DC Randonneurs Wilderness Campaign 200 km Brevet

Don't quit your bike commute. I think I've told that to 50 people by now.

Last September I got a job offer I couldn't refuse. Full-time telecommute, interesting project, great company. The big drawback was losing my 22-mile bike commute. Sure, I told myself, I could go for a 20-mile ride at lunchtime every day to make up for it. And I really did that, some of the time, when the weather was nice. Not so much in January when it was 36 degrees and raining sideways.

I gained 20 pounds in 3 months and my legs turned from iron into jello. Pretty much what you expect to happen when you go from riding 150 miles per week to 30.

I did a 100 km populaire on an unseasonably warm January day, and finished without problems, but was ridiculously slow from the very first hill (Grant Peterson says you lose 1 mph for each 12 pounds you gain, and this seemed about right) and had dead legs for the whole ride. And 100 km isn't far at all, basically just a long commute. Uh oh.

The first brevet of the season in early February got postponed due to dangerous weather, and I had a conflict that kept me from riding the make-up the next weekend when the weather was merely crummy. So the Wilderness Campaign 200 would be my first long ride in months, and my first since losing all my fitness. Even though it's a pretty easy ride, I was kind of worried about finishing.

We got a few inches of snow the week before the Wilderness Campaign 200, but it melted fast, and we expected the roads to be clear, except maybe in the wooded battlefield parks. The organizers added detours around the parks to the cue sheet, just in case.

We got a big turnout at a Caribou Coffee in Bristow VA. It was below freezing outside, so most of them were huddled in the coffee shop drinking something warm. I figured it made more sense to get used to the cold so I stood outside freezing. I ended up starting the ride wearing almost everything I brought: jersey and shorts, heavy jersey and tights, rain jacket, balaclava, lobster claws, cotton and heavy wool socks, summer shoes. I considered wearing my lined winter helmet, but forecasts said it might warm up to 50 later and visions of sweating my head off deterred me, so I wore a regular summer helmet with the 'clava underneath. Didn't bring my big winter bike boots for the same reason.

It was full light by the 7 a.m. start so there was not a strict need for lights and reflective gear, but many of the riders had them anyway out of habit (or, in my case, fear of not finishing by dark). Better safe than run over. I fell out of the fast front group immediately, then out of the second group, then the third, and was soon riding by myself, slowly. I warmed up quickly with all those clothes on and started unzipping various zippers on the jacket and pulling at the balaclava to get some cool air, but about 10 miles in I stopped and stowed the jacket, not wanting to get sweaty then chilled. The good news was that I wasn't last; while I was stopped a bunch more riders passed me. Without the jacket and with temperatures still around freezing, I got really cold on the next couple of descents, but that sorted itself out pretty quickly and I was okay for the next few hours.

The route went from the exurbs of Bristow to the sod farms of Nokesville then down to Kelly's Ford. Having also gone that way on the hot second day of last year's 600, I was really tired of those roads, though they're honestly very nice. Rolling hills, pretty woods, and not too many cars. I got to the 48-mile control in Locust Grove alone, and was happy to see a bunch of riders still there. I was slow but not completely behind the ride. I went through the control really fast to try to keep it that way despite my slow progress. Way too much 11- and 12-mph riding on very gentle hills where I should be doing 14-15.

My least favorite part of the ride is the shoulder of busy VA 20 heading toward Wilderness Battlefield. It's one of those variable shoulders that's sometimes 5 feet wide and paved and perfect, then immediately turns to gravel without warning (possibly resulting in a rude awakening if you're cruising at high speed without paying attention), then shrinks to 6 inches wide dumping you into high-speed traffic, then widens again. I don't know if shoulders are actually planned to be this awful as a trap for cyclists, or they're just an afterthought built with leftover materials and they sometimes run out.

Luckily there was no snow on the roads in Wilderness Battlefield, though there was still plenty on the grass and trees. I was happy to get off the busy highway and onto empty roads. Of course every DC Randonneurs brevet that visits a battlefield always includes a historical information control — I will totally win on Jeopardy someday with knowledge about muleshoes in 1862. As I approached the info control I saw a group of 5 riders there in front of me. They told me the answer but I refused to write it down without double-checking for myself (not because I didn't trust them but because it felt like cheating), which meant leaving the nice pavement and slogging through melted snow and mud. I decided I was too slow to keep up with them and resumed riding alone out of the battlefield and onto crowded VA 208. (Totally different from VA 20, but with the same joyless feeling.) Luckily we were only on it for a couple of miles until the second control at a 7-11 in Spotsylvania at mile 68, about halfway. I caught the same 5 riders that I'd just seen there, and feeling a lot better after a bit of food and drink and rest, left at the tail of their train.

I felt great for the next few miles, riding and chatting and zooming down the little hills. (The only good thing about gaining weight is that you go downhill faster. This is mostly wasted on me because I feel the need to brake prematurely for every turn, stop sign, and squirrel, but sometimes the hill is straight enough that even I can just fly.) We had another info control at mile 78, and after people spent too much time chatting and I felt my legs getting cold, I took the command decision to start pedaling and get the group back on the road. Surprisingly, they all followed me, and then a few minutes later, they all started to pass me. My post-control burst of energy had worn out and I was back to being slow and tired. We went down Elys Ford Road for 11 miles again, and past Kellys Ford again, and down Sumerduck again, and I was tired of pedaling. It had warmed up to about 50 and felt hotter, but I hadn't brought any sunscreen (couldn't find any; guess my wife threw it all away over the winter), so I decided to keep my arm warmers on and only pull them down when I got really hot climbing, to minimize the sun exposure. That worked well enough — I didn't get too hot and I didn't burn.

By the 100-mile mark I was down to counting miles and figuring what percentage of the ride I had left. This is normal for me on 400+ km rides, but pretty sad on a 200. I had ice cream at the Elk Run control at mile 107, and rejoined Mike and Christian, who had been in the earlier group of 5. (The other guys had broken away.) The three of us rode together to the finish, faster than I would have ridden alone. Mike wanted to at least get his average speed up to 13.5 mph, which sounds really slow but felt pretty fast to me by then. I was able to hang on to the end of the line, though, and we finished in 10:34. For comparison, I did the same ride in 8:57 last year.

So really slow, despite a complete lack of excuses like wrong turns or flat tires. Just out of shape. But I finished before dark, and didn't hurt myself, so it was a successful ride. If I have the time and motivation to do a 200 every weekend, I'll probably be back in shape by May… Yeah, sounds unlikely to me too. It's going to be a hard spring. But even a hard ride can be fun. Okay, mostly after it's over.


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DC Randonneurs Old Rag 200km brevet

We usually ride Old Rag in the spring or summer, but this year we did it in the fall. Unfortunately we got record low temperatures, so it felt more like winter, at least early on. Having actually remembered to check the weather forecast, I knew it would be cold (forecast overnight low was 36F), so I packed a long-sleeve jersey, a rain jacket, tights, arm warmers, and a balaclava. But somehow I forgot my wool socks and my shoe covers. (I have this nice checklist to help me avoid forgetting things, but I sometimes forget to check the checklist.)

I broke the rear derailleur cable on my bike the weekend before the ride. It turns out that Campy shifter cables have a smaller head than Shimano cables, and my local bike shop doesn't stock the Campy version, which meant that I had to wait until the weekly shipment from QBP on Thursday, just two days before the brevet. Luckily nothing went wrong and my bike was ready on time.

I packed my stuff the night before so I wouldn't need to wake up until 5, which still felt way too early. I had a big bowl of cereal and left the house around 5:30, which got me to Warrenton by 6:30, in plenty of time for the 7:00 start. I was pre-registered so I just had to sign a waiver and get my brevet card, and drink some orange juice. We had a pretty small turnout, only 22 riders, probably because of the cold.

We left at 7. The group was immediately split by a red light, with two riders who beat the light several hundred yards out front, and the rest of us stuck behind. We all waited for it to turn green (really!) and then, with my usual early-morning silliness, I decided to ride across the gap and chase them down. They weren't going very fast, so I reached them right after the first turn of the day onto Culpeper Street, and then I came to my senses and decided to slow down and wait for reinforcements. Bill and Kelly caught and passed me on the first big downhill, which I descended with my usual lack of speed plus some extra braking to reduce the wind on my cold feet, and I chased back to form a front group of three. I went off the front briefly before the first small climb of the day, to test my legs, and the results were not encouraging. I was okay on the flats, but had no climbing power. I'm always slow in the cold, and the first cold ride of the season meant I wasn't acclimated. The power deficit, combined with the extra weight I'd been carrying all year, meant there was no way I'd be finishing with the front group.

Now that I knew, I went back behind Bill and Kelly and tried to think warm thoughts. I was warm except for my feet. I considered putting on my rain jacket, thinking that an extra-warm core might cause my body to send more warm blood to my feet, but decided against it because I didn't want to overheat. The three of us were soon joined by four more riders, and we stayed together until the secret control around mile 20.

I went into the secret control at the back of the group, and decided to eat a Gu packet while volunteer Mark was signing my card, and by the time I was ready to start, 5 of the riders were already moving out in front of me. Knowing that I couldn't climb well enough to stay with the group all day anyway, I decided not to chase back. One rider passed me, but I kept my speed down, and ended up riding solo for about the next 20 miles. The temperature started to climb, with my feet going from frigid to slightly chilly, and the rest of me going from fine to a bit warm. At one point Dave J. caught me from behind. I rode with him for a bit, but then he needed to stop, and I was by myself again, focused on navigation and making it to the first control so I could eat some lunch and lose a layer of clothes.

