Wrenegade Sports sponsored my participation and asked me to write
a review of my experience doing the Pennsylvania Dutch Farm To Fork Fondo.
Tyler Wren founded the Farm To Fork Fondo series to unite the cycling and farming communities and encourage cyclists to support local farmers. Riding through the bucolic farmlands of Pennsylvania Dutch country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania certainly renewed my appreciation for family farms and the history, heritage, and horticulture they embody.
The scenery was
almost as breathtaking as the hills. Imagine every picture you’ve seen of Pennsylvania Dutch country, and then imagine riding through it. We saw (and climbed!) rolling hills flecked with white farm houses, red barns, and silver silos. We were thisclose to cows, horses, goats, and even a few llamas. We waved to horse-drawn buggies, farmers tilling plots with man-powered tillers, and women in traditional Mennonite dress tending beautiful gardens. While we’ve driven through the area on various family trips, nothing compares to the views from our bikes.
I have so much to say about this ride! Here I provide my overview of the whole event. My next post will go into more detail about the food. In another post, I will share the mental and physical challenges I faced on the course.
Our second rest stop: Riehl’s Family Farm
While the promise of gorgeous scenery and great food may attract new riders to sign up for a Farm To Fork Fondo, the great organization and wonderful staff will keep riders coming back for more. Things ran smoothly from the moment we arrived at the Country Barn staging area on Friday afternoon to the moment we left about 24 hours later.
Farm To Fork Fondo Overview — Friday Events
As part of the First Class package, we stayed at the Manor View Inn, which is a bed and breakfast across the road from the Country Barn (and part of the same family business).
The Manor View Inn
We “checked in” (met the owners and got the key to our room), and enjoyed the view from the rocking chairs on the front porch until it was time for the cycling clinic with Jess, Beth and Andrea from the Colavita-Bianchi pro cycling team.
The pros gave us great tips that I put into practice during the ride–especially the tips on turning and keeping your thumbs hooked around your handle bars for extra control. I saw Beth, Jess and Andrea a few times during the ride, and they were always kind and encouraging.
After the clinic, we picked up our registration packets and headed back to our room to change for the Gourmet Farm Dinner at the County Barn Loft.
Another First Class perk: swag from Colavita and other sponsors!
At the dinner, we met other cyclists and got to hear from Farmer Jim (owner of the Country Barn) about the history and heritage of the farm. He told us that it used to be a tobacco farm, but he was proud to have stopped growing that crop. He explained that while the Country Barn still is a working farm (with potatoes as the main crop), it is really the hospitality services (hosting weddings and corporate events) that keep him in business.
Dinner finished early as we were all eager to get a good night’s rest. I slept well and was awake before my alarm went off at 6:00 am. With the ride not starting until 8:00, we had plenty of time to get ready and enjoy a hearty breakfast before we headed over to the staging area.
Farm To Fork Fondo Overview — The Ride
This was my first group cycling event and first event riding on open roads. I was nervous about many things, but getting lost or getting hit by a car were top on my list. The turn-by-turn directions for the route seemed to have us turning every 1/2 mile–how would I avoid getting lost? As it turns out, every turn was very well-marked with signs and arrows painted on the road. Kudos to the crew who did all that work–for the four different courses!
As Medio group riders, we were given green wrist bands and
told to follow the green arrows on the pavement–brilliant!
We lined up according to pace group, after being reminded of a few safety rules (obey all traffic signs!), and listening to a lovely rendition of the National Anthem, we were off. I started out cautiously through the gravel parking lot and the first left turn onto the road, and then kicked it up as we climbed our first short hill.
There were volunteers stopping traffic for us for the first 15 miles, so I got to get a feel for the road and riding with others before I had to worry too much about cars. By the time we reached the first rest stop at Cherry Hill Farm (at about mile 8), I was feeling a bit more comfortable, but glad to be no longer riding in a pack. I had a cup of apple cider and a peach and decided to hit the porta-potty since there was no line.
Heading out after the first stop–I got ro ride with Jess for a few minutes!
The terrain between the first and second rests stops (at about mile 28) included rolling hills, but nothing too taxing. We leap-frogged and chatted with the same few riders, usually getting passed on the downhill since I am scared of going too fast and catching up again on the climbs.
Riding and chatting and having a great time!
At the second rest stop at Riehl’s Family Farm we encountered our only snafu–only one porta potty and a line a mile long. While my husband waited in line, I enjoyed a Whoopie Pie and some potato chips, refilled my Nathan hydration pack with water, and took a few pictures.
After the second rest stop, the Gran Fondo and Medio Fondo courses parted ways. The third rest stop at Lil’ Country Store & Horse Farm seemed to come quickly, but I’m glad I refueled because the serious hills were ahead.
I think the story of how I made it up that spike deserves its own post, don’t you?
I’m pretty sure that all of the really hard hills came after the third rest stop, but my brain already has blocked out those details. There were three or four hills that took EVERYTHING I had–mentally and physically–but I am proud to report that I made it up every single one of them.
The fourth rest stop at Pine View Dairy (at about mile 52 on my Garmin) was the one I had been looking forward to the most because it promised homemade ice cream. It was so good, I may have asked for another scoop!
Days’ old calves at Pine View Dairy
I’m pretty sure I burned off all the ice cream within the next mile, since a big hill awaited us around the next turn.
I might not have stopped on this bridge if I had noticed the hill at the other end!
The last section of the course wasn’t quite as hard, but I was fighting off cramps in my quads that made even short climbs tricky. I had to alternate a few strokes standing with a few strokes sitting since every time I stood my muscles started to rebel. I started to resent every downhill, dreading the climb that would come next, and welcomed long, gradual climbs over short steep ones.
Finally, after 4.5 hours of riding time and 67 miles on my Garmin, we turned back into the parking lot of the Country Barn and crossed the finish line!
We were awarded our fantastic cow bell finisher medals, handed cold wet towels and offered dairy-fresh chocolate milk. So good!
Farm To Fork Fondo Overview — Recovery
It was about 2:00 pm by the time we finished our ride, which left us just enough time to shower before the 3:00 pm late checkout time at the Manor View Inn. After we showered and “checked out” (thanked the owners and returned our key), we drove across the street and joined the post-ride festivities, including live music and more hearty food at the Country Barn Barbecue.
All in all, it was a great event: well-organized, easy logistics, great course. great food, great people! Will I do it again? Right now, I dread any course with a hill, but like childbirth, I think my brain already is making me forget the hardest parts so I will look forward to doing it again. 🙂
I’m linking up for today’s Wednesday Word: heritage
Will you join me next year?
Are there any family farms in your heritage?