DC Randonneurs Capacon 200k Ride Report

Had an eventful ride yesterday.

Since I bike to work every day, my car typically only gets driven on weekends.  And last weekend I didn't drive anywhere.  So, predictably, at 5:30 a.m. the car wouldn't start.  I already had the bike on the trunk rack, and didn't feel like removing them to get to the battery in the trunk.  So I needed to push the car out of the garage, then move the other car in front of the hood.  (There's a positive terminal there for jump starting, and any bit of unpainted metal will do for a ground).  My driveway is slightly downhill, except for a flat spot at the top that keeps the car from just rolling down by itself.  So I had to stand in front of the car and give it a shove, then run around and grab the parking brake before the car rolled into the mailbox.  (I should have woken up my wife and asked for help, or just taken the bike rack off.  But I didn't, and somehow managed to avoid running over my foot.)  Then I needed to find a light, and a second set of keys to start both cars at once (my morning brain did not think of just removing one of the keys from the key ring).  All this silliness cost me about 30 minutes, so I made it to the brevet start at the Middletown, VA Super 8 around 6:55, for a 7 a.m. start.

Luckily for me, the organizers were well organized, and I was pre-registered, so I only left the motel a few minutes late.  Most of the herd had left, but there were still a few riders hanging out in the parking lot, waiting for sunrise. I had lights and reflective junk, so I decided to start alone and try to catch the pack.

In my frazzled state, I missed the third turn of the day, at the only traffic light in Middletown.  (Excuses: I didn't see the "TL" on the cue sheet.  And it was kind of dark.  And the street sign I saw only had the route number, not the name.  And there was a jogger crossing there, whom I was trying to avoid running down.  And there were alternating US and Confederate flags all along the street, which bewildered me.)  Anyway, I rode about 0.75 miles to the edge of town, admitted that I had absolutely positively missed the turn and it really wasn't a distance typo on the cue sheet, finally noticed the "TL" on the cue sheet, rode back to the light, and cursed the 1.5 bonus miles to the end of the day.  (It's not that 1.5 miles is even that much, in the context of a 128-mile ride.  It's that I had to add 1.5 to every distance for the rest of the day, and it's hard to do math when you're dragging up a hill.)

So for the second brevet in a row I started a bit late, and thus started solo, and my lack of navigation skills earned me some early bonus miles.  But there was a nice sunrise, and I was well dressed for the cold, and the early part of the course was very nice.  Smooth roads, mild hills, no traffic.  I didn't chase anyone down, but nobody caught me either, until I warmed up a bit and stopped at the top of a hill to lose a layer of clothes.  Then Ed and Mary came flying by on a tandem.  I kind of liked the idea of following a 20 mph windbreak for a while, so I pedaled hard and caught them on an uphill, where the tandem aero advantage was negated by the tandem weight penalty.  A couple of miles later I got delusions of grandeur on another uphill and passed the tandem; of course they caught me very soon on the next flat, along with Lane.  And I followed the three of them to the first control.

It's considered nice to buy something at every control, since we ask them to sign our brevet cards.  It was cold outside, but I don't like coffee, so I had a Coke.  (A real Coke, neither Diet nor Zero, because 200 empty calories of pure sugar ^W corn syrup are just what you need when you've got 100+ miles to go.)  Unfortunately, a cold 20-oz bottle is not just what you need when you're standing around in the wind in 40-degree weather wearing a bike jersey and arm warmers.  So I started digging out more clothes, and then noticed a few bikes leaving.  By the time I finished dressing and made it across Route 50 they were gone.  But I caught Ed and Mary again on a big hill, and stayed behind them until they missed a turn.  (Mary helpfully pointed out the turn as they sailed down the hill past it, so I didn't miss it too.  Thanks.)  I figured they'd catch me soon, but they didn't, and I rode solo for a long time afterward.

The next section, along Cedar Grove Rd. and Green Spring Rd. northwest of Winchester, was very pretty and very empty and not too hard.  There were rollers but no steep hills.  I passed a stopped rider I didn't recognize, who indicated he was fine, and kept going.  Then I stopped to reshuffle some clothes, and he passed me.  Then I passed him again a couple of miles later.  Then I stopped to lose the aforementioned 20 oz. Coke a few miles later (unlike the pro racers who let fly from the saddle, I went way way back into the woods, risking thorns and bear attack to avoid exposing myself to passing traffic), and he passed me again before I got back on my bike.

The volunteer control was ride organizer Lynn on the stoop of a closed store, with bananas and grapes and candy corn.  I took a banana and took off.  Thanks Lynn for sitting out there in the cold.