Then I entered the dog-infested section of the route. Around mile 40, on route 607, I saw a medium-sized brown dog standing in the middle of the road glaring at me. I'm not very good at reading dogs' intentions, but this one was big enough that I really didn't want to hit it, so I juked left then cut right and sprinted. It didn't chase me, so it was probably all just a waste of effort. A couple of miles later, on the same road, a tiny little dog (I'm not a dog expert, but my guess is half chihuahua, half squirrel) came running out of its yard yipping at me. I know the motorcycle rule of thumb that if an animal is small enough to eat in one meal, just ride straight and let it dodge you. But this dog looked dumb enough to run right into my wheels, so I went to the effort of dodging it. Luckily it's hard to run fast on two-inch legs, so it never got within five feet of me. And I continued riding along, muttering to myself about people who are too dumb to keep their dogs in their yards…

…When suddenly I heard fast footsteps behind me. Dog number three was the sneaky type. I never saw it until after I passed it, and it never barked, but it was chasing me and having no problem keeping up. Since I hadn't got a good look I didn't know if it was a real threat, so I reflexively sprinted. Going from 14 mph to 28 mph on cold legs is not such a smart idea — I felt a twinge in my right calf, and ignored it and kept on pedaling. The dog matched my speed for a while, though it started panting with the effort. After about a quarter mile the footsteps and heavy breathing stopped, and I looked back over my shoulder to see the dog loping back home. I guess it wasn't a biter, because it had me totally by surprise and didn't strike, but it had scared me badly. And I was afraid I might have pulled something. I muttered some more about irresponsible dog owners, and rode more vigilantly, but didn't see any more dogs in the road for the rest of the day.

It turned out my calf was okay — it stopped hurting after a few minutes. But I slowed down a bit more just in case, and got caught by four riders right before the 56-mile control at Yoder's Country Market. I matched their speed and rode in at the back of their group. Yoder's is one of the best controls ever. They have a clean bathroom, good food, and friendly workers. Unfortunately on a nice Saturday in the fall they also have way too many customers, so it took a few minutes to get my roast beef and salami and Swiss on wheat, but I needed a break anyway. I went outside and ate at a picnic table, where several other riders were hanging out. It was still cold in the shade, but warming up in the sun. I took off my balaclava and long-sleeved jersey and put on my arm warmers and left, riding alone again. I still had a full bottle of water, so I didn't bother filling up the empty one, with only 14 miles to the next control.

The route went through the little town of Madison, then onto the Blue Ridge Turnpike (with traffic) for a bit, then off onto empty side roads. Dave S. was in front of me and I pretty much matched his speed, but didn't quite catch up with him. Then, as we curved back toward the Blue Ridge Turnpike again, we hit a minor traffic jam of about 20 vehicles. I'd never seen traffic in this area before, so I was worried that there was a crash, but didn't see one. Just a bunch of cars. We turned off Blue Ridge Turnpike onto 670 toward Syria (pronounced sigh-REE-uh, so there's no danger of confusion with the country), and all the cars followed us. I chased up to Dave's wheel so that they'd only have to pass once rather than twice, but it was still kind of hair-raising every time one of them passed us with oncoming traffic way too close. Apparently there was some kind of popular apple festival going on. None of them hit us, and we eventually made it to Syria Mercantile. I bought a Mounds and a Coke and used the rather rustic bathroom in the warehouse across the street. Some guys in the warehouse were listening to the Virginia Tech game on the radio, but I didn't want to hear the score because I was Tivoing it, so I rushed through humming to myself. Then I left with George to ride up Etlan Road, over the foothills of Old Rag. (The actual summit of Old Rag is a popular hike, but not so bike-friendly.)

Luckily, the apple festival traffic didn't follow us up the hill. George warned me that he was having a slow day and that I'd probably end up dropping him. I told him that I was having a slow day too and he might end up dropping me. We ended up being equally slow, going up the steep switchbacks at about 4 mph. It's a steep climb but not very long, and soon enough we were going down the other side, and George blew past me. We rode together for the next few miles, and several other guys caught and passed us. Then while I was talking to another rider, George disappeared backwards — I guess he was right and he was having a slower day than I was. I kept going with a couple of other riders until the start of the hard multi-part climb up Round Hill Road, then they dropped me and I went up it nice and slowly. They call it the Three Meanies, but I'm not sure why because I'm pretty sure there are five hills not three. (Maybe two of them are less mean?)

One advantage of a cool day is that I made it up all the climbs without getting hot. I was slow but feeling fine otherwise, and made it alone to the Laurel Mills Store at mile 94 with no problems. I had another Coke and a Choco Taco. (Basically an ice cream sandwich lightly disguised as a taco, for whatever reason.) The fact that I was eating ice cream definitely meant it wasn't cold anymore either — it was just right. I chatted with a couple of riders but left alone again, toward the small town of Flint Hill, then the next hill on Crest Hill Road. I'd forgotten about Crest Hill until George reminded me of it — it's a hill, but not a very long or steep one. It was followed by a long downhill to the Rappahannock River, then a bit of a climb up to Orlean.

I had ice cream again at Orlean Market, so clearly my body wanted more calories than I had been giving it. It's only 10 miles from Orlean to the end, but it's mostly uphill, and I really didn't want to bonk or dehydrate. The climb up Piney Mountain wasn't too bad this time, probably because it was cool and I was taking it slowly. But the last five miles into Warrenton felt like they took forever.

I finished in 10 hours and 55 minutes, a little more than two hours slower than last time I did this ride. The fastest rider (Bill) finished in 9:15, so it was a slow day all around. Some of that was temperature, some was traffic, but most of it was climbing like a slug. I would like to thank the dog that made me sprint, for keeping my time under 11 hours. Other than forgetting my wool socks and my shoe covers, I don't think I did anything very wrong on this ride. No bonking, no dehydration, no wrong turns. I was just slow.


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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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DC Randonneurs Civil War Tour 200k brevet

I didn't do any long rides in July or August. So I was really looking forward to a nice scenic 200 in relatively cool September weather. Unfortunately there were some big thunderstorms in the forecast, but the weatherman is often wrong…

I woke up at 4:45 a.m., packed my stuff, and pumped up my tires. I didn't bother with a rain jacket because I figured it would be too hot to wear one, but I did bring a cycling cap to keep rain out of my eyes. Otherwise I just brought a spare tire, 3 tubes, a few Gu packets and Clif Bars, and two Magnum bottles of Gatorade. I decided against a Camelbak because it was only 200k and the high was forecast to only be in mid 80s.

Got to Frederick early enough that there were only a handful of people there. That gave me time to replace the battery in my bike computer, which had been intermittently cutting out for a couple of weeks. The sun came up well before the 7 a.m. start, so we didn't need lights, though many of the riders had them anyway. I decided to stow my reflective vest (because it would get hot later), but kept my ankle bands on.

By start time, we had 34 riders plus a couple of volunteers named Bill. Nobody went hard at the start, so we ended up with a big pack of about 25 riders ambling along at the front. This makes it hard for cars to pass, so I prefer to get into a smaller group for safety, but it was only 12 miles until the first big hill and there weren't a lot of cars, so I just stuck with the pack.

After waiting forever for the light at Route 15 to change, we went up Mar-Lu Ridge. I started near the front of the swarm, which was a mistake because it meant more people had to pass me as I went up the hill at 5.5 mph. I was actually pretty happy to be going that fast, since I did the ride at 218 pounds, or about 20 pounds over my usual September weight. Luckily it was still early and cool, so going up the hill wasn't that uncomfortable. Mar-Lu is steep but not that long, so we were up and over pretty quickly. It split the big group up nicely, and then we got to enjoy the nice view at the top followed by the fast descent.

I went down the first half of the descent pretty fast, until I saw the first sharp curve. Then my cowardly lizard brain decided it would be a good time to brake really hard, and I lost all my momentum and went down the rest of the hill at a boring pace. It flattened out, and I followed a couple of riders into the little town of Jefferson. The riders were all strung out after the hill, and my usual early-morning delusions of strength kicked in and I started riding faster than I really should with over a century to go, and passed several people. The weather was looking ominous, with a wall of dark clouds over the mountains, and I wanted to be as far along as possible before having to seek shelter.

After going through Burkittsville, it was time for the second big climb of the day on Gapland Road. Gapland isn't quite as steep as Mar-Lu, but it's longer. A handful of riders who I'd passed on the flats passed me back on the hill, but I was still reasonably happy with my climbing when I reached the top. A bunch of riders (some on our brevet, some not) were stopped at the top to rest, but I kept going (because downhill is free) and hit the wooded descent down Thompson Road. I kept my speed moderate in case of deer or potholes, but hit neither, and rolled into the 30-mile control in Sharpsburg feeling good. I bought a bottle of Gatorade and a Crunch bar, then left quickly while most of the fast riders were still hanging around. The dark clouds had mostly stayed on the other side of the mountains, and it looked like we might get a nice day after all.

The route went into Antietam Battlefield Park, which, like every other battlefield in the area, has awful street signs. I stopped for a second to make sure I was turning in the right place, and Chris came up behind me, so I figured he knew the way and followed him. We went through the first information control of the day, writing down some private's name from a sign. Then, just a couple of minutes later, we hit the Secret Control. After 3 controls in about 2 miles, we left the battlefield and climbed up the shoulder of Route 40A for approximately 6 miles. It's not a steep climb, but it goes on forever, and there's no tree cover so it tends to get hot. Luckily it was a cloudy day so it wasn't too bad. At some point Mark caught us from behind, and the three of us made the turn onto Mountain Laurel Road, probably the prettiest part of the route.

Suddenly, without warning, on a fairly steep downhill, I felt my bike start braking by itself. Not a good feeling. I got it under control and then got off the bike and started looking for the problem. My Carradice bag was sitting on top of my rear wheel, and the tire had worn a groove through the canvas. Nothing was broken; I just hadn't properly secured the bag in the SQR mount. Oops. I fixed it, then flipped my cue sheet. When I was ready to get going again, I saw Chris coming back to check on me. He was glad to see I hadn't crashed, and had to fiddle with something on his bike too, then we were off again. We crossed into Pennsylvania on Harbaugh Valley Road, then went down the shoulder of 16 and up another hill on Jacks Mountain Road. About halfway through the ride, I was still feeling pretty good. I'd told myself before the ride that I'd ride a 400 next weekend if I finished this 200 strong, and now it looked like I'd have to live up to that.

