DC Randonneurs Warrenton 300 km Brevet Pre-Ride

I volunteered to organize the Warrenton 300, which meant I also got to do the pre-ride.

Unfortunately, due to an unusually cold, snowy, and late winter, our rides keep getting postponed this winter and "spring." The 100 km populaire that was supposed to happen on January 17 got moved back a week to January 24, and it was cold enough that water bottles froze. The Pastries and Coffee 200 that was supposed to happen on March 7 actually happened on March 14. And the Urbana 200 got pushed back from March 21 to March 28, conflicting with the Warrenton 300 pre-ride. The net result of all this for me was that I ended up riding a 300 without first riding a 200 in 2015. Not recommended.

I went looking for someone to do the pre-ride with me, not really expecting to find any takers since it conflicted with the Urbana 200, but Charlie stepped up. Good thing; I probably wouldn't have finished without him. Thanks Charlie.

The weather forecast was pretty dire. Temperatures in the 30s all day, with a small chance of snow at the start. And sustained 15 mph winds out of the northwest all day. The actual weather was a bit worse than the forecast — it got down to 23 by the end of the ride, and the winds got up to 20 sustained, 25 gusts. The only good thing about the forecast was that since it was supposed to be cold all day, we didn't have to mess around with removing and stowing clothes as it warmed up, putting on sunscreen, etc.

Charlie and I shared a room at the Hampton Inn. I didn't sleep well, and got up at 4:15 needing 3 or 4 more hours of sleep. I was ready to go at 4:45, after having a Clif Bar for breakfast, but Charlie took longer, and we didn't actually roll out until 5:07. The light at 211 that doesn't usually change for even large groups of bikes changed for us right away, before I even hit the pedestrian button — maybe they fixed the sensor. (I recommend that someone hit the button anyway.) I led us through sleepy Warrenton and up to route 55, then Charlie pulled for a while. It was cold, and there was a headwind already, but we had lots of energy early. It was a bit below freezing, and we saw a few thin patches of black ice, but never actually hit one and had a problem.

By the time we hit the rollers on 55, Charlie was complaining about cold hands, a complaint that would continue all day. He was wearing new Gore Windstopper gloves, and apparently they didn't work as advertised. Once again, never try anything for the first time on a long brevet. I had some old Garneau lobster claws, which are pretty good in the 30s, but I really should have brought my heavy ski mittens that are good in much colder weather. Never overly trust the weather forecast — always think about the worst case. Clothes aren't that heavy.

We controlled (slowly because Charlie needed to warm up) at the 7-11 in Marshall. I had some Cherry Greek yogurt for second breakfast.

After passing through Marshall, the sun come up (all at once), and we rode down beautiful and mildly hilly Crest Hill Road for a while. It was quickly apparent that I couldn't climb with Charlie — he's a lot lighter than me and has more miles in his legs this year. I didn't want to burn energy early in the ride climbing hard, so I just accepted this and fell behind on the climbs, then tried to catch up on the downhills and flats.

In Flint Hill we stopped for a minute so I could take notes on some bit potholes and ruts we'd dodged. The coffee shop was supposed to open at 8:30, but it was 8:30 and it was still closed, so no coffee. We continued to (Little) Washington and Charlie went into a coffee shop there to warm up his hands.

As we moved toward Etlan it started to warm up a bit. Above freezing, anyway. The wind was still brutal, but as the route turned south it became a side wind rather than a block headwind. Charlie dropped me on the climb over the shoulder of Old Rag, but it's a pretty short climb from that direction and I caught back up at the bottom of the hill, after taking the corkscrew descent very carefully. (Good thing, because there was a truck coming around one of the blind curves, taking up 2/3 of the road, and if I hadn't been all the way to the right under complete control it could have been ugly. Don't mess around with blind descents.) My bad knee started to hurt around mile 60, so I took a couple of Ibuprofin and told it to shut up. I had to take a couple more doses later in the day, but my knee never got bad enough to be a real problem. More evidence that that lots of short commutes are good for my knee — I'm happy to be back to bike commuting this year.

The climb up the edge of Old Rag was the highest point of the day, and half the ride's climbing is in the first third of the ride, so in theory once you get there you're home free. In practice, between my lack of recent distance riding and Charlie's lack of sufficient cold-weather gear, we didn't go much faster after that.

We controlled at Syria (pronounced sigh-REE-uh, not like the country in the middle east), and once again spent way too long at a control to warm up. I had one of their ham biscuits, which was okay. The next section of the ride, down Blue Ridge Turnpike / Hoover / Hebron Valley / Hebron Church, is one of my favorites. Gently rolling, very pretty, not too much traffic (except when there's an apple festival). We got passed by a big tractor holding a bale of hay in a giant rear-mounted claw; looked like something out of Transformers (without the cheesy explosions). For a few minutes the wind briefly became a tailwind, everything went silent, and we effortlessly went 22 mph. Then we turned and it was back to a side wind.