The next segment of the ride paralled the Virginia – West Virginia border around Whitacre.  Still nice roads and little traffic.  I caught up with Stan and rode with him for a while.  Riding down hills with Stan is hard because he's a much better descender than I am in technical terms (meaning he leans harder and holds a better line and doesn't brake unnecessarily), but I'm a much better descender than Stan in purely Newtonian terms (meaning I weigh 195 pounds and have a bike with low-friction hubs and racy tires).  So he passes me on every curve, and I either pass him or jam on the brakes to avoid rear-ending him on every straightaway.  Somehow we made it to the West Virginia border without crashing into each other, at which point the cue sheet didn't seem to agree with the roads, but after a few minutes of map-checking we figured out that were on course and the road signs were just confusing.  A bit later Ed and Mary and Mark blew by, taking our picture on the fly.  (I would so drop and break my camera if I tried that, and if it somehow survived the only thing in the picture would be my thumb.)  Then we had one surreal experience involving a line of cars waiting forever to pass us (as opposed to the usual cars that are in such a hurry to avoid being slowed by a bike that they cross the double-yellow on blind curves and risk a head-on with an unseen semi) and three crazy kids skateboarding on a steep hill behind blind curve waiting to get run over.  Thankfully the cars didn't choose exactly the wrong moment to pass (maybe those kids are regulars at that spot) and nobody got run over by us or them.  And we made it to the control in Capon Bridge in good spirits.

The control was a sit-down restaurant, but I wasn't hungry enough to eat real food for whatever reason, so I left Stan to eat and soloed to the next control in Wardensville.  There was some kind of festival going on in Capon Bridge, which featured lots of people directing traffic, and for the first time in my life I had a cop stop traffic in both directions so that I could pull out on my bike.  Now I know how royalty feels.  The next ten miles or so on Capacon River Rd. was nice and easy and peaceful.  I think I only saw about three cars.  (Of course all three arrived at exactly the same time.  Nature abhors a vacuum.)  The river looked more like a stream to me, but maybe it's more impressive in the spring.  The next section along 259 was not as fun, since 259 is a decent-sized highway with some pretty big rollers and fast traffic, but the traffic was sparse enough and polite enough that it wasn't a problem, and I made it to Wardensville feeling pretty good about West Virginia.  The 7-11 in Wardensville was a surprisingly good control — it had Gatorade and Clif Bars, not just Skoal and Snickers.  And despite the cue sheet's warning of no restrooms, there was a sign that said you had to ask for permission before cutting through the back storage room to use the employee restroom.  As a high-roller customer who'd bought a couple of flavors of Clif Bars and some chocolate milk, I had no problem getting permission, which meant I wouldn't need to hide behind any more trees that day.

One thing I've learned riding in Virginia is that if you wear a Virginia Tech jersey, about 10% of the people you pass will yell something positive, and quite a few will want to start a conversation.  (And, so far, not one disparaging comment from a UVa fan.)  I didn't realize that this mojo also worked in West Virginia, but it did this time.  While I guzzled my chocolate milk, one nice gentleman told me all about the construction work he'd been doing on the VT campus, on Henderson Hall and a new multimedia theater off College Avenue.  So I'll have to check those buildings out next time I'm in Blacksburg.

I'd heard about Wolf Gap, and I know from experience that the border between Virginia and West Virginia is usually up annoyingly high, but I'd never ridden it before.  So I started up Trout Run Road with a mix of curiousity and a bit of fear that I'd have about 13 miles straight of climbing.  Actually, it wasn't that bad, because most of it wasn't that steep.  On the other hand, it was worse, because it wasn't all climbing.  There were some short descents in there, meaning redundant grade and even more climbing.  But mostly it was just long.  Up, up, up, down, up, up, up, down for 90 minutes or so.  Eventually I reached the top, which is Wolf Gap Recreation Area, where I met a nice couple who wanted to talk to me about my ride, how many speeds are on my bike, how far I was going that day, etc.  Like most people they thought it was a bit much to go 128 miles with hills.  At that point my energy had worn down to the point where I completely agreed.

I put on another layer to counter the wind chill on the descent (unlike racers who have to make due with a newspaper down the jersey, I had a whole pile of clothes in the Carradice), and bombed down into Virginia.  I saw one cyclist coming up, and waved, but he didn't wave back.  I guess it's hard to be nice to someone who's coasting down when you're slogging up, but it's not like I took a ski lift to the top either.  Maybe he was just tired.  Anyway, even with my wussful tendency to brake every time I see a bump or a curve or a squirrel, I got to the bottom in no time.  There was a closed bridge with detour signs and cones and construction vehicles parked to prevent people from using it, but the cue sheet said to walk the bike across it.  Given a choice between obeying the cue sheet and obeying the law, I went with the cue sheet.  The law can yell at you, or possibly even throw you in jail, but deviating from the cue sheet can result in disqualification.  And I wasn't having that after 100 (grr, 101.5) miles.  So I walked across the bridge (and nobody arrested me).

The control on the Virginia side of Wolf Gap had a port-a-potty and Gatorade.  I didn't really want any more food at that point.  (Probably should have bought some since I had no food at all left in reserve in case I bonked, but I don't always think that clearly.  And it was less than 30 miles to go, which is nothing.  Well, it's nothing when you're standing in a store.  Once you're back on the bike going uphill, opinions tend to change.)