We started seeing a bunch of fast riders not affiliated with our group — the leaders of the Civil War Century, held on the same day and some of the same roads. RUSA rules say that you can't ride with people who aren't doing the same ride. So we avoided matching speeds with them, and tried to avoid following them off our course or leading them off their course. We came up to a one-lane covered bridge with a traffic light that can't sense bikes, behind a CWC rider. He ran it, cutting it a lot closer to an oncoming car than I would have. After waiting for about 5 cars going the other way, we finally got a car behind us to trip the light, and we rode into Fairfield. We stopped at the non-control Foodmart there at mile 69; I got more Gatorade and some Pretzel M&Ms.

The route then went into the beautiful and historic (but badly signed and often infested with bad drivers) Gettysburg Battlefield. I always worry about getting lost, doored, or run over there, but Chris seemed to know the way, and car traffic was light and sane. Another CWC rider tucked on behind me, and when we had to turn left he asked if we were on the metric or the 100. I told him we were on the 125, which confused him (I didn't have time for a longer explanation), but kept him from following us off-course.

We made it through the battlefield, into the town, and to the 7-11 control at mile 81. Lane and Bennett and Maile and Mark were there, and Chris and I went through the control fast enough to leave with them. We just had to circle through the battlefield for a couple more info controls, then ride about 40 miles of mostly downhill back to Frederick, with a group of 6 to provide a draft. Perfect.

The little stretch through the town back to the battlefield was fine, with no traffic problems. Our group was split by a red light but we got back together. We eventually found the Virginia Memorial and wrote down the answer to the question of how much the fine was for defacing the memorial. ($500.) Then we continued on toward the next info control at Auto Stop 7, when the dark skies that had been threatening us all day erupted. It went from dry to ridiculous in about two minutes. We got 35 mph side gusts that required serious leaning to stay upright, sheets of water coming between the trees, big drops that really hurt when they hit you in the eye, falling branches, etc. It would have made sense to seek shelter, but there really wasn't any, so we just kept going. Eventually we found Auto Stop 7 and stopped to find the answer (the attack started at 4 p.m.), but nobody wanted to soak their brevet cards writing it down, so we just decided to remember it. While we were stopped I turned on all my lights and put on my reflective vest and cycling cap. I needed to flip my cue sheet, but it would have gotten soaked, so I decided to not bother until the rain stopped and just let someone else navigate.

We continued through the heavy rain and debris, and got a bit of thunder and lightning, and then the worst of the storm was past and the rain diminished from painful to merely wet. Most of us didn't have fenders (and Lane's bike with fenders lacked a flap), so drafting meant taking a stream of water off another bike's wheel in the face, so our formation loosened up and our speed diminished. Mark eventually went off the front, and Maile (who had ridden a 1200 the week before and wasn't quite recovered) started slowing down. I decided to slow down to Maile's pace to preserve my legs for next week's 400. We missed one turn, but otherwise the rest of the ride was pretty easy. Except for the short steep hill on Ball Road at mile 125, right near the finish.

We finished in 9:38, and I ate way too much post-ride pizza. I had done the ride on about a gallon of Gatorade plus one Gu packet, one Crunch bar, and one bag of Pretzel M&Ms, probably not enough calories. Not the fastest time, but considering the weather and the deliberate slow-down for the last 20 miles, I was happy with it. Good enough to do the 400 next weekend, anyway.

Gear review #1: my little cycling cap fits under my helmet and has enough of a visor to keep some of the rain out of my eyes. (Not as much as a baseball cap, but my baseball caps aren't very compatible with my helmet.) It was less than $5 at Nashbar. Glad I brought it. I really should just buy a MTB helmet with a visor, though, so there's one less thing to remember to pack.

Gear review #2: my brevet card and cue sheet were both dry at the end of the ride. The card was in my Ortlieb handlebar bag and the sheet was in my Ortlieb cue sheet holder. "Ortlieb" is apparently German for "waterproof." Many of the other riders had soaked brevet cards, so I was pretty happy about this. (I almost got disqualified from the 400 two years ago, when my brevet card got so soaked that one signature that was done in water-based ink completely washed away. Luckily about ten people remembered seeing me at that control so they let it slide.)

Gear review #3: my shoes and socks were completely soaked at the end of the ride. My feet looked like prunes. (I was very happy that I had dry shoes in the car.) Maile was wearing Shimano cycling sandals (with no socks) and her feet were a lot happier than mine at the end of the ride. I'm not really a sandal person (they go with recumbents and gigantic beards, right?) but it's hard to argue with results: on a wet ride, drainage is nice.


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DC Randonneurs Many Rivers and Fords 600 km Brevet

A very brief history of my previous experience with 600 km brevets, in case you haven't memorized all my old ride reports:

In 2010 I rode the inaugural version of this brevet, and it reached 95 degrees on the first day, and I melted like an exceptionally wicked witch. Stan and I made it back to Warrenton about 3:30 a.m., and my hands and butt hurt so much I just couldn't bear to start riding again, let alone on very little sleep.

In 2011 I changed an excessively worn chain the night before the 600, not realizing that it had worn the cassette and chainrings to the point where a new chain would skip constantly, and quit in disgust about 20 miles into the ride.

So, basically, 0-for-2.

In 2012, I haven't had a good cycling year. I've already driven to work 5 times (after biking all 234 work days last year), I've gained back half the weight I lost last year (and feel it on every hill), and I've only taken two rides over 25 miles: a 200 km brevet and a 300 km brevet. I couldn't make myself ride the 400 with forecast temperatures in the 90s, two weeks after dehydrating myself on the 300. Yet I felt so lame after skipping it, I was compelled to at least attempt the 600.

My completely inadequate on-bike preparation complete, I turned to off-bike preparation. Most of that consisted of frantically checking the weather forecast every couple of hours, hoping it would be cooler. And I also registered for Twitter so that I could theoretically tell the rest of the club where I was at each control, in the unlikely event that I remembered how to type "#dcr600k" on a dumb phone where the '#' key does not actually make a '#' character. And because I'd run out of water on the recent 300, I brought two 33-ounce Zefal Magnum bottles full of Gatorade and a 70 ounce Camelbak almost full of water.

For my non-Randonneur American reader(s) (if any), 600 km is 372.8 miles. Unfortunately VDOT doesn't build roads with exact brevet distances in mind, so our route was 378.1 miles. There's a course map here.

I usually don't get a hotel room before a local ride, preferring to just get up way too early and drive to the start, but since I might not get to sleep much Saturday night, I figured getting an extra hour of sleep before the ride was worth the money. I dropped off my daughter at her grandparents' Friday night, stayed for dinner (carbo loading his been pretty thoroughly debunked in the scientific literature lately, but my Mom made both stuffing and mashed potatoes anyway), and got to the Hampton Inn around 6:30. I showed my lights and stylish reflective gear to the tech inspectors, signed some waivers, got my brevet card, and went upstairs to sleep. But of course I couldn't actually fall asleep at 7 p.m., so I watched the US national soccer team play Antigua and Barbuda, hoping for a boring blowout that would put me right to sleep. Unfortunately the game was more interesting than expected (though nowhere near as good as Poland vs. Greece earlier in the day), so I didn't fall asleep until about 10.

I set my alarm clock to 3:30, plenty of time to make it to the 4:00 start, since the commute was about 50 feet and the paperwork and my bike were all ready. Unfortunately, the hotel alarm clock didn't work. Fortunately, I woke up at 3:35 anyway. The hotel's complimentary hot breakfast didn't start until 6, so I ate a piece of bread with some peanut butter on it, made sure my bike worked, and listened to ride organizer Lynn's pre-ride spiel. She said we should start the second day's loop by 4 a.m. Saturday to avoid traffic and heat. Remembering two years ago when I barely got back to the hotel before 4 a.m., this sounded unlikely.

My plan at the start was to find a group that was going about 16-17 mph: fast enough to make some progress while I was fresh and there was no heat or traffic to worry about, but not fast enough to use much energy. And fast enough to maybe get in front of some strong riders who decided to take it slower at first, who I might end up riding with later. Surprisingly, all the fast people were being very conservative at the start, so the front group turned out to be slow enough for me. Except on the downhills: I'm a pretty cautious descender, especially in the dark, so I kept almost getting dropped on the downhills then pulling back up. At some point, Lothar (who's way, way, way faster than me but was sandbagging at the back of the group behind me, saving energy in preparation for taking off at warp speed and finishing the two-day ride in one day), pulled out and passed me, leaving me last in the group. He must have figured out that I was about to fall off the lead pack before I did, because five minutes later a big enough gap opened after a downhill that I realized resistance was futile, and let the front group go. It was mile 24, there were 10 riders in front of me and 20-some riders behind me, and it was just bright enough to read my cue sheet without a light.

With the group gone, my primary concern went from hanging on to navigation: 378 miles are quite enough and I didn't need any extra, thanks. My secondary concern was nutrition: don't forget to eat and drink early, potentially leading to dehydration or bonk later. My third concern was the Dog Alert mentioned on the cue sheet at mile 37. So I double-checked the cue sheet, drank a bunch of Gatorade even though I wasn't thirsty yet, and kept my eyes open for big mean fast uphill dogs. I didn't see any dogs, but I did see a huge (for a fox) red fox bounding across a field and the road and another field, well in front of me. Made me wish I carried a camera, but I know that if I tried to take pictures while riding I'd crash, and that if I stopped to take pictures I'd lose too much time, so I resist the urge to bring one. (I guess I could use a helmet-cam for the full-on Borg nerd effect, but I don't trust anything invented after 1995.)

I heard some riders coming up behind me, just as I saw a bunch of deer (still not dogs) off in a field beside the road. So I started giving deer alerts to riders who were probably still too far behind to actually hear what I was saying. Luckily the deer stayed off the road. The group eventually caught me and turned out to be Bill, Maile, Jose, George W., Rick, and Rick. I had ridden with all of them before except for one of the Ricks, but I didn't recognize the other Rick until I saw him with his helmet off at a control later in the day. George disappeared soon after; I guess the group was too fast for his liking. I thought this was also too fast a group for me to stick with long-term, but I could ride with them for a while and cover some extra miles before it got hot.

