Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pittsburgh Dirty Dozen.

Last month I told Montana I was going to ride the Dirty Dozen this year. Actually, what I said was: "I think I'm doing it. Don't let me talk myself out of it."

For the non-yinzer folks out there, the Dirty Dozen is a bike race that's been going on in Pittsburgh for 30 years. Organized by the bicycle-crazed Danny Chew, it's basically a frantic dash up 12 of the city's steepest hills. And Pittsburgh hills are no joke--at a 37% grade, Canton Avenue is the steepest street in the country and possibly the world.

I told this to one of my friends.

"No way," she said. "I thought they were only allowed to build streets at, like, 12%."

If that were true, Pittsburgh probably wouldn't exist.

There's a neutral ride in between, so points are only counted by who gets from the bottom to the top of the hill first. Still, the ride ends up being about 60 miles long. That's longer than I'd ever ridden my bike. Ever. I wasn't sure if I wanted to embarrass myself out there.

I'd been spinning on the stationary bike at the gym for a couple weeks. Then Montana and I went for a couple rides on Wednesday and Thursday. That was all of my training.

But after Thanksgiving on Friday, Montana got busy fixing bikes. He threw some cross tires onto my mountain bike and spent a long time fiddling with the brake adapter on my rigid fork while I sat in the bike shop and drank coffee. I couldn't let free bike work go to waste, so I decided to ride.

We rolled into the parking lot at 9:00 on Saturday morning. It was snowing and about 28º. I was wearing a cold-weather baselayer, a fleece, a softshell, a scarf, two pairs of pants, gloves, winter boots, and an insulating layer of protein bars in my pockets. And I was still pretty sure I wasn't wearing enough clothes. Shivering, I registered and got a pink piece of caution tape to tie around my handlebars. I stood around and drank hot chocolate until it was time to get on my bike.

Luckily, these two ladies were around to ride out with. (Ryanne was the only one repping team Palermo this year on the Fargo. Awesome.)

The first few hills were brutal. On the climbs, I got hot and sweaty under all my layers. But I cooled off right away on the descents--after the fifth hill I was still shivering and pretty sure I had frostbite on my left big toe. I kept shoving half-frozen energy bars into my mouth to keep my teeth from chattering. Yum.

By the sixth hill, I'd been able to finish all the climbs. And I'd actually started scoring points on a couple. I felt like I was getting the hang of it. 

"If you keep this up, you can win us dinner," Montana said, spinning along merrily beside me. I grunted. My legs were hurting. 

And then we got to Canton. 

I was riding with Ryanne. She started whimpering.

"Oh my God. Oh my God. I have nightmares about driving up this street. I'm not gonna be able to ride it." Then she destroyed it on the Fargo.

It took me two tries and a push from Don Powers to finally make it up. But I did.
The guy recording the live stream said it was the slowest he'd ever seen someone ride up that hill and not fall down. So that's good, I guess.

At the top, Danny Chew cornered me while I was picking the peanut butter out of the center of a frozen Uncrustable. Apparently there were only five girls left out of the 15 that had started. I was in the money if I won a couple more hills. I supposed I should probably finish the rest of them, then.

The rest of the race was a death march to third place. I'm pretty sure I cried the whole way up the last hill. (Sorry to all the riders around me who had to hear my bitching. My body didn't really explode like I said it was going to.) By the time we rode back to the parking lot, I was exhausted and ravenous. Montana and I booked it out of there after the awards to destroy some burgers.

Still, I was really happy I'd finished it. The Dirty Dozen was one of the most intensely fun things I've done in a long time. And I think my ego needed a boost after that disastrous cross country season.

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