had hoped to ride the whole tour without making that particular concession.


We were on the home stretch surprisingly quickly.


Seven Stars Farm, home of exceptionally good yoghurt, is near the starting/finish point, so when we saw this building, we knew we were close.


Coming into the last turn, into the village of Kimberton, there’s a slight incline, and then one final one after the left turn at the intersection ahead .


Then we spied one last burst of flowers on the left, in front of a building that grew rather oddly, and we were back at the starting field.

And that was it!  I’m always sad when these rides end, even if I’m feeling well-challenged.

On a sartorial note, I wore a skirt this time, over my padded shorts.  It billows a little and I thought it might be cooler to wear than my blousy biking over-shorts.  I’m not sure it was, but, in any case, I missed the pockets in my shorts legs where I keep my camera and anything else I want to grab quickly.


Lunch (provided as part of the event) is fresh, flavorful and generous with a vegetarian mains option (they ask at registration), tasty salads (not just the usual options, either, but also a wonderful one of leafy greens), fruit and dessert.  Real food!  It’s the best after a long ride.

Dr. Diarist and I sat outside and picnicked next to Basil and Argyll.


We rode over 32 miles/51.5 km on a beautiful day, in countryside we don’t usually explore much, and loved it; it was a treat of a day!


The Bromptons were ready for another romp.  I’m afraid we only took them to the parking lot, once we’d finished our meal.  Bicycles can play all day, but sometimes people can’t!  There will be other rides — and another Iron Tour next year to look forward to.

Iron Tour 2013, Part One

Iron Tour 2013, Part Two

Events Iron Tour

French Creek Iron Tour 2013: Part the Second

(Part One is here.) The toughest inclines on this year’s version  (34 mile/54.7 km) of the Iron Tour seemed to occur before the first rest stop, and though there were climbs after the second stop, there were fewer.  For less-fit riders like me, having the rough stuff up front was a bonus!

Instructions were sprayed on the pavement at several points along the route.  Mr. Diarist, in a bow to my weak navigational skills, had driven the route with me the day before, and we had seen a volunteer stencilling the arrows.

The Iron Tour offers circuits for all levels:  10 mile/6.2 km; 20 mile/12.4 km; the 34 mile/54.7 km that Basil and I did; 50 mile/80.4 km; 64 mile/102.9 km; 75 mile/120.7 km; and 100 mile/160.9 km. The splits were well-marked.  I did have a cue sheet, and the tour offered GPS downloads, but it was very helpful to have these cues along the way.

Basil and I encountered these equestrians, but talked only to one of the riders. According to her, the horse to the left does not like bicycles; this was probably not a favourite day for this particular creature.

This was the second covered bridge of the tour.

This part of Pennsylvania is famous for its covered bridges.  Most of them, like this one, are made entirely, or nearly so, of wood.  They’re prized  for their picturesque contribution to the landscape, and their tourism value, so they are also preserved and maintained.

Basil and I had scaled this hill, and then I looked back; somehow these inclines never look intimidating in review. How could this mild stretch of road offer any challenge at all?

Sometimes I chose to walk the hills because I’d been so sick the day before, and was afraid that I’d burn my personal resources before I finished the tour, but sometimes I walked because it was faster than I could pedal.  We made up the time on the down hills, which, fortunately,  were just as plentiful as the inclines.

This shot is for Mr. Diarist, who is fond of a certain Pennsylvania micro-brewery.  The cyclist in front is wearing a Hop Devil jersey from Victory Brewing Company.  It’s a handsome jersey, and, though not high-vis, high-orange.  Mr. Diarist wears one.  I think the rear cyclist is wearing Victory’s Golden Monkey jersey.  Fine graphics on both.

We were promised two covered bridges on this tour, so this one, the third, was a bonus.  The interiors must be seen in person; they’re not easy to photograph on the fly, particularly as one shouldn’t hang about in a narrow, one-lane bridge.

I took this while riding Basil, and after a thorough check for oncoming travel.  The trusses, and the curve of the side supports, are just marvelous.

The second rest stop, at about 24 miles/38.6 km, was at North Coventry Elementary School.  I took no pictures, probably because so many people wanted to get a look at Basil.  Several  said that they didn’t know that bikes like Bromptons exist, and others were amazed that they’d seen me riding terrain like this on a small-wheeled bicycle.  I had to confess that Basil’s gearing was just fine with the landscape, and that my fitness was the real limitation.

Several people asked me if 34 miles was the longest I’d ridden on Basil. I pointed out that I’d often ridden longer, and had done one 62 mile/99.7 km ride with him — and I mentioned that if I’d continued just fractionally further, I’d have ridden a metric century.

And then — oh awful confession! — I proceeded to lie to several other people I talked to.  Yes, lie.  Inadvertently, but still, it was lying. (I’m horrified, even as I write this.)  I’m going to blame it on oxygen deprivation — all that climbing — but maybe I should just call it was it was:  non compos mentis.  I accidentally shortened “metric century” to “century”  It’s not true, folks!  I have not ridden 100 miles/160.9 km on my Brompton!  I have only ridden a (near) metric century!

The worst of it, of course, is that one doesn’t have to exaggerate what one can do on a Brompton.  I apologize to all concerned, including Basil. He deserves better (though that’s true for the humans involved, too).

