Civil War Tour 200km Ride Report

I was moderately excited to ride the DC Randonneurs Civil War Tour for a second time. I remembered that the ride went over Mar-Lu Ridge, had lots of information controls, and that Antietam was a great place to ride while Gettysburg was a death trap full of inattentive tourist drivers. I forgot just how hilly it was.

Woke up bright and early at 5 a.m. Didn't eat breakfast at home. Got to the start at Perkins in Frederick around 6:30, leaving plenty of time before the 7:00 start. Didn't eat breakfast at Perkins either. It was 47 degrees, quite chilly for September, but I brought arm and knee warmers so I felt ready for it. Said hi to a few people, then went outside and checked out a few unfamiliar bikes.

My left knee warmer stayed in place perfectly. My right knee warmer started falling down before I even started pedalling, and kept falling down until it got warm enough to take it off. I hate knee warmers. Should have just worn some tights over my shorts — my bag is plenty big enough to hold them.

We started rolling at 7, and the people who hadn't dressed for the cold started shivering. I was fine, except for the slipping knee warmer. The first info control was only 0.3 miles from the start, and was marked as a control on the brevet card but only as a point of interest on the cue sheet. I remembered it from last year, and stopped to write down a date from the sign. Most of the riders kept going. Luckily this control wasn't really needed to establish the brevet distance, so nobody got disqualified. But it did mean that I lost the group right away. (It took me a while to find the right date on the sign, and then my pen wouldn't write and I had to dig out a golf pencil.) Not a big deal; I was going to lose the fast riders on Mar-Lu Ridge anyway.

Realizing I hadn't had breakfast, I ate a Clif Bar then started cranking. Just missed a green light crossing Route 15 and got to wait a couple of minutes for the next one before starting up Mar-Lu at mile 12. My bike shifted great, but I climbed slowly. About halfway up, Roger blew by me on his vintage Trek. Bill was waiting at the top to take pictures. I was pretty warm from the climb, but I knew the descent would be cold so I kept all my clothes on. Then I bombed about halfway down the descent, until I saw a curve and got scared and slowed down to about 25. Yep, I've been riding brevets for over three years now and I'm still a wuss. But I still have all my teeth.

Rode through Burkittsville, and caught a couple of riders. Any hubris was soon checked when Chip and another rider who had started late caught and passed me. Went up a big hill (didn't remember it being so big), then down the nasty bumpy shady descent of Townsend Road. On the way down, a truck decided to pass me. And then I saw a pothole, but couldn't swerve around it because the truck was right next to me. I tried to unweight over the bump, but didn't do a very good job, and my front tire hit pretty hard. At first I thought I'd been lucky enough to avoid a flat, but by the bottom of the hill my front tire was feeling soft. I pulled over to fix it. About a dozen riders passed me while I did so, way more than I thought were behind me. Several asked if I needed help, but I didn't. It was a simple tube swap and I was moving again in about 15 minutes.

The first real control was at Battleview Market in Sharpsburg. I bought a big bag of Jalapeno Combos. Volunteer Ed offered me a jug of free water, which made me realize I'd hardly had anything at all to drink. (Too cold to be thirsty.) So I chugged half a bottle of Gatorade and refilled it with water, ate a few Combos, and took off after some other riders toward Antietam Battlefield.

Antietam is a very nice place to ride. Pretty fields, fairly flat, nice roads, not many cars full of tourists. There was an information control somewhere. I wasn't sure where so I just kept riding until I saw a big group of cyclists reading plaques. Then I wrote down the solder's name and continued toward the not-very-secret secret control, where Bill and Chuck and Crista stamped our cards and wrote down our names. One road in the battlefield had been recently covered with pea gravel and wasn't very fun to ride on, but nobody fell. The rest were fine, and we were heading out of the park and up MD34.

