DC Randonneurs Paul's Paradise 200 km Brevet

Our second 200 of the year was Paul's Paradise, a very hilly route.  The weather forecast was 40s and rainy.  Bleh.  If I were in better shape, I may have decided to skip it.  But with only 2 weeks until the 300, I really needed the miles, so I gathered up my rain gear.

I have two bikes with fenders.  One is a fixed gear — nope.  The other has fiddly cantilevers that are always going out of adjustment.  (I own some nicer Paul cantis but haven't got around to installing them yet.)  The thought of going down a wet Mar-Lu Ridge with brakes I don't really trust — nope.  So I decided to ride my Litespeed road bike, sans fenders.  I figured I'd eventually get soaked with or without them, and I probably wouldn't be going fast enough for anyone to want to draft me anyway.  Though, with hindsight, maybe I should have attached my Race Blades, which aren't as good as real fenders but are better than nothing.

I wore a short-sleeve wool jersey, shorts, heavy tights, cotton socks, wool socks, summer mountain bike shoes, a balaclava, light full-finger gloves, a rain jacket, and a reflective vest.  I started with the jacket's pit zips open (but mostly blocked by the vest).  I also had some arm warmers and an extra set of gloves in my bag.  Hindsight says I should have worn my winter boots, which are waterproof.  (Though maybe they would have made my feet too warm.)  Or, at least, two pairs of wool socks.

I started the ride at a carbo-loaded 208 lbs., only 1 pound less than the ride 3 weeks ago.  I've lost almost 40 lbs. since October, but very little in March, as I reduced my calorie deficit to keep from losing too much muscle mass along with the flab.  I'd never ridden this route before, but I rode the similarly hilly Urbana 200 at 228 lbs. last March, and hoped the 20 lbs. of weight loss would, if not getting me back to the midpack speed I had when I was riding every day, at least let me finish before dark.

My left knee started hurting on Urbana last March, and got bad enough on the Fleche last April that I had to abandon and then take time off the bike.  So I'd been paying close attention to it.  For this ride, I decided to raise my seat 3mm, as per the instructions for spring knee in Andy Pruitt's book.  And I brought Ibuprofin.  I figured that would be enough for 200k.

I did reasonably hilly 55-mile rides the previous two Saturdays, and a flattish 200k the week before that, so I was about as prepared as I was going to get, after a snowy winter of not riding much.  I figured I could go reasonably fast for about 30 miles then drag for the remaining 95, or go medium for about 50 miles then drag for the remaining 75.  The latter sounded smarter.  So I resolved to not chase the fast people early.

Driving to the start in Poolesville, I got to cross White's Ferry, then slow way down for the infamous speed camera.  Despite having to wait several minutes for the ferry, then drive at bicycle speed to make really really sure I wouldn't get a ticket, I still made it to the start in plenty of time.

30 people showed up.  About half of what we got for the previous ride, but considering the hills and the weather forecast, not bad.  No tandems, a sign of the hills to come.  We got one recumbent, though.

It wasn't raining (yet) at the start, which was nice.  I chose a small-print cue sheet because it fit on two pages and had the page break at a control, where I could theoretically flip the pages under cover and avoid soaking them.  This turned out to not be the best choice — while I could read the small print easily enough in the dry while stationary in good light, it was harder to make out the small print on a bouncing bike at dusk with water droplets all over the map case.  Next time I'll go with the big print version and deal with flipping the sheet an extra time.

We headed toward Mar-Lu slowly at 7 a.m.  I started in fourth position and stayed there, rather than sprinting to the front like an excited puppy.  Gradually the fast people passed me, and I stayed right where I was.  Eventually I felt like the group I was in was going too slow, and passed a few people, but I resisted the urge to go fast.  Not much point since I was going to go over Mar-Lu slowly regardless.  Approaching the light to cross Route 15, I remarked to someone that I'd never caught the green there and always had to wait for it.  Sure enough, the universe likes to prove me wrong and it turned green while we were a ways back.  So we sprinted for it.  I almost made it, but then it turned yellow and I started to brake, but then Bill (right behind me) kept sprinting so I re-accelerated and we both probably caught enough yellow to be legal.  Bill's a slow steady low-gear climber, so I decided to follow him up the hill at his speed, which turned out to be 5 mph on the lower 11% grade and 4 mph on the upper 15% grade.  Perfect.  We made it to the top, and I was happy to be breathing a bit hard but not exhausted, and then he shot away on the downhill at high speed, and I followed at a much lower speed, and didn't see him again for the rest of the day.

