Travels with Hammer

2019 Tour DaVita – Discover the Dutch Country – Pennsylvania Here we come!!!

It’s that time of year again, Tour DaVita! This year the Tour has a new format. We will camp in one location and ride three separate routes covering nearly all the points of the compass around beautiful Lebanon and Lancaster counties. Our ride winds through the Amish and Mennonite communities. Riding through the Dutch country transports you to a simpler time as you observe the contrast of cultures while winding your way through beautifully maintained farms and small towns.

This will be a challenging, yet peaceful, ride so clip in as I give you a preview of this year’s Tour!

Once again, I had the good fortune to do a scouting ride of the Tour DaVita route. As I mentioned last year, my hip is still killing me and unfortunately, it has gotten the better of me. I rode as much of this year’s route as I could muster, but sadly, I couldn’t finish any of the days and had to switch spots with our support driver, Scott Siegfried. My surgeon has demanded that it is time, so I will be recovering from hip replacement surgery while all of you enjoy this year’s Tour. I should be back in the saddle before the end of the year and I look forward to riding the Tour again next year.

Riding the scouting ride with me again this year were two awesome and reliable riders, Dan DeYoung, Seattle based audit partner with KPMG and my older brother Kurt. We were generously supported by Scott Siegfried, Principal Architect, IT Software Development and a wise and experienced Tour Veteran, who drove Support and Gear (SAG) on this year’s adventure. Scott lives in the general area and was a wealth of knowledge about the area and its history. Driving the SAG wagon consists of drop- off/pickup at the start and finish of each day’s ride, organizing a daily lunch for disoriented, overheated, dehydrated and hungry riders, making sure we were safe and accounted for at all times and helping figure out solutions to unanticipated road hazards and detours. It’s amazing how much driving time and effort that entails.

As usual, after we arrived, we eagerly built our bikes for the ride ahead. Making a scouting ride is a very different experience compared to riding the Backroads supported Tour. No smiling Backroads teammates and no rest stops set up with goodies. Generally, the route winds through quiet country roads which are far from convenience or grocery stores, making it difficult to casually stop for needed supplies, so it is important to have SAG support.

The route is very pretty, riding through beautiful winding farmland, through covered bridges crossing over twisting rivers and many ups and downs into quiet valleys. The topography is primarily rolling hills, with intermittent flat stretches to catch your breath and yes, a few challenging climbs. This is a great Tour route. It gets better every day with day 2 and 3 bringing you through the quaintest parts of the Amish Country.

The total mileage for the long version of this year’s Tour is about 230 miles and about 175 miles for the shorter version. Total elevation gains of ~11,500 feet over 230 miles for the long route and the elevation gain for the short route is ~8,900 feet over 175 miles. Central Pennsylvania is for the most part a series of rolling hills, plateaus and ridges punctuated by valleys. As a result, this year’s route will be above average in difficulty as compared to the average Tour DaVita route, but it is doable. The road conditions can vary, but generally consisted of well-maintained asphalt with some stretches of worn and thus smooth chip seal. A significant portion of this year’s ride is across open farmland but there are also a lot of tree lined roads to provide shelter from the sun. Some of the lanes are a bit narrow and there are railroad tracks to cross, so remember to pay attention while riding (generally a good rule of life).

Backroads has once again designed a great ride! Looking at the Ride With GPS application’s maps will reinforce the view of a rolling path winding through farmland, along and over rivers and through wooded areas. The roads were generally in above average shape, with a mix of asphalt and sections of chip seal that were worn smooth in most stretches. Just like all other routes that you are unfamiliar with, the roads can be unpredictable so keeping both hands on the bars at all times is highly recommended. We did not encounter much road construction, so we should be in good stead come late September. However, always ride safely and pay attention to your surroundings.

This year’s course is dominated by rolling terrain, with beautiful flat stretches mixed in between. A quick note about riding rolling hills: rolling hills can be a total blast to ride as they take a lot of work but provide a lot of reward! While riding on the rollers, you will be changing gears frequently. Try to catch the momentum of going downhill and peddle through the bottom of the hill, using that captured momentum to help carry you up the hill. You should be increasing the power of the gears downhill and reducing the gears as you go uphill. This is an important skill to master and can make riding through the hills much less challenging and more enjoyable.

Remember that on flat stretches, larger groups of riders can often form and will tend to create pace lines. Riding in a pace line can be a lot of fun, but you need to keep a few “rules” in mind.