We had our first navigational incident of the day at mile 85 when the sign for Good Hope Church Road was down and Charlie took the wrong road. The cue sheet said it was a sharp turn, though, and there was a sign for the Good Hope Church, and then we found the actual Good Hope Church Road sign, so we eventually figured it out.

We stopped at the Hardee's in Gordonsville around mile 100 for lunch. We needed the calories and the break, but again I think we spent too long in the control. The temperature was up to 35 by then, and the wind died down a bit for a while, but then resumed blowing a few minutes after we left.

At mile 105, two vicious but squirrel-sized dogs charged into our path, on a mission to get tangled up in our spokes. They were surprisingly fast for such short-legged things (plus we were not exactly burning up the roads) and nipped at our heels for maybe a quarter mile before giving up. And then right while we were distracted by the dogs, a giant pothole appeared, and almost swallowed my front wheel. I'm not saying those dogs deliberately led us into that hole, but I'm not saying they didn't, either. Fortunately that was our only dog alert on the day. (We did see 3 separate groups of deer in or near the road, and one early-morning fox flashing in front of us on a downhill, but none came close enough to be a serious danger.)

We stopped again at the Subway in Orange for dinner around 5:45. Once again, we spent too long in a control. Also, the Subway is a bit off the route, so going there probably cost us a bonus mile. But I had a pretty good sub and an excellent Macadamia Nut cookie. The extra distance threw off my navigation, so I wasn't sure when to look for Clarks Mountain Road, but we eventually got there. After a brief after-dinner burst of energy wore off, I had a hard time keeping near Charlie, and fell way behind on the climbs, then didn't really feel up to pedalling on the downhills.

My goal was to at least get off 522 (known for high-speed traffic, psychotic drivers, and no shoulders) before it got dark. Fortunately, traffic was a bit lighter than usual (maybe because it was dinner time?), and there was only one crazy pickup-truck driver this time, almost causing a head-on collision to avoid waiting a few seconds for oncoming traffic to clear before passing us. We made it to Bakers Store, verified their closing time, and then quickly got back on our bikes and got off onto nicer roads.

Algonquin Trail – Batna – Lignum is another favorite part of the ride for me, but it was getting dark and colder, so I didn't get to enjoy it much. (For comparison, last year I finished the ride just as it got dark. So about 40 miles ahead of this year's pace.) Charlie said he might not be able to make it to the Citgo to put in new shoe warmers, so I suggested we try the post office in Lignum, right before Route 3. In was unlocked, so he had a chance to warm up a bit and put them in, but that they really didn't work that well. He was wearing summer cycling shoes and winter overbooties with one pair of socks, not quite enough. My feet (in Lake winter boots and two pairs of socks) were fine almost to the end of the ride, when they started getting a little chilly.

Eleys Ford and Edwards Shop were kind of rough, and it was hard to see the holes and ruts in the dark, and there was a surprising amount of traffic for these usually quiet roads. But we made it to the bridge over the Rappahannock without crashing, and then up to Remington. Charlie was now pulling away from me even on the flats, where I had problems maintaining even 11 mph. I think it was just fatigue, not bonk since I'd eaten a lot, though I may have been a bit dehydrated since I was having a hard time forcing down enough liquid. A train came down the tracks in Remington, forcing Charlie to stop and letting me catch up as we got into the Citgo a few minutes before it closed at 10. My taillights were getting a bit dim, so I swapped in my spare batteries.

The last 20 miles of the ride are kind of a blur. Charlie led, and I basically just followed his taillight in the distance rather than trying to navigate for myself. I was capable of maybe 10 mph on the flat, in my small ring. Fortunately the wind was dying down. Unfortunately it was getting colder, and my hands were getting numb enough that shifting was difficult. We missed the split at mile 181, but Charlie's GPS showed us off-track about a quarter mile later, so we only lost about half a mile. (His GPS battery is only supposed to be good for about 14 hours but made it to the end. Maybe the cold helped it?) And then I missed the Frytown turn at mile 185, with Charlie's taillight out of sight. While I was sitting, reading my cue sheet and trying to figure out where I messed up, I heard Charlie's voice. He'd seen me miss the turn and chased me down (not so hard at my speed) to drag me back on course. So more bonus miles for me and even more for him.

After that I tried to stay closer, and succeeded until we were on Walker Drive and I knew I couldn't miss the last turn because it was at a light. We finished at 12:18, for a 19:18 time, out of a maximum of 20 hours. Last year I was 14:59 and Charlie was 15:08 (though he took the gravel detours which are slower than the paved roads). So, over 4 hours slower, due to a combination of cold and wind and (in my case) lack of fitness.

We made it, but there was some luck involved. Charlie was really cold all day, which could have led to real problems. I was really tired and beat at the end, which could have led to a crash.

Lessons: Bring clothing for the worst case, not the forecast. If the forecast says 30, be prepared for 15. Gradually increase distance early in the year, rather than trying to jump from commute distance to 300k. Get through controls faster. Test new equipment on short rides; don't change anything right before a long ride.

Hoping for much warmer weather for next week's ride. It's a really nice course, if the conditions are reasonable. Not too hilly, not too much traffic except in a couple of spots.