After Mar-Lu, the route went through Jefferson then turned toward Middletown.  Even though I hadn't done this ride before, we use the same roads on a bunch of others, so it all felt familiar.  The sky was very dark but it wasn't raining yet.  It was windier than expected, though.  I wasn't tired yet, but I knew the rollers of Burkittsville Road were each taking a bit out of me and I'd be paying later.  The first control was at the LDS (not the religion) store in Middletown at 25 miles.  I bought some Gatorade and some cashews.  It still wasn't raining, so I was a bit warm, so I took off my balaclava.

The next stretch featured Harmony Road, which is hilly.  And then Harp Hill Road, which gets to 18%, possibly the steepest hill on any DCR brevet.  (The switchbacks in Lost River State Park might be steeper, and that climb is certainly way longer, but that's on a ROMA ride.)  Steep enough that you need to lean forward to keep the front wheel planted.  I got passed by a pack of 5 riders at the bottom of Harp Hill, but stayed at my 3-4 mph pace rather than chasing.  It went up for approximately 5 million feet with a couple of false summits just to be mean.  My lower back started aching hard, something I don't remember happening before on a climb.  I saw a couple of riders stopped to rest near the top, and I really wanted to join them, but I knew that if I stopped it would be hard to get going again, so I gritted my teeth and kept pedalling.  Eventually I saw a couple of McMansions, the sign of an approaching summit, and started zipping up everything I'd unzipped to prepare for the descent.  Then the descent was surprisingly tame.  The descent on Wolfsville Road a few miles later was worse, because of potholes, but at least it was still dry.  The wind was really starting to gust.

Roger caught me from behind around mile 40, said hi, and blew on by.  I matched his speed for about 100 yards then realized it was a bad idea and dropped off.  (Roger likes to start brevets fashionably late then pass most of the field.)  I resumed my plodding pace into the wind.  I wasn't really hurting yet, so I was still in a reasonably aero position in the drops rather than in the fully upright position I'd need to use later in the ride.  My knee started aching around mile 45, so I pulled over to take a couple of Ibuprofin.  While I was stopped, a rider in an odd-looking helmet cover I didn't recognize passed me and greeted me by name.  I didn't recognize the voice (probably because of the wind) and had to speed up and get a good look to see who it was.  Once I saw around the helmet cover I realized it was George W., and rode with him for a while.  He was riding with kind of a burst-and-coast pace, while I was still in steady plod mode, so I passed him once to try to get my rhythm back, but then he re-passed me at the next stop sign and I just stayed behind him after that.  It was starting to rain (not hard yet) and he had fenders and I didn't so I didn't want to spray him.  We were both hurting a bit due to the hills and wind, and the ride wasn't even half over yet.

We reached the lunch control at Paul's Country Market in Waynesboro PA at mile 55, as the rain started to pick up.  Paul's is a Mennonite store with good deli sandwiches and baked goods and clean bathrooms.  Pretty much the perfect control, except that it's closed on Sundays so you don't want to ride this route then.  (Yoder's on the Old Rag brevet is very similar.)  I had a tasty roast beef hoagie (we had crossed the Mason Dixon Line so subs had officially become hoagies) and a pack of oatmeal raisin cookies.  I spent a few minutes eating and chatting with riders and volunteers, then decided to hurry out since I wasn't going very fast and might need the time later.

Unfortunately, I got turned around and headed down the wrong road.  Fortunately, volunteer Mike W. saw me going the wrong way and chased me down in his car and turned me around, so I only did 1.2 bonus miles instead of the at least 2 I would have done if I'd had to figure out my own mistake.  Still annoying, because I had to add 1.2 to every cue sheet distance for the rest of the day.  Back on course, I retraced the route back to Rouzerville, then went up Old Rt. 16 and Buena Vista, which went up a long long way.  Not steep, but far.  The climbing was annoying, as was the increasing rain, but I was happy to be halfway done with the ride and past (presumably) the 3 worst climbs.  It got really foggy up there on top of whatever mountain that is, and I was worried about half-blind drivers, so I made sure all my lights were on and prepared to bail off the road if needed, but luckily it wasn't.  The wind also got really ferocious without the side of the mountain to block it.  Crossed the Appalachian Trail, which meant it was time to go downhill again, and fortunately both the fog and the wind decreased away from the summit.