A few miles later, we went down a hill fast with Bill leading and me second, and a deer jumped out of the woods and ran across the road in front of Bill. It looked really close to me, but he told me it wasn't that close, so I must have been the victim of parallax or Phantom Dog Alert Fever or something. Luckily that deer didn't have any friends following it to collect us, and we rolled into the 53 mile control at Wolftown Mercantile without incident. Ed and Mary were still there, but the rest of the front group that had dropped me had just left. I was pretty happy with my pace, but then I'm always still irrationally happy 53 miles into a ride. Woo-hoo, almost 20% done and not even in pain yet.

I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, so I ate a Gu packet. (Mmmm, caffeinated sugary goop with artificial flavors.) I also bought more Gatorade, refilled my bottles, and forced myself to drink the rest. It was full daylight, so I turned off my lights and stowed my reflective gear and my arm warmers (which had been rolled down to wrist warmers for about 40 miles), and left with the same group a few minutes later. Since there were at least 3 Professional Randonneurs in the group (Bill's done multiple 1200s, Maile had ridden a 600 the previous weekend, one of the Ricks had done freaking RAAM, etc.) I figured I had no navigational or pace-setting responsibilities and just needed to keep eating, keep drinking, and avoid crashing until this group dropped me and I had to start thinking for myself again. At one point one of the Ricks dropped us all and I thought he was gone for good, but then we caught him again later. Traffic was light, it wasn't too hot yet, and we reached the 96 mile control at Plank Road Exchange in Batesville and sat down for lunch. I had an excellent sandwich and some ice cream. It was a very nice place to stop: good food, good service, clean bathroom, etc. Highly recommended if you're ever in that remote corner of Virginia.

Almost a century in, and nothing hurt at all. There was another Dog Alert on the cue sheet at mile 107, but again no dogs. It started to warm up (the high was 88 Saturday) and I started getting a wee bit tired. One of the Ricks slipped off the back, and then we reached the first big nasty hill of the ride, around mile 122 near Howardsville. I went up the hill at 3-4 mph and everyone else went up at skinny cyclist speed and dropped me. Normally that would be the last I'd see of the group, but there was a control right after that hill, which let me catch back up. We dawdled a bit at the store and Rick rejoined us, then I decided to change my gloves for clean ones right as everyone else left, so I had to chase for a bit. I was fine for about 10 more miles after that, then the heat started to take its toll and I started falling off the back of the group. I fought it for a while, falling off on uphills and catching up on downhills, but then I started slipping behind on the flats too, and decided to let the group go around the 135 mile mark, slow down to a pace I could comfortably sustain (only 13 mph), and force myself to eat and drink a lot in case I was dehydrated or bonked rather than just hot and tired.

I remembered a grocery store in Palmyra at the 151 mile mark, and decided I'd stop there to replace my warm water and Gatorade with ice water and cold Gatorade, and maybe eat something salty. But then I saw the group that had dropped me off on the side of the road with Dave S. and a cooler. We had been gifted a rest stop with cold water, Coke, and chips. Maile asked if I wanted them to wait for me, but I didn't think was recovered enough to match their speed, so I told them to go ahead. I spent about 15 minutes in the shade, which helped a bit, and then headed for the Louisa dinner control at slightly better speed (14 mph). No other riders caught up while I was there, so even though I was feeling slow and tired, at least I knew I was still in the middle of the pack not the rear.

I pulled into Louisa at dinnertime. Maile had said they'd probably be at Roma, and Italian is good bike food, so I checked there. I saw Bill's bike and Ed and Mary's tandem, but none of the rest. Turns out Bill had gone off the front of the group to catch the tandem, while the rest had decided to eat somewhere quicker. I got a way-too-big steak and cheese sandwich and managed to eat most of it, then (eventually) left following Ed and Mary and Bill. I didn't think I'd be able to stick to them for long, but every mile I could draft them 17 mph was a mile I wouldn't have to ride at 14 mph, which would get me to sleep earlier. (I was way too tired to do the actual math, but I understood the general concept.)

The next few hours are kind of a blur in my memory. We proceeded with the tandem in front, then Bill, then me bringing up the rear. Tandems go really fast downhill (even faster than fat cyclists), not quite so fast uphill. My body wanted to go 13-14 mph with a lot of coasting, but my mind wanted to stick to the faster riders as long as possible so I could finish faster so I could go to sleep earlier. And also so I could avoid having to navigate at night while tired and take a very very wrong turn and end up as an extra in Deliverance 2: Electric Banjoloo. I was afraid to draft Bill too closely out of fear that I was too tired to avoid hitting his wheel, so I wasn't saving as much energy as usual from the draft. But I just kept telling myself that I had to stick to the insanely fast cruel taskmaster wheels ahead for ten more miles, then I could drop off and ride slowly and coast the downhills. I asked if we could stop at Bakers Store at mile 202 (25 miles into the ordeal) to turn off our lights and put on our reflective gear and refill our bottles (and so that my legs could be blissfully free of having to push for five minutes, though I didn't say that part out loud) and Mary agreed as long as that was our only stop. Of course I was free to stop as much as I wanted after I dropped off the back, which I figured would be pretty soon, so I was happy with that and ate and drank and refilled and was just about to flip my cue sheet when the tandem started rolling. Oh well, I don't need to navigate, just pedal.

A few minutes later it got dark. Unfortunately, it didn't cool off right away, but it did eventually. I kept checking my odometer periodically to see when my ten-mile torture interval was up and I'd let myself fall off the group and proceed at a more reasonable pace. But whenever the ten miles were up, I somehow decided to re-enlist in the chain gang for another ten miles. All my pressure points were hurting, and I just wanted to be off the bike. I never saw the last page of Saturday's cue sheet, because we never stopped so I could flip it. I hoped every light would be red so that I could have a little break, and luckily most of them were. (One of them had a sensor that wouldn't detect our bikes at all, so we had to treat it as a stop sign and run it when it was clear. I was kind of tempted to suggest that we wait there until a car came up behind us to trip it, hopefully in an hour or two, but I figured that wouldn't go over well.) At some point I realized that I'd stopped eating and drinking and that this was a very bad idea, so I forced myself to choke down some warm Gatorade and eat half a Clif Bar. I think this is the first time I ever only ate half of a Clif Bar, but some wildlife probably appreciated the other half. But, even though I really really didn't want any food, I think it was just enough to keep the bonk away.

We went through Brandy Station and Elkwood and Remington and then, finally, through Ye Olde Historic Downtowne Warrenton and down a screaming descent toward the hotel. Somehow I'd managed to hang on to the back of the pain train for 65 miles. We got to the hotel around 11. If I'd ridden alone from Louisa I probably would have got there around 12:30 or 1. So Ed and Mary and Bill probably got me at least an extra hour of sleep. Thanks guys. I was just happy to be done.

I got my card signed at the front desk, went up to my room, showered, remembered my alarm clock didn't work, and hit the "wake up call" button on the hotel phone. That didn't work either; it sent me to voice mail. So I dialed the front desk instead and asked for a 4:30 wake up call. I felt bad enough that I didn't know if 5.5 hours would be enough, but I was pretty sure that less would not, and waking up then going back to bed would just decrease the total amount of rest I got.

It was a very weird night's sleep. I was exhausted enough that I should have slept like a rock, but instead I woke up periodically with a weird recurring dream that I no longer remember. When the phone rang at 4:30 I got up and thought about whether to actually get going, or sleep some more. I felt a lot better, but was moving in slow motion, so it took me until 5:15 to get the bike and car packed and get on the road. I spent a while rereading the cue sheet and looking at gaps between controls and thinking about ditching the Camelbak, but there was a long stretch in the afternoon heat that had me worried so I wore it, but decided not to fill it up until the second control. The one nice part about such a late start was that it was already getting light, so while I needed the headlight and taillights and reflective gear for safety, I could leave my cue-sheet reading light in the car.

I hadn't coordinated start times with anyone, and when I started there were no other cyclists in sight. I didn't know if I was behind the entire field, or just most of them. But I was feeling surprisingly good. The sleep plus cool temperatures plus enough time for my digestion to sort itself out had me flying along the flats at 15-16 mph. Not exactly fast, but way faster than I thought I'd be doing after 240 miles. The first control at the Garrisonville 7-11 at mile 265 (25 miles from the hotel) had a closing time of 8:28, and I got there around 7:15. Better yet, there were a whole bunch of riders there when I arrived, so I wasn't that far off the back. And John Z. arrived after me, so I wasn't even quite the last to leave the hotel. I didn't get through the control quite fast enough to leave with the big herd, but I resolved to push a bit while it was cool and try to catch up with Nick, who I knew had a precisely calculated schedule that would get him to the end within the time limit. So as long as I was with him or ahead of him, I too would get to the end within the time limit, without doing any of my own math.

I caught and passed David J. before the next control. He looked pretty good, but he was behind Nick (and therefore not going fast enough to be guaranteed to finish in time) so I kept going and he didn't speed up to join me. I caught a big horde of riders at the 284-mile control at a 7-11 somewhere in a newly-yuppified area of Stafford County a few miles outside Fredericksburg, near the Leeland Station commuter train stop. I went through the control pretty fast and left before many of the riders who were there before me, the classic "passing in the pits" maneuver. Then I headed across the Rappahannock and through Fredericksburg, where we had a whole lot of turns packed close together. Luckily traffic was light and I managed to get out of town toward the battlefield park without getting lost or hit by a bus.