So I slogged up a big hill on Route 42 that seemed kind of gratuitously unnecessarily mean, then cut over to Back Road, which continued for about 47 miles of rollers back toward Middletown.  Actually, the cue sheet said it was only 17.8 miles, but it felt like forever.  Up, down, up, down, up, down.  I must have calculated the adjusted distance to the next turn accounting for bonus miles at least 20 times, despite the fact that it was a T intersection and thus theoretically unmissable.  But I really had nothing to complain about — no serious aches or pains, just a bit of long-ride Are-We-There-Yet-Mom? fatigue.

The next turn was Route 55, which featured traffic and a big hill.  About halfway up the hill, my left foot snapped off the pedal.  I didn't fall, but was very surprised.  I'd read complaints about accidentally coming out of Egg Beaters, but it had never happened to me, in several years and many thousands of miles of riding them.  I tried to clip back in and couldn't.  I pulled over to check the damage, and found that the sleeve of my pedal was still attached to my shoe, and there was a bare needle bearing coming out the side of my crank.  I slid the pedal sleeve back onto the core, and it went on easily, but slid right back off when I pushed.  I tried again, exerting some extra inward push, and it slid off again.  I disengaged my cleat and tried to reattach the pedal, but I couldn't think of anything strong enough to keep the pedal together against my pedaling force.  So I put the pedal sleeve in my bag for later study and tried making it up the hill with one foot.

I know it's possible to pedal with one foot.  I've seen an amputee cyclist doing fine, and I've read that one-legged pedaling is an excellent exercise for helping two-legged folks develop a smooth circular pedaling stroke.  But dragging up a steep hill on Route 55 with traffic whizzing by is not a great place to learn the technique.  So I pushed the bike to the top of the hill on the shoulder, waited for a gap in traffic, and practiced my one-footed pedaling on a flatter bit. Just in case this ever happens to you, here are my expert tips based on 10 miles of experience:  Lowering my seat a bit helped.  Also, it was possible to push a bit with my left foot against the remaining pedal core, except that I had to use the crevice in front of the heel of my shoe, which meant lowering my seat more.  So I was pedaling, lopsided, with about 1.25 legs instead of just one, rocking from side to side due to the heel vs. toe and pedal stack height differences.  I'm sure the aforementioned amputee cyclist would tell me to quit my bitching and get on with the program as he blew by, so I tried to do that.  I mostly coasted on the downhill parts, and had to walk up one more hill (on Route 11), but it wasn't really that bad.  I probably averaged about 8 mph for that part, versus about 14 for the rest of the ride.  Lopsided pedaling certainly beat walking, which was my only other option.  (Brevets do not feature mobile on-call mechanical support.  And not finishing and getting a ride back to the motel wasn't an option, not with only ten miles to go.  I'm just glad the pedal didn't break earlier.)

When I reached the outskirts of Middletown, I saw the reason for all the Confederate flags I'd seen that morning.  There was a big Civil War reenactment going on, with USA parking here and CSA parking there and lots of matching white tents and men in period uniforms and women in old-timey clothes.  Luckily the Blues and the Grays walking through the town weren't taking potshots at each other.  Guess they were off duty.  (I did a quick unscientific study of the Union and Confederate parking lots.  Hypothesis: the Confederate parking lot will have a significantly higher percentage of pickup trucks.  Conclusion: Nope, both lots had about the same [really high] percentage of pickup trucks.  [Sorry, I didn't write down the exact numbers.  I was kind of busy not falling off my bike.]  But there's still a joke for Jeff Foxworthy in there somewhere.)

I made it to the end in just over 11 hours.  My first 200k brevet took me just under 9 hours, and my second took about 11, so I'm going the wrong direction.  But I had time pressure the first time (needed to pick up Talia by 5 so the grandparents could make it to the DC United game on time) and none the last two.  (The limit is 13.5 hours, so I had plenty of cushion.)

I'm still not sure what happened to the pedal.  I have the parts diagram and the broken pedal (minus whatever little bits fell off) and its intact mate, so there'll be a dissection at some point.  In the meantime I put the Look road pedals on the bike for the commute to work tomorrow.

For whatever reason (the cold?  my low speed?  the fact that I ate like a fiend all day Friday in preparation?) I didn't eat or drink much during the ride.  Here's the list:

  • One 24 oz bottle of water.  (I had another one in reserve, but wasn't thirsty.  Never refilled.)
  • One 20-oz Coke
  • One 16-oz bottle of chocolate milk
  • One 20-oz bottle of purple Gatorade
  • Four Nutri-grain bars
  • Two Clif bars
  • One banana

Seems like not nearly enough food or liquid.  I just wasn't that hungry or thirsty.  But I don't think I was particularly dehydrated, and I wasn't super-hungry after the ride.  (I ate a couple of slices of post-ride pizza, and then had dinner later.)

Thanks to those who organized the brevet, those who rode with me, those who expressed condolences for my poor broken pedal, and all those nice drivers who gave way more than the mininum 2 feet of passing distance.  (130 miles.  Zero jackass drivers.  There is hope for humanity.  You just have to get out of the suburbs to see it.)