Spruce Run Road at mile 76 was a treat — steep, narrow, downhill, wet, and potholed.  I dragged my brakes most of the way down, alternating to avoid overheating either wheel.  Luckily there was no oncoming traffic so I was free to use whatever part of the road was the safest.  I got to a (different) LDS store at mile 79, but wasn't sure it was the right one at first.  It was.  I bought more Gatorade and some Golden Oreos (not as good as the cookies at Paul's but still a nice source of calories) and had a hard time getting the money out of my wallet to pay for them, as my hands were too cold and wet for fine motor control.  I swapped my gloves for dry ones (which would only stay dry for a few minutes).  George and Gary arrived while I was there, and I left before both of them.  Slow, but still not last!

Gary passed me a couple of miles later on Wolfsville Road.  Then we had to do Harmony Road again, but at least the return route bypassed Harp Hill.  (Going down the steep side in the rain would not have been much fun.)  George passed me pretty close to the 95 mile control at the Jefferson Crown gas station.  Not the most scenic control, but they had food and bathrooms, so good enough for me.  I got a Hershey's Moose Tracks cone that was surprisingly delicious; it was a bit cold for ice cream but I was feeling lethargic and wanted something with a lot of calories.  I took a couple more Ibuprofin for my knees (plural; my right knee was also aching a bit by this time).  George left right in front of me and we started up the less-steep side of Mar-Lu.  After Harp Hill and Buena Vista, it was really easy.  Then we had to go down the steep side, and it was wet, and I was very careful.  So was George, so I almost caught up with him again right after the light at US 15.  But he had more left in his legs than I did, and slowly drifted away into the distance, as we rode the nice flat(ish) section around mile 100.  That was the last time I'd see another rider until the end.

The rain was getting a bit harder, and my feet were getting cold.  I was happy that the ride was almost over.  Some quick (and probably questionable) math told me that if I could keep riding at 12 mph I'd finish in under 12 hours.  That seemed good enough, but not enough to really give me a sense of urgency.  I found myself using my small ring even on fairly flat roads.  Fingerboard Road had a bit of traffic.  Slate Quarry Road had some epic potholes.  As did Peach Tree Road, which featured an information control whose answer was "dumping."  Soon afterward, Peach Tree turned downhill, but it was so rough that it was still work rather than an easy coast to the end.  I pulled into Poolesville at 6:55 p.m., with an elapsed time of 11:55.  Really slow, but over an hour faster than Urbana last spring.

I ate 3 pieces of pretty good pizza at Cugini's while chatting with the other riders and volunteers.  The rain was steadily increasing outside, so I was glad to be done.  I hadn't remembered to bring dry clothes to change into, so after a while it started to get cold, and I headed to my warm car.  This was probably the hardest 200 I'd ever ridden, considering the hills and the weather.  Still only a 200, though, so not that hard in the grand scheme of things.

My knee held up okay, with only minor pains that were squashed with Ibuprofin. I was slow, but much faster than at Urbana last year.  I made it up Harp Hill.  My bike was mostly okay, though it autoshifted a couple of times, perhaps an indication that it's time to change the chain, cassette, and chainrings.  All in all, a pretty good day, though I was pretty grumpy for the last half of it.

We have a 300 coming in two weeks, a 400 in five weeks, and a 600 in seven weeks.  I'm cautiously optimistic about the 300, and worried about my ability to finish the others.  I don't think there's enough time to properly prepare.  But at least it should warm up before then.


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ROMA Seneca Rocks 400km Brevet

I missed the DC Randonneurs 400k this spring (because the forecast said 95 degrees and I was worried about dying of heatstroke), but finished the 600k, so I needed a 400 to finish a Super Randonneur series. I was torn between doing the ROMA September 400 (close to home, but really hilly) or the North Carolina October 400 (farther away, but not as hilly). I eventually decided to do the ROMA ride, since if I failed to finish, I could always do the NC ride later.

I talked to Chris about this ride, since he does a lot of ROMA rides. He said the climb over Lost River State Park was much harder than Edinburg Gap, Wolf Gap, and Mill Gap. Also that the cue sheet was missing a street name near the end, and that it would take close to the 27-hour time limit to do the ride. Ugh.

The only thing I changed on my bike since the previous week's 200 was the bar tape. I'd meant to put on a chain catcher, since I dropped my chain once to the inside during the 200, but forgot. I pumped up the tires and lubed the chain and just threw everything in the car. The forecast said pleasant weather, but I brought some tights and arm warmers and full gloves and a rain jacket anyway, because it can get chilly overnight in the mountains, especially on the descents. I felt kind of silly packing such a heavy bag full of clothes, but it beats freezing.

