Monday, May 15, 2023

Gradumication (noun)

I graduated from Penn State last week. Well actually, the official "graduation" was last Saturday while I was racing PMBAR in North Carolina, but I guess they'll mail me my diploma? Bless and thank.

Edited to add: damnit, sorry, this post got pretty long and out of hand.

Either way, four years of Penn State is over. My official degree is a B.S. in General Science with a minor in Mathematics. But please don't ask me to do maths. I forgot already.

It's not really as dramatic as some college graduations, however, because I'm not really done yet with college. I want to be a high school math teacher, which means I need to go back and get a teaching certification before I can officially become an adult and get a jerhb. Just kidding, I will never be an adult. But I will get a jerhb as a math teacher.

For now though, I need to figure out where to get my teaching certification. Most likely, it's going to be somewhere close to home. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which being that living at home will save over $10,000 in housing. Plus, after the difficult winter (for mountain bikers, that is) they had out west, it seems less and less appealing for me to go somewhere for school where I can only ride my bike on dirt for two weeks out of the year.

But enough about looking ahead. Let's look back, because hey, tomorrow is tomorrow and yesterday is today. Mebbe? I don't know, but either way, it seems like an appropriate time to look back at my time at Penn State. Surprise, it's mostly about bikes.

When I chose to go to Penn State, I really had no idea that Rothrock was such a good trail system. And plus, the first two years of college I lived at home and went to Penn State Beaver, a branch campus only 25 minutes from my house. When I applied to Penn State in high school, I didn't even apply to main campus. In fact, the only place I applied to at all was Penn State Beaver. I got accepted like a week or two after I applied, and that was that.

One of the first rides I did with Will, photo courtesy of Simon

In the spring of my freshman year, the COVID-19 thing happened. That meant most of my classes were  online, which also meant more time for biking. My freshman year in college was mainly a year of road riding for me. I did some mountain biking, but mainly, I did a ton of road rides with a bunch of friends. At times I do miss my road bike, but for me, nothing compares to dirt.

I met Will in the fall of my sophomore year, and we started riding a stupid amount of miles. Stupid in a really good way. He was a senior also at Penn State (but we met through biking, not school), so we both had online classes due to COVID-19 and therefore we basically had unlimited time to ride. It was some of the craziest and most fun times of my life. We literally rode over 20 hours a week the entire winter and spring, and maybe that turned us into some kind of animal. Like an old, tired, sickly dog barely able to walk. Although maybe that was just me after riding with Will for weeks on end. Will probably wasn't tired at all. The crown jewel of our winter training was supposed to be the True Grit Epic in March of 2021, and we flew out to Utah with a group of friends for that. Unfortunately, that race got canceled while we were out there, but it was still some great riding. I also did the TSE Epic 5-day MTB race in State College that spring with Will, Dahn, Thad, and some more friends. That was my first time riding in State College, and it was almost like foreshadowing to my time at Penn State starting that coming fall semester.

Flagpole Peak near Lake Tahoe with Will and Bob (not pictured), July 2021

Anyways, that was the winter and spring of 2020-2021. In the summer of 2021, there were quite a few escapades like driving to Oregon with Will for 24 Hour MTB Nationals, and also going to Breck Epic. I also did the Rockstar 250 gravel route, and a few other big rides that summer. But that's not directly related to Penn State, so I'll be more brief about that. But feel free to click on the above links to read more.

Breck Epic 2021 with so many FRANDS

That fall, 2021, was the start of my junior year, and it also meant I was going up to main campus in State College.

I don't think my college experience was very typical. Pretty much every other weekend that fall semester, Will came up to State College. Now, that in itself is not atypical, sometimes friends visit friends in college. But while my neighbors were getting wasted and playing beer pong, Will and I were grinding out 8 hour rides in Rothrock.

I think this was a couple hours before we started Double unPAved PA, haha

That fall semester in 2021 will certainly go down as one of the craziest stretches of two or three months of my life. In my fall semester, I was fortunate to be able to do:

- The 850 mile Penn's Woods Passage gravel route across Pennsylvania with Will
- Back to back to back 200 mile rides to Lake Ontario and back via Niagara Falls with Will
- Back to back loops of the UnPAved PA gravel race, totaling 250 miles in 20 hours with Will
- Driving out to Park City to help Dahn Pahrs move
- Too many other 8+ hour rides to remember

Like I said, it was crazy. There wasn't much time for school, but I made do and managed to keep my GPA quite good. There were also some fun non-bike times mixed in as well, but somehow, they all managed to somehow indirectly relate to bikes. Also, that whole time, we were planning for the Great Divide the next year, so that was a really cool thing to have on the horizon.

Tussey Ridge in State College with Will and Uncle Brad, November 2021

In the spring of 2022, my second semester of school in State College, I got to face the wrath of a winter in Rothrock. The roads and trails were covered in snow and ice for much of the winter, but frequent trips back home to Pittsburgh, a bikepacking trip to Arizona and a road-trip to Alabama with Will, and a trip to Arizona for 24 Hours of Old Pueblo in February kept things fun.

