The Fargo can Climb: A Pittsburgh Dirty Dozen Recap

November 27,2012

Patty and Stacie talked me into the Pittsburgh Dirty Dozen (a road race up the 12 steepest hills in Pittsburgh). Actually, I’d felt kind of bad I missed last year proclaiming wildly with hands thrown up in the air “Are you crazy, it will be too cold!”  It ended up being like 60 degrees and pleasant.  This year, not so much. The roads were covered with snow when I woke up. Fabulous.

I thought I’d be riding my road bike, a Trek Pilot, which conveniently still had a triple crank arm (some easy gears to spin, maybe?). I even cleaned the drive train. Yes, I even cleaned the drive train!  Really, I ruined an entire rag and my whole hand turned black with old grease.  I lost half a bottle of dish detergent to that black hand.

Jeremy told me the road conditions were not so great on his way to work, and that I should take the Salsa Fargo (Mr. Green) after all. Its disc brakes and wider tires might save this clumsy cat’s brain from being splattered on the pavement. Or cobbles. Bricks. Whatever.

I almost got a hernia carrying my bike up from the basement. It was too cold to wheel around the back of the house.  I had just enough time to swap out the flat pedals for my clip-in SPDs (yes, Jeremy coached me through this on the phone) and grabbed my winter Shimano boots.  My front rack was on, but I didn’t have time to tie down a crate filled with Twinkies. Huge bummer.  I put my Revelate frame bag on and shoved some calories and emergency gear in its waterproof zippers.  I hoped those wouldn’t come in handy.

As it turns out, the roads weren’t quite as slippery and deadly as I expected. Even the 30-degree temps weren’t so bad with my double-wool get-up.  More of my friends showed up than I would have expected.  Among the nearly-200 friendly faces, I saw Timmy Cat, Joe Malone, Scott McConnell (from Nashville, TN- Because clearly anytime you’re in town to visit family, you should sneak in an All-City group ride!), Montana “One-Gear-Is-Almost-Too-Many” Miller and his lovely lady, Colleen, Don Powers, and of course, two of my favorite faces, Stacie the Bulldog and PG.

I was really excited to be there, a part of the Pittsburgh tradition and bicycling landscape. I got some “Hey, Fargo!” shout-outs from random passing cars and a lot of nice compliments (which I shall now re-direct to TJ Platt and Jeremy Palermo, who selected and can truly appreciate all of the components, most of which I’ve been told “you don’t even know what that means, do you?!”)

If you see the smile on my face in the above picture, is that not enough?!

Anyway, back to the Dirty Dozen (DD).  Luckily, I was given a preview of the hills in Cycling Fusion’s Dirty Dozen DVD play-back we did last Tuesday at the 1st Annual Spin PHor a Cure. Otherwise, I was only somewhat familiar with one of the featured hills which I pass driving down I-279 to work (which I have often gawked at and thought, “could I pedal up that?”).

The answer, my dear Watson, is yes!!

I know it’s hard to say what help/hurt my Green Monster (a steel, off-road touring bike) gave me on those hills. Yes, the gearing was nice. No, the weight and body positioning wasn’t ideal. I’d like to think the pros and cons evened out a bit. Considering my body almost seized while pulling myself up a few of the steeps, I think it was challenge enough.  But, yes, I’ll be back out there with my other bike to test that theory.

My biggest triumphs:

Logan was a narrow road with a few slick spots. I got caught behind someone who succumbed to a pile of salt and I had no where to go. Foot touched the pavement just about 15 yards to the finish. My mind flashed back to Danny Chew (Million Mile Man and Race Founder) who said that to be an official finisher you have to have continuous forward progress. No dabs. I turned around and headed back to the bottom.  At first I was very optimistic–there was almost no bike traffic left to maneuver through!  Unfortunately, there was a different obstacle–automobile traffic. I followed a pick-up truck and inhaled some exhaust fumes for the first 1/4 of the hill before I wised up and just passed it, then I got caught in the most narrow section up against an SUV. Instead of risking failure, I yelled at the top of my lungs for that SUV to stay out of my way. I heard a woman say “I think she’s going to make it!” I did. Enough drama.

Canton Avenue was almost life-changing. When Bulldog and I pulled up to the bottom I couldn’t even believe what I saw. It didn’t look possible. I couldn’t be paid enough money to DRIVE up that hill. Indeed, many of my nightmares focus on driving up hills where I fear the car will just flip backwards. Not even joking.

For some reason, seeing all the bike rider carnage didn’t scare me. I got more focused. With all the bricks, it almost looked more like a mountain bike trail than a road. This was my style. When there was a gap in the number of riders hitting the hill I started rolling. I heard a “Go, Ryo!” and started hammering. People were lined up on both sides of the road cheering and I felt like I was in the Tour de France. The Fargo ate Canton’s lunch, and I raised my hands in victory! To my utter astonishment, a co-ed TANDEM bike made it up, too!  Way to go!

I was so impressed with the riders who decided to battle the elements and mash their way to the top of Pittsburgh’s 12 steepest climbs- no small matter. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed with my own resolve to finish a few of the hills when my arms felt like they were going to blow up in my face from pulling so hard on my handlebars. No, it wasn’t easy, but how could victory be sweet without the struggle?

I’ll be back.

Check out this video that Patty made!

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