The road surface in Fredericksburg Battlefield Park is rough pavement with loose stones sprinkled on top. I'm not sure if this is some kind of low-bidder federal government thing, or if they actually hate road cyclists, but it's just awful to ride on with 25mm tires. It saps your energy, and the lack of traction is a bit scary on every downhill. The park is quite nice otherwise, shady and low-traffic. I got to the information control, and George M. was there, resting. I lent him my pen to fill out his card because he couldn't find his, and then I headed out. The route took the battlefield road until it dead-ended at a barrier, then went off-road down some singletrack. Now, we have our share of gravel roads on brevets, but actual singletrack was a first. It wasn't difficult singletrack, mind you; if I were on a mountain bike with fat tires and suspension and didn't have 295 miles worth of pain in my butt I might even call it leisurely beginner-friendly singletrack, but I was on a road bike and my butt wasn't in the mood for any hard bumps, so I took it really really slowly. (I didn't get off and walk, though. A man has to have standards.)

After a fifth of a mile of off-roading the route went back onto pavement, toward Caroline County. After leaving the shady park, the sunny roads were quite hot, and I was back into hating being on my bike mode. But I was near mile 300, and also near the halfway point of the second day's riding, so there was no point in turning around. I just kept doing math to make myself feel better "only 80 miles to go" or "80% done with the brevet" or "only 75 miles until I get to yell at Lynn for making me ride singletrack on my road bike." There was another information control at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, which featured a bathroom and water fountain. (And I got to write down the number of some regiment to prove I'd been there.) Then I got to ride a particularly bad 5 miles on VA 408 toward Spotsylvania Courthouse, with lots of traffic blowing by. My mood was getting surly enough that I feared I was dehydrating or bonking or heat exhausting, but I really didn't have much appetite. Luckily the control was coming up because I really needed a break.

I got confused about where I wanted to stop and ended up overshooting the Valero Fasmart at mile 317 a bit and pushing my bike back down the shoulder. It was a slightly faster crowd than the one I'd seen earlier in the day: Lloyd and Chris M. and John and Cindy on their tandem. All were leaving before me, and all left me free water and ice. I remembered to get a receipt since it was an open control, and drank a vile (but very cold) blue Slush Puppy, and ate something, and stood in the shade, and saw just how much free ice I could cram into my Camelbak, and my mouth, and my helmet. Basically I played with ice for about ten minutes, until the next riders (George W. and Mike W.) came up. Then I grudgingly let them have the rest of the precious ice (I seriously considered buying more bags of ice and swimming in them until they melted then repeating until someone called the cops; I guess I was kind of warm), and got back on my bike.

After leaving the wonderful oasis of Fasmart, I returned to the nasty road with too many cars and not enough shade. But at least I had ice in my Camelbak, which meant that my reward for sucking down warm plasticky-tasting water for a couple of seconds was tooth-freezing ice cold water for as long as I wanted. (Until it finally ran out, but then I had two big bottles of Gatorade to keep me from spontaneously combusting until I could find more ice.) I slowly rode along thinking about ice until George caught me from behind. We couldn't really talk because there was so much traffic, and then he pulled off into the park to get water, so I was alone again. I continued alone for a while longer and then George caught me again at a red light. Clearly I wasn't going very fast if I kept getting caught from behind, but at least I was moving. We got onto less busy roads so we could chat a bit, which distracted me from how miserable I felt. We stopped again at Myers Grocery at mile 343, and I got more free ice (left by an unknown previous rider) plus a Coke and some ice cream bars and a few minutes in the shade. I think that finally helped me recover, and I was a bit more clear-headed for the rest of the day. My hands and my saddle area hurt, but my legs and my stomach were fine.

We went down familiar roads past Kellys Ford and toward Warrenton. A truck carrying a wide load of straw bales passed George way too close (I think the driver probably didn't realize how wide his load was, rather than doing it on purpose, but that's no excuse) but didn't quite hit him. The last part of the ride was pretty hilly. I had more left in my legs than George, but he had more left in his brain than me, so I mostly stayed behind him so he could navigate. I had no appetite but forced myself to eat a Gu packet about 10 miles from the end, because bonking on the last hill would be embarrassing. We ran into Roger running an informal water stop a few miles from the finish, but we had enough water, so we chatted a bit then took off. The last few miles of the course were quite hilly and there was one last information control just in case we hadn't scribbled enough, then we were into Warrenton. We finished at 6:16 p.m., almost two hours ahead of the limit. A big group came in 45 minutes behind us, making it by an hour — that was probably Nick's exact planned schedule. I'd had no appetite for the last few couple hours of the ride, but a few minutes after stopping I was recovered enough to eat a slice of pizza.

Thanks to Lynn and her crew of excellent volunteers for running the ride, to everyone who rode with me, and to everyone who left ice behind for slower riders.

My reward for finishing the 600 is that I have to ride a fall 400 to get a Super Randonneur series in this year. I'll probably do Matt Settle's new ROMA fall 400 route in September, with a fallback option of the North Carolina 400 in early October.

Stuff to remember for next year's 600:

Don't ride 600 km in 90 degree weather at 215 pounds. If I'd been 20 pounds lighter (like I was for last year's 600), I would have finished a lot stronger. If it had been 5 degrees hotter (like it was two years ago), I probably wouldn't have finished at all. It's nice to climb faster, but not dying in the heat is a much more important reason to lose the extra insulation.

Get a haircut before a long hot ride. As short as possible without needing to worry about sunburn. (I do not like sunscreen above the eyes. It burns!) This helps with heat and avoids those embarrassing helmet hair photos.

Buy another white jersey. Okay, I'll admit I haven't actually covered myself in temperature sensors and measured the difference, but I'm convinced that the white jersey and white helmet help a bit.

Bring the Camelbak, but don't start the ride with it full. Fill it up around 11 a.m. to avoid carrying 4 unnecessary pounds on your back all morning. (Make a note on the cue sheet so you don't forget to fill it.)

Two alarm clocks.

Try Desitin for the sweat-induced skin irritation. (I did this 600 with no skin goop at all. I usually use Lantiseptic, which helps with the kind of abrasion you get from rubbing back and forth across your saddle, but not so much with sweat-induced problems.)

The extra pair of gloves was a good idea. Next year, go with even more spare gloves, and also try changing shorts halfway through each day. Clothes are light.


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DC Randonneurs Frederick 300 km Brevet

The Frederick 300 is a pretty easy route by DC Randonneurs' standards. Only about 10000 feet of climbing spread over 300 km, with most of it in two climbs in the first half of the route, while riders should still be fresh and before it gets hot. It was a very difficult ride in 2010 with 30 mph headwinds, but with normal weather it's pretty easy.

But 300 km is long enough that even an easy ride can be hard if you do it wrong.

I volunteered to help with registration, so I needed to be at the IHOP in Frederick by 4 a.m., an hour ahead of the 5 a.m. start. My GPS got a bit confused about exactly where the IHOP was, and I accidentally got on I-270 while circling the area looking for it, so I ended up not getting there until 4:20. Luckily we had enough volunteers that my tardiness didn't screw things up too much.

34 riders showed up, a decent turnout for a 300 but a bit disappointing considering the excellent weather forecast.  It was pretty chilly at the start, 42 according to the National Weather Service, so I turned up dressed almost for winter (balaclava, tights, heavy jersey, lobster claws), while half the field showed up in shorts. Starting early in the morning makes maximum use of daylight, but it also means we have to endure maximum temperature swings.

We had a pretty fast group at the start as we rode through deserted downtown Frederick. With no car traffic at all, it was safe to swarm the road in a big pack. I rode near the front for a while, then gradually drifted back, and completely let the front group go around 9 miles in, when I started to get warm. It was already starting to get light by then, so I stopped for a second to take off my balaclava and helmet light. I got a bit confused by the cue sheet at the turn onto Hansonville, and waited a minute for another rider to demonstrate which way to go. It was Rudy, and I figured he knew where he was going, so I followed him.

Joel and Sue on the tandem caught us a few minutes later, and we rode together until the first climb through Catoctin Mountain Park. It's not a very steep climb, but it goes on for a long time, with some descents thrown in so you get to do some of it twice. I rode away from the others, but then they all caught me a bit later. When you're getting caught by a tandem uphill, you know your climbing legs aren't there. Actually, my legs felt great early in the ride. It's just that I was carrying 20 extra pounds of winter flab and 5 extra pounds of winter clothes, so my power-to-weight ratio was pretty bad.

The tandem predictably got away on the downhill, as did Rudy, so I rode alone into the first control at mile 31. (Surprisingly, we hadn't had the traditional secret control before then, to make sure that nobody rode around the mountain rather than over it.) I ate a Clif Bar and bought a bottle of Gatorade.

The next few miles were pretty benign, until the short climb up Jack's Mountain Road on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. I got a bit confused at one of the turns and spent a couple of minutes making Really Sure I was going the right way. (I was.)  I saw Jose take a wrong turn a few minutes later, and yelled to get him back on course.  The blind leading the blind…

I rode with Jose up to the secret control around mile 52, right before the climb up the easy side of Big Flat in Michaux State Forest.  George and George, manning the control, had food and drinks, so I grabbed a banana.  I also put on sunscreen.  Unfortunately, I didn't manage to apply the stick sunscreen everywhere, which would later lead to weird streaks of sunburn on my right arm and leg.  (Next time I'll bring proper liquid sunscreen.)  After the control, I followed Jose up the beginning of Big Flat.  I was feeling fine but really slow on the fairly steep climb — around 4 mph.  We turned onto Shippensburg Road for the steeper part of the climb, and I was down around 3 mph.  Jose disappeared up the hill.  I passed Duncan while he was resting, but then I stopped to pee and he passed me back, and I followed him down the long descent into Shippensburg.  Done with the two big hills but not yet halfway through the ride, I was still feeling good, but not happy with my slow climbing.

We stopped at the Sheets in Shippensburg, and I got more Gatorade and some candy bars.  (Sheets has decent sandwiches but I wasn't hungry enough for real food.)  After the control came a reasonably flat section through cow country.  Jose caught me again, and we had an unexpected mile of newly-dumped loose gravel, but took it carefully and didn't have any problems.  Mud Level Road gets kind of gross when it's wet, but it was dry so it was dusty instead of muddy.  I ended up at the front of a long loose train of riders, and when I missed the right turn onto Burgners Mill at mile 92, about 5 people followed me.  I was watching my computer and realized pretty quickly that I was over mileage, so I turned the train around and got everyone going the right way, but I thought it was funny that all these people were trusting me to go the right way rather than watching their own cue sheets.