The last 10 miles/16 km flew by, in spite of another couple of hills, and another couple of short bouts of walking.  Back at the fairgrounds, we were fed lunch.  I have never been so happy to see greens in my life; also, the hot dog (vegetarian!!) hit the spot, as did that lovely, cool, refreshing watermelon.

I asked to use the top of the caterer’s cooler to take this photo, pointing out that I had a blog, so was mandated to photograph everything I could.  The enterprising fellow asked if I would mention the Yellow Springs Inn, who were responsible for this excellent repast.  Naturally, then,I’ve done just that!

The hall was full of exhausted, hungry cyclists, and cheerful volunteers, who, along with the marshals, helped to make the day go so smoothly.

Basil and I started out a little after 9 AM, and finished just before 1:40 PM.  We had two breaks, probably totalling at least 45 minutes, but we owe what looks like fairly decent travel time — for me — to the fast descents.  (Why don’t road bikers go faster downhill?  Is that a bad idea on skinny tires?  Is it a worse idea than I think it is on a Brompton?  Is there something here I don’t know?  I kept falling back on the inclines, and passing the same people like mad when going down hill, but maybe I shouldn’t have been passing so aggressively?)

Afterwards, my feet were killing me.  My feet never bother me when I cycle; the uphill walking was obviously the problem.  If humans were meant to walk, Andrew Ritchie would never have invented Bromptons.  Clearly, I need to become fit enough to do all my locomotion on two wheels, as Ritchie intended!

Events Iron Tour

French Creek Iron Tour 2013: Part the First

Basil and I returned from a trip out of state just in time to ride in this year’s Iron Tour: 34 miles through northern Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Basil was most surprised to see this sign at the entrance to the grounds.  A level-headed sort, he took it in stride.

This event benefits the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust; cycling through preserved lands is a great way to remind us how much preservation contributes to quality recreation.

We hadn’t ridden far when we saw a casualty.

SAG wagons were in evidence throughout the ride; I saw three, which was pretty impressive.  Registration closed at 18,000 riders; it’s likely these volunteers were busy.

I had vowed in advance to photograph each bridge, but immediately  missed the first one, distracted by attempts to orient to my cue sheet.  I was doing better by the time we got to the first covered bridge.

There were hills.  Many hills. Steep hills.

Basil posed while I rested. I have never walked so many hills in my life.  I was not alone, however.  My Garmin claims that we climbed a total of 1420 feet — quite a bit more than the previous highest tally, which was roughly 850 feet on the  5 Boro Tour last month.

I had been miserable the day before the Iron Tour, with the worst allergies I’d had in decades:  18 hours of sneezing, running nose, eyes itching, coughing, shallow breathing, and watery lungs.  It took forever before my body calmed down enough so that I could sleep.  Because of a long-standing medical problem, I cannot take antihistamines, so there was no option but to ride it out.  Worst of all?  The fear that I wouldn’t make it to the Iron Tour the next day.

When I woke up, though, almost all of the symptoms had abated; however, I’d not slept well, and was very tired, so I probably walked more than I would otherwise have done.  Nonetheless, these inclines were more than I could have handled even in my present top form.

It didn’t matter; the day, and surroundings, were beautiful, cyclists were friendly, and it was a fine event.

Covered bridges weren’t the only ones of interest.

This one had unusual slats, studded with steel.

Particularly after my recent New England trip, I was amused to spot this steeple in the distance.

The event organizers advised us to talk to any horses we encountered.  Apparently most horses don’t have problems with bicycles, but are troubled by the silent approach.

These two, and their companion, were having a rollicking good time, and paid no attention to us at all.

Basil was eager to dally a bit in the tall grass himself, though.

Pennsylvania has its share of stone dwellings.

I’m fond of these, where ever they are found. Though they house humans, they seem quite organic in these bucolic surroundings.

Our trees are not quite as dense, or as majestic, as those I had seen the previous week, but they are pleasing, just the same.

Though it may not be obvious from this shot, everyone worked those inclines!

Basil was tolerant of my human frailties, and posed against a fine Pennsylvania rock while I paused stopped to snap a few pictures.

Every now and then, in this part of the world, one encounters an intersection of stone buildings clustered together at the junction of once-busy thoroughfares.  Usually they are the vestiges of a former community, now re-purposed into private homes, or newer businesses.

There’s a third one here, that I couldn’t manage to get into the shot.  We don’t have a lengthy history here in the USA, of this kid of settlement, but I like knowing that these structures have been around for a century or two.  That’s a long time in North American architectural terms.

Our first rest stop was at the Vincent Baptist Church.  Gatorade, water, and a nice (and fulsome) spread of bite-sized foods were provided, along with grapes, oranges and bananas.  In keeping with the experimenting Mr. Diarist and I have been doing lately, I appreciated this real-food approach.

I had half a banana, along with my own provisions: Nutella on particularly dense home-made “French” bread.

I took a couple of pictures, including one of this Bacchetta — a recumbent I hadn’t seen before:

There were two at this event, but they weren’t together either time I spied them.

Another cyclist was riding his Dahon Zero G (?), with serious tires (this must be the mountain bike version!):

Then it was onward. I laughed when I saw this, but a passing road biker called out and said it was a different kind of hill — compared to the killers we’d already encountered.  This one started just after a right hand turn, and was short, but deadly.

That may be him on the left, he may have ridden up. Everybody else I saw ended up walking.

It looks so benign, doesn’t it?  It wasn’t — and there were more to come!