Arizona bikepacking with Will, January 2022

Plus, as the weather warmed, Will made some trips up to State College and we got some more great rides in. Man, looking back, those are some of my favorite rides. There was something so satisfying about riding all day, coming back to my apartment to hang out and eat a ton of food, and then repeating the next day.

In April of 2022, I took off a couple days of classes and Will and I did a four-day bikepacking trip in Virginia. Then, later that month, we circumnavigated Lake Erie in 3.5 days on bikes, totaling about 660 miles. That was rad.

The summer of 2022 came, and I did a three-week road trip out to California by way of Texas, Park City, and Moab, mostly by myself, and enjoyed a lot of good riding. I got to do some rock climbing in California with my friend Bob and his girlfriend, and riding in Moab with Dahn and Jesu felt like visiting mountain bike paradise. Then, Will and I did the Great Divide, and then Gravel Worlds 300 right before my senior year started. Click here if you want to read more about the Great Divide. A warning: I wrote A LOT. Like, a lot a lot.

Scenes from the Great Divide

The start of my senior year (fall 2022) was much like the start of my junior year: hurrying back to State College from somewhere out west after a bike race. This time, however, I had the company of my friend Nate for the first week of classes, as he stayed with me while he raced TSE Gravel. That was fun.

The next weekend, Will came up to State College for 5 days (alright, I guess 5 days is more than a weekend, so I had to skip a class or two) and we did a bunch of riding. That was also fun.

I then drove up to Marji Gesick 100 in Michigan with my friend and teammate Anthony in mid-September, and we both did awesome at that race. My friends Rob, Simon, and Stick were also there at Marji, so it was basically a Yinzer party. 

The rest of the fall in State College consisted of more awesome Rothrock rides, a couple more visits to my apartment by Will and Nate, and some more trips away from State College. I headed down to West Virginia for the Yew Mountain Doozy with my brother and some friends in October, and that was pretty rad also.

A Laurel ride with a bunch of friends

Oh, I guess the one thing I do want to mention is that one of the times Will came up to my place, he did the Tussey Mountainback 50k run race. Mind you, this was only two weeks after he started running again, and he won the race by like an hour or something ridiculous. He did like a 6:39 min/mile average for 31 miles or something really ridiculous.

In December of my senior year, my brother and parents came up to a race in Rothrock. The year before, Will, Nate, and Ian came up to do the same race with me. Both times were very enjoyable, and the race hits my favorite couple trails in Rothrock: Tussey Ridge and John Wert. I am more than a little bit sad not have those trails as my home trails anymore.

Anyways, after the fall semester of my senior year ended, my brother and I drove to Texas to do some riding before the spring semester started. That was a nice trip. It was in the Big Bend region of Texas, and the weather was warm and sunny the whole time. I love the desert, so naturally, that terrain appeals to me a lot.

Texas with Zach in January 2023

Surprisingly, this past winter in Rothrock was not snowy at all, so I actually got to do sweet trail rides almost all winter when I got back. Toward the end of the semester, I got into a rhythm of getting close to 20 hours per week of singlespeed rocky trail riding. That was awesome.

This semester, my final one, was definitely different from the last year. I'd say as a general trend, I did less monster rides and trips, but I definitely did way more big rides in Rothrock by myself. I came to love doing long solo rides in the trails by myself; it's such a good way to clear the mind. Part of the thing about the previous spring was that when you're doing stupid hard rides every weekend, you have to rest during the week. This spring, I wasn't doing as many stupid hard rides, so I was able to do more moderately hard rides during the week. It was different, but I think different was fun for a change. But also, I must mention a key difference: Will is now running and not biking. I don't quite have the same motivation to ride pavement around Lake Erie for 660 miles by myself as I did when I was doing it with a friend. And I don't think I know anyone else who would do things like that with me.

But, like I said, I truly enjoyed this last spring semester. I am grateful that I was able to put so many miles in Rothrock. Doing big trips all the time is amazing and I would gladly do that again when the time comes, but it was also really fun to get into a groove of shredding Rothrock hard every week. They're both good, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to do both while at State College.

As the spring semester came to an end, and with it my time at Penn State, I was able to end it with a couple cool things. I did half of the CTC with Rob and Stick (i.e. we scratched), and then drove down to PMBAR in North Carolina the next weekend with Rob. Oh wait, I guess that was just two weekends ago. So anyways, that pretty much catches me up to the present then. Click on the links if you want to read more about that.

I swear I didn't intend this post to be so long. Damnit. I can't stop myself. Sorry. But anyways, that's a not-so-brief recap of my time at Penn State. That was a whirlwind couple of years, but man, I wouldn't have it any other way. I mean that. Here's to the rest of my life like that, haha.

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