The ride started at the Super 8 in Front Royal, Virginia. The Super 8 was cheap enough that I got a room for two nights. I always want a room the night after a 400 (unless it's *really* close to home like the Leesburg 400) because I get really sleepy after I ride for 20+ hours then stop, and I don't want to fall asleep at the wheel and kill someone. I don't always get a room the night before, but with the start at 4 a.m. it meant I could wake up at 3:30 instead of 2:30, a pretty big difference.

I set two alarms, woke up at 3:30, put on my bike clothes and reflective gear, and went outside. Ride organizer Matt was there (not riding this time), along with Chris from Maryland and Ed from South Carolina. John from Maryland showed up a bit later. So we had four, a pretty small turnout, until you consider that it's a really hard 400 in September. Chris told everyone about the missing street name on the cue sheet, and we left at 4. It was fairly warm so I had my warm clothes in the bag; my intent was to put them on before the descent down Edinburg Gap.

We rode together through Front Royal and then down Fort Valley Road. There was almost no traffic that early on a Saturday morning, and we made pretty good speed over the rollers, while checking out the stars when the clouds moved aside. Then, out of nowhere, we heard screeching brakes from some hooligan coming way too fast the other way, who must have freaked out when he saw our lights. At least he didn't hit any of us. Some time after that John dropped off the back, so our group was down to 3 riders.

At one point Ed warned me that my taillights were going out. I had checked both of them before the start and they were okay, but I guess the batteries were kind of marginal, because now one was dim and the other was almost out. The sun was coming up by then, though, so I decided to wait until the next time we stopped to change the batteries.

We went up Edinburg Gap, which was no big deal, and then down the other side, which was freezing. Ed's a much faster descender than me, and Chris is a bit faster, so I didn't want to stop to put on more clothes and fall even farther behind. They waited for me at the bottom, and we went into a non-control gas station in Edinburg to resupply. Even though it was just after dawn, there were already a bunch of guys out front socializing. I bought some Gatorade and a Crunch bar and then we headed toward Wolf Gap. We were still pretty fresh, so that climb wasn't a problem either. The descent down the West Virginia side of Wolf Gap is pretty straight so I didn't get dropped as badly, and we regrouped and headed for Mill Gap. That climb wasn't bad either, with fresh legs, and we reached the big highway WV 259 at mile 64.5 a bit before 9 a.m. Not an impressive average speed, but the ride had been all up and down.

We rode a mile down the shoulder of 259 to the Lost River Grill, which has surprisingly good food for an unassuming place in the middle of nowhere. Nobody was hungry enough for a full meal, so we all just got dessert and drinks. The quadruple chocolate cheesecake was really good, and I needed the calories. John came in while we were eating, but the three of us left before he was done.

We had to go about 5 more miles down 259, then turn into Lost River State Park. At first the road was only mildly hilly, but then it got serious. It climbed up and up and up. We took a break at one point while Chris re-affixed a broken bag to his bike, and then he pointed to a house way at the top of the mountain and said we'd be going past it. I'd thought we were done, but it turned out we had at least an hour to go. It was probably the longest climb I've ever done, but at least it wasn't super-steep.

Then we got to the top and had to go down the other side, and it was very switchbacked and very steep in places. I don't know how much brake pad material I wore off on that descent. Ed and Chris were long over the horizon while I carefully picked my way around the worst couple of corners. I didn't want to think about riding back up them later. They were waiting at the bottom, and we only needed to do about 35 miles of rollers to the turnaround point.

After that climb we all wanted lunch, so we stopped at a Hardee's in Moorefield. I had a large Swiss-burger (which wasn't that good), along with fries and an Oreo ice cream sandwich (which were excellent). I also remembered to change my taillight batteries, since I'd need them later. We got going again for a 22-mile stretch down freshly paved US 33. There was some traffic but the road was wide enough for everyone (the lack of lines after the recent paving actually helped here), and the rollers were easy compared to the real hills we'd done before. I hit 41 mph on one of the long straight downhills, which was fun.

We finally reached the turnaround point at Yokum's Market. It was filled with swarms of excessively loud motorcycles. I got a Cherry Coke and some Mint M&Ms (which taste just like Andie's Candies) and we turned around and did the same roads in reverse. It was getting late in the afternoon, and our main concern was making it back over the big climb before it got dark. I wasn't too tired yet, but I knew the next climb would be hard.

