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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Dirty Dozen - Danny Chew's Sadistic 61 Mile Tour of Pittsburgh

This was my first time on the Dirty Dozen, a 61 mile tour of Pittsburgh that includes stage races up 13 of some of the steepest hills in the area. It is the invention of Danny Chew, The Million Mile Man, and two time Race Across America winner. I shouldn't have been surprised by the fierceness and intensity of this challenge but I have to admit, I was a bit coy when it came to the ride. I'm a mountain biker, we live and breathe hill climbs and anything that could be paved, well it just seemed easy. I was wrong. Very wrong. Climbing these hills on a road bike was the hardest thing I've ever done. Nothing has ever been harder.

Many hills were inconceivably steep, but it just wasn't steep that made it so difficult, these hills were impossibly long. Just when I thought nothing could be steeper, I crested the next rise to find the hill was even steeper and longer still. It amazed me that some one thought to build roads up these inclines but such is Pittsburgh.

Hill number 5, Logan Street out of Millvale, was the biggest ego blow. I barely made it to the top struggling to hang on the entire way. The next hill, number 6, was Rialto across Route 28 from the 31st street bridge and rises straight up to Troy Hill. After Rialto I was certain I was never going to make all 13. My legs were spent already and I had another 7 hills and probably 40 more miles to go. Unbelievably, I was able to continue on.

It is amazing the the amount of pain each hill could inflict on you, more unbelievable is the ability to endure and continue to push through it. I just wanted to go hard, get up the hill and end the pain as quickly as possible; but I learned early on that speeding up quickly wore you down. Topping the hill required a slow, steady, torturous grind. Each revoution felt like I was slowly tearing my quads muscles away from the bone fiber by fiber.

Canton, the most notorious was one of the easier for me. Canton Avenue is unbelievable steep, at a 37% grade it is the steepest street in the word, but it was short. I pushed a steady pace up to the top and it was over quickly; thank god. With all of the banter, 'you'll never make it without making a run for it', and the loud clank of riders loosing momentum and falling over, it was intimidating, but once I started up I quickly gained confidence and it seemed this was almost going to be easy. I thought I would fail when my back tire slipped on some mossy grass growing up out of the cobblestone, but I finessed it and pushed through. Apparently I had taken the 'impossible' line. It didn't seem that hard compared to everything else I had been through that day. Besides being the steepest I believe Canton gained it's notoriety for it's technical challenge. The hill was clad with rough momentum sapping cobble stone. Weight placement, balance and momentum, things ingrained in me from miles of trail riding made navigating the rough surface second nature. Several mountain bikers agreed, Canton wasn't the hardest but those exclusive to riding road bikes found the hill nearly impossible.

Hill number 12 Bary-Holt-Elanore on the South Side slopes was particularly hard but by this time I learned to just hang in, grind away slowly, and push as much air and oxygen into my lungs as I possibly could. It amazed me how slow of a cadence I could maintain without stalling or falling over. I saw several riders turning off the flat side streets to give themselves a rest. The flat streets were inviting but if I was going to ride the hill at all, I was riding straight up.

After we topped Elanore I got lost. We had to push over several rises to make our way over to Beck's run and afraid we would not make it back to the oval before dark, the pace of the group quickened. Not wanting to spend my legs any more than necessary I let the group slip ahead of me. Letting the main group slip away from me was a mistake, especially since I didn't know where I was going. After that several cars got mixed in with us and slowed me down. By the time I reached the next intersection the traffic light was red, I had lost the group and I had no idea which way they went. There were three of us in the same predicament, searching for the group, but certain we had made a wrong turn I gave it up. It was a disappointing way to end the day. Beaten down, cold and feeling dejected I slowly pedaled my way back home to Bloomfield. I pedaled my way back through Oakland choosing a route that had the least amount of climbing possible. I didn't want to see another hill again.

At the end of the ride my entire body hurt. I thought a hot relaxing shower would help but after I got in I found it painful just to stand. I seemed those 12 hills had ripped me apart. It was like I tore every single muscle in my quads. It felt I had also tore the hamstrings and groin. From standing up and pulling the muscles in my shoulders, lower back, neck and even forearms were aching and throbbing. Even my ribs and my chest were hurting from breathing so hard.

Afterwords I drug myself out to dinner with my girlfriend and nearly fell asleep in my beer. I then spent the next 12 hours in bed and asleep. Three days later, no pulled muscles, no damage done and I'm actually consider attempting this ride again. How soon we forget the pain.

More on the Dirty Dozen 2009
Montana Spins His Brains Out on a Fixie for a Solid 61 Miles
Danny Chews Official Dirty Dozen Home Page
Dirty Dozen 2009 Photos


  1. Bummer dude. Unlike the rest of the ride, we do not go neutral between somewhere just after Holt and the finish at Tesla. Lots of attacks go down, esp once we hit Carson St.

  2. Naw it's all good. I actually had a great time even if I missed the last climb. Seen a lot of people I knew from the mountain bike races but there was a whole huge group of new faces (new to me), roadies I'd assume. Was awesome to see that many hard core cyclist gathered together. 180 of us ripping through the city like we were the tour or something. Good times!

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  4. Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the amazing effort.

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