We rolled into another control at the UniMart in Plainfield, and I got more Gatorade.  Joel was having problems with his tandem's front wheel and asked if I had a spoke wrench.  I did, and I knew how to use it, so I trued up his front wheel a bit.  With a 35-mile gap between controls I forced myself to drink more than I wanted then fill both bottles to the top.  Still feeling fine at the halfway point, at least on the flat bits.  I was eating and drinking enough, the bike was working fine, and I'd only made one navigation error (plus two brief stops to make sure I wasn't lost).  During that long, boring 35-mile slow I started to get tired, and a bit uncomfortable in my contact points, and slowed down a bit.  A few riders passed me, but I was still making halfway-respectable speed when I rolled alone into Rocco's Pizza in East Berlin (no, not that one) at mile 128.

I had two pieces of pepperoni pizza, but was in a hurry to leave and somehow forgot to fill my bottles.  Joel's wheel was still not right so I spent more time adjusting spoke tension, and then left following Joel and Sue so that I could do more fixes if needed.  There was a 7-11 at mile 136, but I didn't realize I was low on fluids and didn't think to stop.  And then there wasn't another store until mile 169.  Oops.

Running out of water is just about the dumbest thing you can do on a long ride, especially when it's hot.  (It was in the low 80s, not super-hot, but hot enough that you want to keep drinking.)  I ran out of liquid around mile 150.  Sue ran out around mile 155.  We ended up stopping at a house near Emmittsburg and begging for water.  The nice lady there filled our bottles, but I really should have begged for water much sooner, as I was pretty dry by that point.  My speed started to suffer and I could no longer stick to the tandem, even though Joel and Sue weren't going super-fast either.  But with my bottles full again I knew I'd make it to Frederick eventually.  At our slower pace, we weren't sure if we'd finish before night.  Sue didn't have a cue-sheet-reading light, so the plan was to stick together so I could navigate.  So I tried to keep up, but I just couldn't go faster than 12-13 mph.  I figured if it got dark they'd have to stop until I caught up.

As I pulled onto the main drag in Thurmont I heard Joel yell from the first gas station parking lot.  They had stopped to reprovision.  I had drunk all my water in an attempt to re-hydrate, knowing I was really close to Thurmont where I could get more, and I bought a whole bunch of Gatorade plus various anti-health food and tried to refuel for the last 20 miles.  Barry and Jose caught up while we were at the gas station, and after a break the five of us put on our reflective stuff, turned on our lights, and left together.  I tried to stick to the end of the train, but just couldn't.  Knowing that Joel and Sue had someone else to follow, I let myself get dropped and just concentrated on drinking as often as possible and not getting lost.  I got to the Frederick IHOP at 8:53 p.m., just after full dark, 11 minutes behind the people I left Thurmont with.  Some of the same volunteers who'd been there at 4 a.m. were back; that's a long time to spend in an IHOP.

The moral of the story?  Don't run out of water.  Dehydration is bad.  If I'd stopped at the 7-11 at mile 136, I would have been fine.  If I'd stopped at a house to beg for water sooner, I would have been fine.  If I'd brought the Camelbak, I would have been fine.  But I didn't do any of those things, so I finished really slowly.  (If we hadn't begged for water at the house in Emmitsburg, I may not have finished at all.)

Things to change before the 400: review the cue sheet carefully to check distances between controls.  If more than 30 miles, bring the Camelbak.  If the forecast predicts hot weather, bring the Camelbak.  Swap out the 24-ounce Polar bottles for the 1-liter Zefal Magnum bottles.  Hope it's warm enough at the start that I don't need to carry a bag full of winter clothes.


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Product Review: Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Stick

I rode a 200 km brevet in March, and forgot to put on sunscreen. Normally sunburn is not such a problem in winter, due to being covered up against the cold, but it was a warm day and I burned my arms and legs.

Yesterday, I rode a 300 km brevet, and packed some Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Stick that my wife bought me. It looks like a jumbo-size ChapStick. It's a solid, like ChapStick or a solid anti-perspirent. From the perspective of being able to leave it in a bike bag and not have to worry about it making a mess, it's a fantastic product.

Unfortunately, from the perspective of protection from sunburn, it's crap. Oh, it actually works, where you manage to apply it. But because it's a solid, it only protects exactly where you put it. It doesn't spread out and cover everywhere, like a liquid sunscreen or spray. So today I have pink tribal tattoos of sunburn all over my arms and legs, wherever I missed a spot.

I guess you could call this user error, but in practice people applying sunscreen in the middle of a long bike ride aren't sitting in front of a full-length mirror and being meticulous. We want to slather it on and get moving again. So I recommend avoiding this product and sticking with the traditional liquid version.

Though it might have some value, as a backup sunscreen that you leave in a bag (since you don't have to worry about it leaking) and use in emergencies, when you forgot to bring better sunscreen.


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DC Randonneurs Wilderness Campaign 200 km brevet

The 200 km Wilderness Campaign route through some Virginia Civil War battlefields (Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville) had been a popular permanent, but this was the first time it was run as a brevet. 30+ riders showed up, not bad for March. The weather was forecast to be unseasonably nice, which didn't hurt.

I hadn't done a long ride since early December, and I'd been traveling in California last week without a bike, so I didn't even have my usual 125 miles of weekly commuting to build on. So I was a bit worried that I'd show up but my legs wouldn't. Luckily it was only 200 km, so I figured I'd be okay as long as I didn't do anything completely stupid.

The start was at a Caribou Coffee in Bristow VA, a few miles southwest of Manassas. When I was a kid, Bristow was all farms. Now it's an exurb, and there's been so much new construction lately that my older GPS didn't know half the roads and kept getting confused and thinking I was off-roading. I hadn't actually printed out directions or anything, relying on the GPS, so I was a bit worried about missing the start, but I eventually found some roads that were older than my GPS and made it to the start with about 15 minutes to spare. I was pre-registered, so I was ready to go in plenty of time.

It was about 45 F at the start, cold enough that I had tights and a balaclava and a long-sleeve jersey, over the summer clothes I'd need later in the day. (There were a few he-men who wore shorts from the start, but I would rather carry a bag to stuff my tights in than have a lighter bike but frozen knees.) I started off near the front, behind the usual leaders Greg and Andrea. The lack of hills near the start, plus the slower than usual pace of about 18 mph, meant that almost the whole pack stayed together for the first 20 miles. A few cars had a very hard time passing the gigantic group (partly due to people not getting single-file quickly enough, but mostly due to the sheer length of the line combined with twisty roads), and one of them buzzed us unsafely close when he finally got by, so I decided to play safety cop and try to split things up.

I went off the front hard, not actually thinking I could actually stay there for long (not with Greg and Andrea and Chip chasing), but to try to drop the slower half of the pack off the back. I only managed to break away for a little while before Chip caught me, but then we hammered up there together for a couple of miles, until I looked back and there were only about a dozen riders left. Mission accomplished. At that point I was hot and worried my legs wouldn't last much longer, so I dropped back to the newly formed second group to chat. But with the morning rapidly warming, the brief exertion had me sweating hard, and the first control wasn't for over 20 more miles, so I decided to stop and strip.

After taking off the balaclava and heavy jersey, putting my ugly fluorescent green reflective vest back on in honor of St. Patrick's Day, and unwrapping a Clif Bar, I resumed riding, alone and at a much saner pace. I didn't see anyone from the two groups ahead until the first control in Locust Grove at mile 48. I did, however, encounter an old lady in a Suburban, who rolled down her window at a traffic light to tell me that it really wasn't safe to be riding a bike on these roads and that I'd probably be killed. (This was on a road that was fairly low-traffic that was actually signed as a designated bike route.) Sigh.

At the first control I got my card signed, bought a bottle of Gatorade to refill the one I'd finished (the other bottle was still full), ate a vanilla Gu packet, and got right back on the bike, "passing" a bunch of riders who were taking an extended break. (It takes hard work and athletic ability to ride hard, but anyone can go through a control fast, even me.) I rode alone down busy Route 20 (which annoyingly alternated between a decent half-shoulder, an insufficient quarter-shoulder, and no shoulder at all) until the entrance to Spotsylvania Battlefield.

Spotsylvania Battlefield is a very nice place to ride. The roads had a bunch of pedestrians but very few cars. (Unlike, say, Gettysburg, which is swarmed with cars, most of whose drivers are paying more attention to the memorials than the road.) The signage isn't so great, though, so it's a challenge to stay on course. And some of the roads are one-way, so if you do go off course it's a problem. I somehow managed not to make any wrong turns, and came out of the battlefield onto busy VA 208, then made it across two lanes of fast traffic to the left turn lane leading into Spotsylvania at mile 68, a bit more than halfway through the ride.

Spotsylvania was an open control, meaning we could eat wherever we wanted, but I didn't know the town so I just stopped at the 7-11. The cue sheet said "no services for 37 miles" so I bought two big bottles of Gatorade, filled both my bottles to the brim, and forced myself to drink all the rest. I also bought an Italian sub, which was pretty good by 7-11 standards. Once again I "passed" several riders who were resting at the control, as part of my goal to make up for slow riding with fast stops. (It doesn't really matter for a 200, but I'm planning ahead for the 600, where every minute I waste during the day is a minute I don't get to sleep that night.) By then it was downright warm, so I took off my tights and wool socks and vest and was down to just summer bike clothes. (At that point I also should have put on sunblock, but I didn't think of it, since my brain was still in winter mode.)

After leaving Spotsylvania I rode another 10 miles to Chancellorsville Battlefield, paying close attention to my liquid consumption to avoid running dry before the 37 miles were up. Over-drinking at the 7-11 seemed to help, as I wasn't thirsty yet even thought it was getting warm, but I did have to stop to water some trees. There was a nice long stretch on Elys Ford Road, then some less nice bumpy descents, and then I passed the Inn at Kelly's Ford (which is technically services within 37 miles, but since it's a fairly spiffy restaurant it's maybe not appropriate to just run in to grab water), and finally missed the right turn onto 620 despite the cue sheet marking it as easy to miss. Fortunately I realized I'd missed it after only about a tenth of a mile, no big deal.