  • Rule #1: Never touch your brakes in a pace line unless you first signal clearly to those behind you that you will be braking; failure to do so will likely result in riders, including yourself, suddenly hitting the ground.
  • Rule #2: When you take a turn at the front, maintain the current pace of the line, riding in a steady, predictable pace. When you find yourself getting fatigued, signal to the rider behind you to come up and replace you at the front. Do not stay up front and slow down as you will slow the whole group.
  • Rule #3: When you pull off the front, do so by pulling over to the left and drifting to the back of the line. Do not pull off to the right as you will become a hazard and may find yourself trapped in a dangerous situation.
  • Rule #4: Remember to “latch on” at the end of the line, which takes a final burst of energy so the line doesn’t ride off into the distance without you.
  • Rule #5: When you are in a pace line, it is best to be in an easier gear while spinning the pedals a little faster. This will help prevent you from surging into the rider in front of you. Remember predictability is very important to safe pace lining. Riding in a pace line also provides the benefits of drafting behind others, requiring less energy to travel the same distance.

Again, just like clockwork, we had intermittent user problems following the maps. We had dutifully printed out the maps and even downloaded them to our Garmins. We even used the Ride With GPS application on our cell phones. This application is typically very useful and can really give you a great view of where you are going. Each turn is laid out–right 1 mile, left .5 miles, rotate around the tree, go back, repeat and so on. Following the maps, or in my case, failing to pay attention, can sometimes be confusing or can take you to strange places. For instance, the map said turn left (west) and after a while we passed the below cornfield again.

All kidding aside, Backroads will have the route well marked with signs and painted arrows at most turns so no one should go off course. Riders should not be worried about getting lost or having to ride through overgrown forest trails, cornfields or tulip fields. We are on the paved roads the entire route.

Before I begin describing the route in detail, I need to make some additional comments. There are farm trucks driving on some of the country roads and although there were very few cars encountered, drivers gave a wide berth. We found the people are very friendly and cyclist-aware. Please be careful as trucks and cars will win the physics battle 100% of the time. We want you to stay safe, so stay to the right and try to ride in single file.

You may encounter a variety of wildlife on the ride this year. For example, you may see elk, deer, turkeys, owls, herons, skunks, flying squirrels, woodchucks, beavers, hawks, eagles and vultures, just to name a few.

The weather should be great, but late September can be unpredictable so be prepared for all weather. The temperature will likely rise to the low to mid-70’s during the day and drop down into the low 50’s at night, so a jacket or warm pullover for the evening is advised. Be sure to bring sunscreen,  a light rain jacket and other necessities.

Remember that hydrating is crucial to set yourself up for a spectacular experience. It is easy to become dehydrated on long rides, so a good rule of thumb is a full water bottle an hour! Even experienced riders can overlook this. Be smart and hydrate, hydrate and hydrate!

Now, on to the route:

Day 1

The Day 1 “Horses, Creeks, and Farms,” is a 75-mile route that climbs 4,200 feet (56 miles and 3,300 ft. for the short version). The route starts in horse country and loops out to the West/Northwest winding through Annville, Harpers Tavern and Jonestown before returning to the campground in Lebanon. The majority of the route is a rolling terrain ride through farmland and the occasional forest. The biggest hills are less than a mile long climb at 2%-4% grade and have an elevation gain of less than 200 feet. Very doable for most riders. Be prepared for quiet country roads and beautiful scenery. Road surfaces were very good to fair at times. Overall, Day 1 was very enjoyable, challenging and fun.

Day 2

Similar to last year, Day 2 is the 100-mile Lancaster Lollipop “Century” ride with 4,600 feet of elevation gain, with a shorter 65-mile version with a 3,000 feet elevation gain as an option. Both routes are lollipop shaped, heading south/southeast from Lebanon. The first 15 miles are flat to downhill, passing the Middle Creek Reservoir, a protected reserve, so no chance for a swim along the way. The challenge of this route is you have to cover the same 15 miles on the return trip, with flat to climbing topography. The remaining 70 miles of the longer route are flatter than day one, with rolling hills and some flat stretches. Both routes bring you into Lancaster County where it is more common to experience the Amish and Mennonite communities. The longer route brings you through New Holland and on into the heart of the Amish country where you will see old-fashioned buggies being pulled by horses, Amish community centers and Mennonite churches. Remember to be very respectful and careful as you ride near them. If you take the time to look around, you will be exposed to a very different culture and simpler way of life. Overall, we found the day’s ride to be very scenic and pleasant riding.

Day 3

Day 3 is a pleasant 55 mile loop route with 2,700 feet of climbing. This route is a combination of rolling hills and flat stretches, with one real big climb at about 18.5 miles into the route. It climbs about 300 feet over 1.5 miles, a real tester. There is another big climb at 42.5 miles, but it is only half as big as the previously mentioned. The route winds through beautifully maintained farmland and quiet forests, over covered bridges, while running through the towns of Kleinfeltersville, Richland and Myerstown before looping you back to the Exposition Center.

Overall, this year’s route is terrific and will provide a great experience for both the seasoned rider and the novice rider.

Enjoy the Tour!!!

Jim “Hammer” Hilger

About Jim Hilger

Jim “The Hammer” Hilger is DaVita’s Chief Accounting Officer.  Each Year, Jim rides the route ahead of Tour DaVita and reports back to the riders on what they can expect from the route.  Jim has participated in almost all of the Tour DaVita rides.

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