I was in a group of six or seven riders for a while on 34. Then a couple broke off the front, and a couple fell off the back, and someone stopped to tinkle, and eventually I was riding alone. I was making pretty good speed on the flat section, but at mile 52 we started the long easy climb up the shoulder of Raven Rock Road, and everyone passed me. Everyone. I resisted the urge to speed up and ride with the cool kids, and just kept on chugging at 6 mph. Almost an hour later (literally) I was done. A few miles later the cue sheet warned of traffic on PA16. Worse, there was a paving crew. Meaning I could wait for a while for them to let the traffic on our side go, and then get passed by a huge line of annoyed (at me, even though the paving was actually causing their delay) vehicles in a narrow lane. Instead, I started walking my bike down the shoulder. Then when the line of oncoming traffic stopped coming, I took the lane and pedalled as fast as I could, hoping I'd make it to the end of the paving zone before the cars coming from behind could catch me. I made it, and it was glorious having an entire freshly paved highway to myself for a couple of miles.

There was a one-lane covered bridge at mile 67 with a one-car-at-a-time traffic signal. It would not change for my bike (weak sensor?). And no cars would pull up behind me. Three cars (including a police car) approached the other side and all three took the green even though I was there first. Finally it was clear to safely run the red. Fix your sensors, Penndot or local equivalent thereof. I'm happy to obey the laws but you need to meet me halfway.

Entered Gettysburg around mile 76. Went through the park, past the distracted tourist drivers, past Ed and Mary and Bill taking pictures, stopped at the US 15 crossing forever waiting for a convoy of WW2 vehicles (second year in a row our brevet coincided with their wrong-war reenactment), came out of the park into the town, and hit the control at the 7-11. It had warmed up by then and I was a bit low on water, so I bought a bunch of Gatorade (2 32-oz. bottles for $3, score). Drank all that didn't fit in my water bottles, ate some Gu and some Combos, and left the control pretty quickly. I think I controlled pretty well on this ride.

The route went back into the battlefield for some more tourist dodging, some more pretty scenery, and some more info controls. Rode with Chris and Bennett for a while, then alone in front of them, then Bennett passed me, then Chris passed me. I wasn't very tired but I was slowing down a bit. And the constant clicking of my slightly loose bottom bracket within its titanium shell was driving me nuts. (Maile and Bennett both commented on it, so it wasn't just me noticing, either. I've tried and failed to fix it myself, twice, so I'm planning to take the bike into the shop this week.)

There was a non-control at a High's at mile 108. I was low on water so I stopped to buy some, and also bought a turkey wrap since I hadn't had any real food all day. While I was there Maile on her new custom bike and Gary on his purple IF and Bernd and first-time brevet rider Erik rolled up. I hung around waiting for them for a few minutes and then rolled out in a group of 5. We nicely pacelined for the first few miles on a flat shoulder, with Maile pulling a train that included three guys twice her size. Then we hit some hills and Maile and Bernd were off the front while we three larger guys were falling off the back. Then the turkey wrap's miracle energy boost hit and I suddenly had a lot of energy and chased the climbers down. But someone told me that Erik was new and didn't have a cue sheet, at which point I went to the back of the group to make sure he didn't get dropped and lost.

I stayed with Erik and Gary, with Maile and Bernd within sight, until about five miles from the finish when my rear tire started feeling soft. I don't remember hitting anything, and I didn't find anything poking into the tube, but there was a gravel section around mile 98 and 23mm tires plus 200+ pound rider plus gravel always equals a possible flat. I pumped the tire back up and didn't hear a fast hiss, so I just rode the last few miles at a conservative pace, and finished seven minutes behind the rest of the group.

I wasn't very hungry for pizza because I'd just had the turkey wrap, so I just guzzled some water at the finish and chatted for a few minutes then headed home. My time was 10 hours 11 minutes, or 33 minutes slower than last year. But I can blame that on the two flats and the time walking along the shoulder of the paving detour of PA 16. I'm probably climbing a bit slower than last year, but not much.

Great weather, nice course, great volunteers, and no really bad drivers. And I set a new personal record for fewest bonus miles: 0.4. (I missed a turn but realized it right away.) A very good day.