By mile 100 my arms (not my legs!) were aching. I was switching hand positions constantly but it didn't help much. I'm starting to understand the appeal of R-12 — by forcing yourself to ride a 200 every month, you never need to do a get-back-in-shape 200 where something invariably hurts. I still had half a bottle left, so I was able to skip the first couple of stores and make it to the mile 112 control in Bristerburg. Three riders caught me within sight of the control, and I rode in right behind them. With only 17 miles left, I bought two small bottles of Gatorade to refill my bottles, figuring I probably wouldn't finish them but better safe than sorry. Then I left quickly, with the goal of not being caught again until the end.

The last 17 miles hurt. I was having a hard time maintaining even 16 mph, despite the lack of significant hills or wind. Another cyclist (unaffiliated with our group) and I approached the red light at Route 28 and Fitzwater Road from opposite sides, and signed our displeasure that neither of our bikes set off its sensors. It would have been legal for either of us to treat the defective signal as a stop sign and proceed, but visibility isn't great there and traffic on 28 is sometimes very fast, so we waited for a couple of minutes until a car came up behind me and tripped the sensor. I was sure the three riders who I'd left at the last control would catch me at the light, but they didn't, and I rode the last 5 miles with horse-approaching barn speed (okay, very-tired-old-nag-approaching-barn speed) in an attempt to finish in less than 9 hours and not get caught again. I finished in 8:57, pretty slow for this very easy 200, but good enough.

Lessons learned? Do more long rides in the winter, to keep from losing my endurance before spring brevet season. Break up and/or get out of 20+ rider packs in populated areas earlier, for everyone's safety. Buy some 32-ounce water bottles and bring them the next time there are 37 miles between services. (I have a Camelbak, but I hate riding with one on my back, and it was March so I didn't think I'd need it.) Always bring sunscreen, even in March. (I'm a bit pink today.)


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DC Randonneurs Woodbine Wallop 200 km brevet

The last couple of 200ks were routine enough that I didn't bother writing ride reports. But I'll summarize before I forget what happened.

North by Northwest was a new brevet based on an existing permanent route, and only featured two hard climbs, a rarity for that area of Maryland and Pennsylvania. We got a pretty small field for such a nice route on a nice day, only about 22 riders. I rode up front with no-cue-sheet Jeff and Dave from SPP until the first big climb when I got dropped, and ended up finishing behind those two and Matt from PA. I rode in alongside Bill at the front of the non-mountain-goat category. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that I couldn't climb with the lighter guys.

And the Flatbread 200 was flat and windy as usual. We had a huge field, over 70 riders. I rode up front with Greg and Andrea and Mark V., and Dave and Bryan from SPP, until the Delaware border, when I realized that 20 mph into a headwind just wasn't something I could sustain all day. Plus I really needed to eat (I never remember to eat while sucking wind that hard) and find a bathroom. (Not nearly enough woods or cornfields in Delaware.) I ended up dropping way back and finishing an hour and a half behind the front group. Also, my brain was kind of fried and I missed a hard-to-miss turn. Luckily Ed and Mary on the tandem were close behind and yelled me back on course, and I followed their wheel for the last few miles. In hindsight, while chasing faster people is good exercise, I should have dropped off after 20 miles rather than 35.

And then I had a fun mechanical on a Crista century a couple of weeks ago. Just Riding Along on a small hill about halfway through the ride in the middle of nowhere, my back tire insta-flatted. I found that the wheel had actually cracked near the valve stem hole, and a sharp piece of the wheel had knifed through the tube. Luckily Chuck was close behind, and helped me fix it with duct tape and a tire boot to stiffen the broken rim, and I inflated it to only 55 psi to minimize stress on the rim and took a 29-mile shortcut and managed to make it back to the start in Warrenton without further problems. Didn't hit a significant bump or use my rear brake for the rest of the ride. I couldn't figure out my new cue sheet holder while stressing about my wheel, so I relied on new guy Mike from Google to lead the way, which he did flawlessly. The rim was a 2-year-old Velocity Aerohead OC with about 12000 miles on it. The consensus was that it was probably corroded from the inside from lots of rain riding. I'll try to replace my rims more often.

So I showed up for the hardest 200k of the year with a new rear wheel that had only done a few commutes. We only got about 15 riders, not too surprising for a very hilly ride on a 30-degree day that was forecast to be windy. At least it was dry so we didn't have to worry about snow or ice. Against my better judgment I started up front with Greg and Andrea and Chip and tall fast David, but I came to my senses and dropped off voluntarily on the second small hill about 8 miles in, rather than trying to stick to their speed until Mar-Lu Ridge at mile 37, when I would have definitely been dropped regardless. And, unlike Flatbread, this ride was hard enough that wasting energy chasing them could have rendered me unable to finish. I got passed by Bryan around mile 12 while I was taking it easy on a small descent with my untested wheel, then didn't see anyone else all day except at controls.

I was wearing a summer jersey and shorts, cotton and heavy wool socks, polypropylene long underwear top and bottom, thermal tights and my warmest winter jersey. Plus my Lake winter boots, a balaclava under my helmet, a reflective vest, and lobster claws. That was warm enough, except on fast descents where the wind went through all those layers. But if I'd had a jacket on top I would have got too sweaty everywhere but the descents, and constantly putting the jacket on and taking it off would have been too annoying, so I think I got it about right. I would have liked a warmer helmet, though, since my Bell has a zillion vents and fits too snugly to put a decent-sized hat underneath, so I ordered a Bern Brentwood winter bike helmet for the next cold ride.

At the first control at mile 26 I saw the 5 riders in front of me, and 2 or 3 of the riders behind me, and drank a chocolate milk. (It was cold enough that I should have had something hot, but I don't like coffee and didn't see any other quick hot options.) The wind was gradually picking up and was cold and right in our face. Mar-Lu Ridge came at mile 37 and it was as hard as usual. At least this time my derailleurs were correctly adjusted, so I had no problem getting into my 34×28 and staying there. The thing about Mar-Lu is that it's pretty steep most of the way up (4 mph for me, faster for the climbers), then gets steeper near the top (3 mph for me). And then there's a little notch and a second summit, though the little second climb is actually quite easy. There's a big descent down the back side, which I took mostly riding the brakes (to minimize the wind chill, and because I didn't fully trust my new wheel, but mostly because I'm a big wuss).

After Mar-Lu the course rolled for a few miles into Burkittsville and then up Gapland. Usually this part is easy, but today there was a huge headwind whipping through the valley so it was slow going. On many rides Gapland would be a feature climb, but after Mar-Lu it doesn't seem that bad, and the hill broke the wind. I stopped at the top to make sure I was going down the correct way (Townsend is the second right, not the first), then went down carefully. I remembered Townsend being bumpier; maybe they repaved it at some point.

The 15 miles from Gapland to Shepherdstown is usually a nice easy bit, but not riding alone with a big headwind. I kept looking down and seeing 12 mph. I had to pedal down hills that looked coastable. I just hoped the wind would be behind us on the way back. Crusing from Sharpsburg toward Shepherdstown I saw the lead foursome coming back the other way, probably 20 minutes ahead of me.

Shepherdstown Sweet Shop is the best control ever, because they have yummy food and clean bathrooms. I overshot it by a few feet, then turned back around and saw Bryan leaving as I arrived. I had some kind of strawberry danish (yummy) and a slice of chocolate torte (delicious) and a bottle of Nantucket Nectars lemonade (sickeningly sweet, like badly mixed Kool-Aid, with no real lemon flavor or tartness.) Mike, the next rider behind me, came in while I was about to leave, with RBA Bill and his camera trailing behind. Bill hadn't caught the lead riders with his camera, so I warned him of how far ahead they were. I refillied my water bottle (singular; I had only drank 28 ounces of Gatorade and a bottle of chocolate milk in 60 miles) and headed back toward Maryland. Well, actually I headed the wrong way, since I'd overshot on the way in reversing my path led to heading the wrong way, but I eventually got pointed the right way.

I made it all the way through Shepherdstown without any near-death experiences with the local bad drivers (college towns have the second-worst drivers in the country, after Florida). After the halfway point the wind was no longer in my face, though it was only a direct tailwind for a few wonderful miles. (We really need to figure out how to rig sails to bicycles so that we can benefit from the wind from more directions.) About ten miles of rollers led to Reno Monument Road and the worst climb of the ride. (Before the ride my opinion was that Mar-Lu was worse, but I'm changing it.) It was about noon and warming up a bit, so I stopped before the climb and took off my balaclava and my long underwear top and my reflective vest, and swapped my lobster claws for lighter gloves. Equipped to climb without roasting but probably to freeze on the descent, I did the first short steep bit and then the downhill, and thought I remembered Reno being longer than that. It is. The next part is brutal, winding up at 3 mph for a long way. Right before the top my heart rate hit about 180 and I decided to stop and catch my breath, the first time I've needed to stop on a climb in a while. I knew I was only about 50 yards from the summit, which made it worse. I stood there for a minute breathing slowly, then I drank half of my second bottle of Gatorade, then I rode up the rest of the hill. Getting started on the steep slope in my hard-to-clip-in winter boots wasn't easy, but once I got going the last bit wasn't hard in my newly rested state. I stopped again at the top to put my balaclava back on and zip up my jersey, and admired the bit of snow on the ground up there, then bombed down the descent for a bit, got scared by a blind curve and hit the brakes way harder than I meant to and almost went over the bars. That was the end of fast descents for the day, except for dead straight ones with the bottom fully visible and no cars in sight.

