The Colnago Philadelphia Gran Fondue! Four take the challenge, and finish with a SMILE!

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 The four of us meet at the foot of the base of the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We are insignificant: merely four more humans in a crowd of well over 1700 other cyclists! It's just before 7:00 in the morning, temperatures are  about to hit the 80 degree mark with and overcast sky. We are about to embark on a 103 mile journey of the hills surrounding Philadelphia (affectionately now coined Hilladelphia). Honestly, the very first time I heard the term 'fondo', I had no idea what a 'fondo' was or what the word 'fondo' meant. I am not alone; upon learning that I had registered to ride in the inaugural Philly Fondo, my husband asked if 'fondo' was italian for 'cheese'. I had to inform him that  the Philadelphia Gran Fondo was not  to be confused with the Philadelphia Gran Fondue.

The other three fellow Fon-doers are: Maria Collazo, Sue Timinski and Jeff Solomon. The route organizers made sure that any rise, hill,  or elevation is included on the way out of Philadelphia. By the time we  hit the King/Queen of the Mountain climb at mile 32, we have   at least 5 or 6 major climbs in our legs and we have many, many more  to come. Only about 15 to 20 miles of this ride can be called 'flat' (and flat really means 'rolling terrain'). The bulk of the mileage of this ride  is  truly a hill climbers dream ( and a sprinter's worst nightmare!).

Superbly organized, there is  never any lack of signage on the course and the rest stops are superbly stocked and staffed. The volunteers are nice and friendly at every stop ( three stops total).  The food and cold drinks at these oases are like a taste of heaven on the road to HiLLHeLL! The highlights or our stops are: the peanut butter and jelly half-sandwiches, the oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookes, and the cold coca cola mini cans!!

At around mile 55,  Suzie decides  to separate from us and finish with another group. Jeff, Maria  and I  continue pushing on at a steady pace. The pain knob flips  to ' high' at around mile 75. We are close enough to 'smell' Philly, but far enough that we know we need to climb our way back into the city. Maria utters more than once : " i do approve of the deviousness of this route!" (deviousness = hilliness + 'sufferishness')

We all agree that the last 20 miles are the most difficult - whether it be because we know what climbs we are about to encounter or whether it be because our legs are feeling a  bit tweaked by now, or a combination of both factors. We make one last pit stop at the 15-mile-to-go Rest stop ( the highlight of this stop being big, juicy grapes dunked in ice cubes!).

 Maria observes as we tackle  the final two major climbs (Old Eagle School and Township Line Road) that several people are off their bikes and walking, slowly, up these final two steep hills. Township Line Road seems to have more casualties; as Maria puts it" cyclists are sitting on the side of the road looking shell-shocked!"  Cyclists are walking and dragging their bikes up these last few miles of pain.

We pass the 10-mile-to-go sign. we pass the 5-mile-to-go-sign. At this point, secretly, I begin to fantasize about the Pizza I will be ordering and wolfing down when I get home. We are now in the city. We see the 1-mile-to-go sign. At this point, I am frantic to make it to the  finish and hurry to the EMT vehicle ; let's just say: my arse has had it and a bandage application is now critical!

cass, maria and jeffHalleluyah! we finish and head straight for the food tent! I head straight for the EMT truck as my buttocks are feeling as if they've been pounded by Mike Tyson and pan fried. I grab some bandages from the EMT staff and find  Maria and Jeff sitting and stuffing their faces with food: pasta salad, bread, cookies, cakes.  Our fellow participants all look happy and exhausted. We can almost palpably feel the optimism and sense of accomplishment building to a crescendo under the tent.

I have to give Suzie the Gold medal for this ride. Of the four of us, Suzie has had the least amount of time on the bike this year, due to mom and work duties. Suzie finished quite some time after the three of us, but she had a huge smile on her face! To begin a challenging century like this one was a feat of courage. But, for someone like Suzie: well, words cannot express how proud I am of her accomplishment.

I want to thank Jeff, Maria and Suzie for making this ride a truly  fun, epic and amazing experience. I'm signing up to do it next year. Will You? :-)