DC Randonneurs Old Rag 200 km brevet ride report

I biked to work all winter, except for a couple of weeks when record snowfall made the W&OD Trail nearly impassable. But I hadn't done a ride longer than 35 miles since November. And I was still carrying way too much winter weight, which would make climbing hard. So I was a bit worried about yesterday's 200 km brevet.

I did this ride a couple of years ago, so I thought I knew what to expect. Mostly flat and fast early, from Warrenton down to Madison, then a big climb after the second control in Syria, then some rollers, then another big three-part climb, then more rollers, then a really nasty climb over Piney Mountain west of Warrenton right before the finish.

But this time the ride was in April not July, so there was cold to deal with in the morning, but fortunately less heat in the afternoon. Plus that extra April weight and lack of fitness.

So I decided to take it seriously and try to do everything right. I got to the start half an hour early. And I dressed for the 36F start temperature — thermal tights, wool socks, heavy jersey, balaclava, lobster claws — but wore shorts and a short-sleeved wool jersey underneath for the expected afternoon warmth. (The forecast high was 64.)

I started at the front of the group, but resolved not to work very hard to stay there. (There's no chance of me finishing the brevet first, but if I work at it I can stay near the front for the first half of the ride — and then die in the second half.) When the first serious descent happened and a dozen people passed me (I'm still a cautious descender), I let them go rather than chasing them down like I wanted to. And rode by myself for miles, between the first and second big groups. When the second group caught me, I let them go too. "Do not waste energy early," I boringly kept telling myself.

I stopped once to water some trees, and again to take off a layer of clothes, and made it to the first control at 55 miles. Yoder's Country Market is pretty much the perfect control. They have a wide variety of good, cheap food. And picnic tables, some in the sun and some in the shade. And a clean bathroom. And free water. What more could you want?

I ate lunch pretty quickly and left by myself. "Don't waste time in the controls," the boring guy on my shoulder told me. By that time the temperature was near 60 and I was riding in short sleeves, lightweight full-finger gloves, and still had the tights on.

I proceded through Madison, still riding alone. Got to the 71-mile control at Syria Mercantile (Note: the Virginia town of Syria is not pronounced like the country Syria. The first syllable has a long I sound, and you have to say it with a pronounced Virginia hill country accent. sigh-REE-uh.) Not nearly as nice a control, but I bought a Gatorade, and filled up my bottles from a half-full gallon jug that a faster rider had left for slower riders. (Thanks fast rider!) I also took off my tights and switched to fingerless gloves and cotton socks and put on some sunscreen. And crammed all those winter clothes into my Carradice bag.

There's a climb after the Syria control that I remembered as being nasty, but this time it wasn't so bad. It was steep for a bit, but it wasn't that long. There were some rollers afterward. At this point lunch finally kicked in, and my legs came back, so I started climbing faster and passed a rider ahead. I remember thinking that everything was going so well that I wouldn't have anything to put in my ride report.

Then I turned onto Round Hill Road, and remembered the three nasty hills. And felt something hit me in the small of the back. I pulled off the road to check, and noticed my bag was open and the flap had bounced up to let me know. Whoops. I closed it and continued, hoping I hadn't lost anything. (I didn't actually bother taking inventory, because I wasn't going back regardless. It was 8 miles since the last control, and I didn't feel strong enough to add up to 16 hilly bonus miles to my ride.)

I climbed the three nasty hills without needed to stop to catch my breath (the last time I rode this route I needed to stop, but it was July and hotter). And continued over a bunch more rollers and then a fast section of US 522 until I reached the 95 mile control, the Laurel Mills Store. The guy who works at this store is very nice, but I still don't like this control because it lacks a public bathroom. Also, the Klondike bar I bought there was frozen solid, a serious dental hazard. So I had to hang around for a while while it thawed, answering questions from a kid riding his bike around the parking lot while wearing a cowboy hat.

While I was waiting, a rider showed up and asked me if I'd dropped anything. Whoops. He had my arm warmers and my gloves. Another rider who arrived a couple minutes later had my balaclava and one of my wool socks. They said a motorist had seen my reflective vest, but they couldn't find it. Or, predictably, the other sock. (Everyone loses one sock, even in their own dryer at home.) So the good news is that the total punishment for forgetting to close my bag was one lost sock and one lost vest. And it was a $15 Nashbar vest that I didn't like much anyway because the shoulders tended to ride up and block my peripheral vision. Thanks again to the riders who recovered my dropped stuff, and anyone else who helped look for it. Sorry if my absent-mindedness made your ride slower.

Embarrassed at my silly mistake, I left the control slowly. Whatever energy had gone into my legs after lunch was fading again. I just trudged through Flint Hill and into the control at mile 114. I wasn't feeling horrible, but I wasn't going fast. Probably a touch of bonk. The Orlean Store is very nice — clean bathroom, nice selection of food and drink, even a real restaurant adjacent. I bought some water and some iced tea (I was getting hot in my wool jersey, even though tempertures were still in the 60s) and then left pretty quickly to do the nasty last ten miles.

Right after Orlean the cue sheet had two turns back to back, one after 0.1 miles and the next after 0.2. I made the first but then zoned out and didn't check the cue sheet until I'd gone by the second, for my only bonus miles of the day. I kept going about half a mile before I realized my mistake, so it was more like one bonus mile. No big deal, but another sign that I was a bit cooked. I had two full bottles for only ten miles of riding, so I resolved to drink more than I wanted, just in case dehydration was affecting my legs or my brain. (In hindsight, I don't think so. I think I was properly hydrated but slightly bonked, just not quite enough food.  I had some Gu and some Jelly Belly Sport Beans but didn't eat them for whatever reason.) Soon enough, the climb up Piney Mountain began. But it didn't seem as bad as last time I did this ride. While I didn't have any speed (I was climbing at 5-6 mph), I didn't have to stop either. When I reached the summit I was very happy. Until the next hills, which I'd forgotten about.  They're just rollers, but when you think you're coasting into the barn, any hill is a bad hill.

I rolled into the final control in Warrenton in 10 hours 12 minutes. Last time I did this ride it took 8:59. So my spring unfitness cost me over an hour. But I finished and didn't hurt myself and had fun (other than being annoyed at my slowness and at forgetting to close my bag), so it was a good ride. I'm a bit nervous about the upcoming 300k, though.