There was a 50-mile gap between controls so I was a bit tempted to stop in Middletown around mile 75, but I had a full bottle of water and a half bottle of Gatorade and some Gu and Clif Bars, so I kept going. Without the headwind I made a decent pace, around 15 mph, until the next big climb up the shoulder of US 40 and then up Shookstown Road. The cue sheet said the descent after Shookstown was twisty, and after my near-mishap on the previous descent I used a lot of brakes. The ride then wandered through a lot of familiar exurban roads around Frederick. A rider caught me from behind and I said hi, but he turned out to not be from our group, even though he had a bright orange reflective vest in broad daylight that was dorky enough to scream "randonneur." I dropped him on a little climb and then stopped to get some food out of my bag (embarrassingly, I can't open Clif Bar packages with gloves on while riding), and he passed me and then turned the wrong way onto Bloomfield Road. I almost yelled at him to get back on course, when I remembered he wasn't actually riding the brevet. (Good thing I didn't draft him, as it's illegal to draft people who aren't on the ride.)

Many of our rides end in Frederick, so I felt like I was heading for the barn, but there were actually 30 miles left. My new goal was to make it to the finish before dark, but I just didn't have much left after fighting the wind and hills. I went through the 7-11 at mile 111 fast, bought a bottle of Gatorade and a big Snickers, and ate them while some silly teenagers with especially stupid hair whined about not having enough money for all the cigarettes and lottery tickets and candy they wanted. Get off my lawn!

Just to be mean, the finishing stretch went over Buffalo Road. Not as bad as Reno or Mar-Lu, but still a pretty bad climb. I really had to pee and eventually found a stretch of woods out of sight of houses. It was approaching dusk so I put my reflective vest back on and turned on my lights. This made me safe and legal for after-dark riding, but my goal was still to finish before sunset. The sun went down when I was climbing Watersville Road, so I missed it by a few miles. It was too dark to easily see the street sign for Old Frederick Road and I hadn't put on my helmet light, but I eventually spotted the sign and made the last turn. From there it was a quick little ride into Pizza Hut in Woodbine. Volunteers Bill and Mike were there, but the five riders in front of me (four fast finishers and one DNF) were already gone. More pizza for me.

That was probably the hardest 200k I've done. My lungs were okay (except on the top of Reno) but my legs and lower back were beat. We had 2 DNFs out of 15 riders, one at the front (Went too hard and ran out of gas?) and one at the back (knew he couldn't make the time limit and shortcut his way home). Hills and wind and cold are a bad combination. In hindsight I should have slowed down a bit and waited for the next rider to catch me, to have a partner in the wind. But I didn't want to slow down, since I already felt like a slug. Probably exercise-induced testosterone poisoning.

Total climbing: somewhere over 10000 feet, depending on whose GPS you believe. Total food intake: 2 Clif Bars, 2 Gu, 88 ounces of Gatorade, 16 ounces of chocolate milk, 16 ounces of (vile) Nantucket Nectars lemonade, one strawberry danish, one slice chocolate torte, one large Snickers, and 3-4 slices of post-ride pizza. At the airport in Frederick they said the peak winds were 16 mph sustained with gusts to 22, but I think it was worse than that up in the mountains.

Goals for 2012: finish the 600 and get my weight down to 180 so I can go up hills faster. (Some people bike to lose weight; others lose weight to bike.)


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DC Randonneurs Cacapon 200km Brevet

This one went perfectly, so it'll be a short and boring ride report. (Except for the bear.)

I packed my stuff the night before, including putting my bike inside my car. (My old car, a BMW M3 sedan without fold-down rear seats, wouldn't hold my bike without totally taking it apart, so I had to use a trunk rack. And the car didn't fit in the garage with the bike on the trunk rack, so I had to wait until the morning of the ride. But my new car, a Honda Fit, can hold my bike without taking any wheels off. Pretty amazing for such a small car.) So all I had to do was wake up at 5 a.m. (yuck), eat some breakfast, and drive to Middletown VA. Got there around 6:30, well ahead of the 7 a.m. start, which gave me time to listen to some stories about Paris-Brest-Paris last month. It was around 50 degrees, but felt chillier than that since it was 90 on Wednesday, and I was decked out in tights and a long-sleeve jersey and wool socks and a bright green reflective vest with the zipper on the wrong side for a right-hander to draw his sword. (Oops, I got a girl's vest. Luckily, anyone that can tell is automatically less manly than me for knowing too much about fashion, so it's okay.)

We only got about 15 riders for this brevet, a pretty small turnout for DC Randonneurs. Probably because most of the people who rode PBP are still resting. As we rolled off, I noticed my speedometer wasn't working, so I had to stop and reseat it in its bracket, which meant I started next to last. (Roger didn't bring lights and waited a few more minutes to make sure the sun was totally up.) Honestly, starting at the back is probably smarter anyway since I've missed the second turn of this route not once but twice in the past. I started off slow, but after a few miles decided everyone around me was just moving too slowly, and started passing people. Pretty soon I was all the way in the front, next to George. We rode together for a while, until he noticed that others were creeping up behind us. I decided I didn't want to be caught, and took off. Most of the fast people didn't ride today, and the fast people that did ride weren't feeling fast today, so nobody caught me before the first control at 17 miles.

At the first control I drank a 20 ounce Cherry Coke, turned off my lights, and took off my long-sleeved jersey. About five riders caught me while I was there, and Kelly realized he forgot his tubes, so I lent him one. While I was doing all that, George out-controlled me and retook the lead. But I took off second and caught him after a few miles. We rode together for a bit, until the first big hill which he climbed at his typical slow-and-steady-good-for-1200-km pace, and I climbed at my stupid going-to-burn-out-before-100-km pace, which meant I was back in the lead. I didn't think it would last long, but I didn't see another rider from our group on the road for the rest of the day.

The second control on the porch of a closed store in Siler was labeled an information control, but when I got there RBA Bill was there to take pictures and hand out food and sign cue sheets. I was happy to still be in front, though the rollers were starting to hurt a bit. I felt like I was descending better than usual, despite a few drops of rain. I'd recently (but not the night before the brevet, for once) adjusted my brakes, which gave me more confidence in my stopping ability and let me go faster without feeling like I was taking excessive risks.

When I got to the mile 61 control at Greg's Restaurant in Capon Bridge, I saw another bike parked out front. Hmm, I was sure I was in front. Then I saw it had a cue sheet for our ride. How did someone pass me? It turned out to be Leslie, who had shortcut the course to turn a 200k into a century. (This is of course cheating if you do it with fraudulent intent, but she told Bill she was doing it because she didn't feel up to 200 km that day, so it was okay.) So I was still in front. I had a chicken salad sandwich and took off toward Wolf Gap.

The 10 miles along Cacapon River road are the prettiest part of this ride, and also (as you can tell from the word "River") the flattest. I saw a few people canoeing on the river, and enjoyed digesting my lunch. The 8 miles along WV 259 were less fun, since they featured hills and traffic, but the traffic was pretty friendly and I got to the 7-11 in Wardensville in a good mood. This 7-11 was not a control (that'll teach 'em to not let us use their bathrooms) but my bottles were dry so I stopped anyway and bought some Gatorade and some kind of air-injected Hershey Bar I hadn't tried before. (Clever marketing — sell less chocolate and more air and call it a feature.) It was okay, nothing special.

I went down Trout Run road toward Wolf Gap, still ahead of the field. When I started climbing I got warm, so I stopped to take off more clothes and pee. Ten miles of (mostly) up and (some) down later, I reached Perry's Zoo. It was open for once, but I didn't need anything so I didn't stop. The climb up Wolf Gap proper is steep, but kind of anticlimactic after the ten-mile buildup. I stopped at the top to put my arm warmers back on, then zoomed down the descent. Well, zoomed by my standards, which is super-slow compared to any real descender, but I'm not that skilled and going too slow is better than crashing and losing teeth.

The descent turned into Animal Planet. First I saw a turkey vulture eating something on the side of the road. It saw me and took off, but went the same direction I was going at about the same speed I was going (maybe 27?), so I got a fantastic up-close look at a big ugly bird in flight for several seconds before it flew above the trees. Then I encountered a couple of pickup trucks going up the hill around blind corners in the middle of the road. Luckily bikes are skinny and I try to go around blind corners as far to the right as possible, so no head-on crashes ensued.

Near the bottom, the first dog of the day came out into the road to play. It wasn't that big, but it was brown and fast and had the angle on me and cut me off like a good defensive back. I was a bit worried that I was going to hit it, but it left me enough room to get by, and I was going downhill, so let go of the brakes and pedalled hard and zipped by. I was still a bit pumped from the dog when I saw something in the road ahead that looked like a *huge* black dog. Wait, that's not a dog, it's a bear! (And while it was huge for a dog, it was actually pretty small for a bear, probably less than a year old.) Luckily the bear was as scared of me as I was of it, and ran off into the woods, so I didn't have to deal with going around it. Finally, at the very bottom of the hill a second dog decided to chase me. It was tan, and a lot bigger than the first one, but also a lot slower, and probably more bark than bite, so I got past it without much trouble. That would be the end of the day's animal excitement, except for a couple of dalmatians on Back Road who chased me from behind their fence (thank you owners who actually keep their dogs in their yards), which hardly counts.

The last control of the day was at Larkins Store near Edinburg, where I bought another bottle of Gatorade and two Reeses King Cups. Apparently regular peanut butter cups are too small for Today's Fatter Americans, so now they make bigger ones, 200 Calories per cup. Yum yum yum. I ate my candy and refilled my bottles and drank the excess Gatorade and used the Porta-Potty and headed for Back Road. This ride features 17.8 miles of Back Road, which feels like forever, and I was sure someone was going to catch me from behind, but they didn't. The last 10 miles from Back Road to Middletown went by very quickly. There was no Civil War re-enactment this time (our ride is now scheduled not to conflict with it, for better hotel rates), so the scenery was less exciting than usual.

I finished first (for the first and probably last time) in a not-very-impressive 9 hours 55 minutes. Kelly got a flat right near the end, so we were both glad I loaned him that tube. Pretty much a perfect day for me — no flats, no wrong turns (!), I remembered to eat and drink enough, and my legs held up.


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