The western side of Lost River State Park is steeper and windier than the eastern side. My chain started popping off the biggest cog in the back, and I had to think about which barrel adjuster to use and which way to turn it, but I eventually fixed the problem without having to stop. I was doing okay for a while, but then Ed stopped in front of me. I willed myself to keep pedaling for a bit farther, but then I had to stop too. It was about an 18% grade, too steep to get going again from a stop, so Ed and I walked a bit while Chris passed us on the bike. We remounted at the next flattish spot and started riding again, not so quickly. Eventually I ran out of gas and the others pulled away. It took forever (and one more stop) to reach the top, and then I went down the east side very carefully. There was still a bit of light left, but not much.

I caught up with Ed and Chris at a gas station off route 257, about 70 miles from the finish. It was getting chilly so we all put on some warm clothes along with our reflective gear. I worried that I'd get hot again as soon as we started climbing, but at least we were comfortable on the flat part. There was a bit of traffic on the dark highway, so we tried to get it done as fast as possible and get back on nearly-empty side roads. Chris, in the lead, didn't see the turn in time to make it, but he pointed and we waited for him. Then we started up Mill Gap.

Mill Gap starts pretty easy, but there are a couple of very steep bits. Ed and I stopped again and I walked a bit until it was flat enough to get on the bike. I was feeling hot and wasted time stowing some clothes, right before the top, then had to put them on again. My stomach was feeling a bit sour — too much sugar to digest — so I laid off the Gatorade for a while and hoped I wouldn't bonk. And my saddle area was extremely unhappy. Chris and Ed were well ahead of me, but I just kept plodding along, up and over Wolf Gap, then very cautiously down its dark descent. I was surprised to see Ed and Chris at the penultimate control when I finally got there — I figured they'd be farther ahead. But I didn't ask them to wait for me, since I didn't think I'd be able to stick to them over the last climb.

I put on more warm clothes, then rode through Edinburg, then took some of them off before climbing Edinburg Gap, then put everything back on at the top for the last big descent of the day. The descent wasn't too bad, and it was a simple matter of riding 30 miles of rollers. With my sour stomach and dead legs, it took about 2.5 hours, but I didn't miss any turns and got to the hotel around 3:30 a.m. The hotel clerk didn't really want to sign my brevet card, but I eventually talked him into it (I didn't want to go to sleep without proof that I finished within the time limit), and then found Matt a few minutes later. 23.5 hours is a pretty slow time for a normal 400, but for this one I thought it was okay.

Overall it was a good day. We got very nice weather (ranging from about 50 to about 80, with no rain). The drivers were mostly excellent. No serious mechanical problems — I dropped my chain a couple of times (still need that chain catcher), and Chris broke a strap on his bag and had to improvise with zip ties. I didn't quite get the nutrition right — maybe a bit less sugar and a bit more protein would have digested better. Of course the climbing would have gone a lot easier if I'd been lighter, something I'll try to address before the next hilly 400. I was a bit disappointed to have to get off and walk a few times at the end, something I hadn't needed to do in a while, but these were much worse hills than I was used to.


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Cleaning up after gtk-builder-convert

I switched Slugathon from libglade to gtk.Builder back in August, using gtk-builder-convert on the XML files, then a few small boillerplate API changes in the Python code.

Just noticed today that a few dialogs weren't working correctly anymore. (This is the problem with waiting until something is "done" to actually release it — you have to find all the bugs yourself.)

The differences introduced were missing action-widget tags for some buttons, and changes in the ordering of the children within the dialog ActionArea.

Once I figured out what had happened, it was trivial to fix things up. But be sure to test all your dialogs after running gtk-builder-convert. Slugathon has unit tests, but they don't cover the user interface, so I didn't notice the bugs until I played a long test game to verify other changes.


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Python 2.6 is finally in Gentoo unstable

I've been using Python 2.6 (and 2.6.1) as my primary Python in Gentoo for months, but it was hard masked until a couple of days ago, which meant nobody except developers and crazy people was supposed to use it. Now it's finally unmasked and in unstable (~x86, ~amd64, etc.), so it's recommended for people who are only slightly brave. Just in time for 2.6.2 to come out so everyone can upgrade again in a few days.

Lots of distributions write a lot of really important tools in Python (such as Gentoo's portage package manager), so they tend to be really conservative about upgrading it. I remember finally giving up on Red Hat when RH 7.3 still shipped the ancient 1.5.2 as the default Python. (Of course I'm still stuck using Red Hat at work. And they still ship a seriously outdated Python version, though I have to admit 2.4 isn't nearly as bad as 1.5.2.) Now I just have to wait for Ubuntu and Red Hat and Debian and Mac OS to upgrade, so I can use 2.6 features in Slugathon without feeling like I'm asking my hypothetical users to jump through too many hoops.


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