ROMA Leesburg 400 km brevet ride report

The Leesburg 400 starts 6 miles from my house, which is so convenient I had to ride it.  I actually wanted to ride to the start, but 400 km is a long way and 12 more miles might be the straw that broke the camel's back, plus (more importantly) I would have needed to get up a bit earlier, so I wimped out and drove.  The ride started at 5 a.m., but since it was so close I was able to wake up at 4, eat a bowl of cereal, and still make it to the Comfort Suites by 4:30.  There were 14 riders there, about 5 of whom I recognized.  It was about 50 degrees with a slight breeze at the start, pretty much perfect weather.

Matt sent us off with minimal ceremony at 5 a.m.  The route went down Route 7 Business, Catoctin Circle, and then up Dry Mill Road.  A few hours later these roads would be pretty crowded, but we were pretty much the only people silly enough to be out there that early.  We saw a few deer on Dry Mill, but nobody ran into any this time.  Gravel and potholes were more of a problem, but I didn't see any crashes.  We had some light traffic on Route 9, but had Clarkes Gap Road to Waterford to ourselves.  We zipped through Waterford with the group mostly intact, then through the circle in Lovettsville, and up Berlin Turnpike to the bridge over the Potomac.  Last time I crossed that bridge (the other direction, on last year's DC Randonneurs Frederick 400) it was a minefield construction zone, but this time the bridge was fine.  We zipped up Maryland 17 to Harmony, heading up toward Burkittsville.  By then the front group had dwindled to 8 riders.

Paul and Carol eventually dropped off, and then Alec noticed they were gone and slowed down to wait for them, and I was at the tail end of a group of 4 fast guys.  I stuck with them for a while, but around mile 27 it started warming up, and I wanted to take off some clothes, and I also realized that I hadn't eaten anything.  And of course if I tried sticking with the fast guys to the end I was sure to blow up.  So I stopped on the shoulder for a couple of minutes and let the fast group go, then continued by myself up Spruce Run (not very steep, but very narrow and thus not a great place to be passed by cars) and then Route 77 through Catoctin Mountain Park (the easy way through the park; not too much climbing.)

We came out of Thurmont on Route 15 North.  I will give props to Maryland for having really wide shoulders on some of their highways, but it's still not much fun to ride alongside lots of speeding traffic.  Near the end of the 7 mile stretch on 15, Alec and Carol and Paul caught me, and I fell in behind them as we got off the highway onto 15 business.

Unfortunately, there were Detour – Local Traffic Only signs on 15 Business.  We hadn't heard anything about the detour, so we didn't know if bikes would be able to sneak by.  Until we reached the missing bridge.  Oops, we had to reverse course and take the detour.  We gathered up a couple of other riders and took the detour, hoping it would end up back on 15 Business.  I got a bit too excited on a flat part and ended up dropping Paul and Carol, which was a really bad idea since we were off the cue sheet and Paul knew the area way better than the rest of us.  The detour signs eventually went away and we ended up on Confederate Avenue inside Gettysburg Battlefield Park, having missed our control.  Eventually Alec figured out that we should have turned onto Emmitsburg Road, and we backtracked, and found our control at Gettysburg Battlefield Resort, with 10 bonus miles.

The control didn't have any appealing food, so I just bought some water and ate a Clif Bar and a Gu packet, and took off some more clothes.  I left by myself after about 15 minutes, and started riding back through the battlefield.  I passed another rider, who hadn't found the control yet and was not happy about it, and gave him directions.  I guess April isn't peak tourist season, because thankfully there weren't nearly as many Civil War veterans in gigantic cars trying to run over cyclists as the last few times I rode through Gettysburg.  I rode through Fairfield, Sabillasville, and down the wide shoulder of Raven Rock Road to Smithsburg.  I was kind of annoyed about the ten bonus miles, since that would mean more riding after dark later, but my legs were okay.

Somewhere around Smithsburg I was caught by Alec and Paul and Carol again.  I rode with them through the pretty Mountain Laurel Road section, then over to Antietam Battlefield, which is much less tourist-infested than Gettysburg and thus usually much nicer to ride through.  We had a control at 116 miles at Battlefield Market in Sharpsburg, a really good control with decent food.  I ate some fried chicken and some coconut pie, and then hung around outside resting for a while.  We went across the Potomac into Shepherdstown West Virginia and then almost got run over by a left-turning geezer who never saw four brightly-dressed cyclists in broad daylight.  Have I mentioned that each cyclist should be allowed to yank one motorist's drivers license per year?  Luckily our brakes worked and nobody crashed, and we kept going down WV 480 and WV 9.

This was probably the worst part of the ride, because it's a two-lane road with too much traffic and a narrow pothole-infested shoulder.  Trying to dodge the potholes to your right without getting run over by the pickup tracks passing on your left isn't much fun, but there aren't always better roads available.  After about 10 miles we were far enough from Shepherdstown that traffic dropped off a bit, and then we turned off toward Summit Point and then over the Virginia border toward Winchester.  This is one of the few parts of the Virginia – West Virginia border that's not on top of a mountain, which was nice.  My chain had been squeaking all day (because I got caught in a thunderstorm on my commute home on Wednesday and had forgotten to lube it afterward) and Alec noticed and gave me some chain lube, which helped with both the noise and my shifting.  We skirted the edge of Winchester then took Middle Road and Back Road toward the 171-mile control at Matt's house near Strasburg, where there was some good food waiting.

Unfortunately, the recent rain meant the Stan Miller Memorial Low Water Bridge over the Shenandoah was underwater, so we had to take a detour through Front Royal where there's a higher bridge.  Yay, Saturday night traffic.  The detour wasn't on our cue sheets, but Paul knew the way, so I resolved to stay near him no matter what to avoid getting totally lost.  It cooled off fast when the sun went down, so I put on almost all of my clothes and turned on all my lights and followed the other three riders down VA-55 for what seemed like forever.  Then we had to ride in some traffic in Front Royal, and cross a bunch of lanes to make a left onto what eventually became Happy Creek Road, which featured some construction that made the lane too narrow for a car to safely pass a bike.  Luckily we had a good driver behind us, who patiently followed us through the construction zone, so it wasn't a problem.

We got back on 55 toward Marshall.  Traffic was light but fast, so we had to watch our back, but nobody passed us too closely.  We did have one big dog try to chase us, but we all dodged it.  It took forever, and we were starting to get cold and tired, but we reached the 213-mile control at the Marshall 7-11 around 11:30 p.m.  We bought and ate various imitation food; Coconut M&Ms are pretty yummy.  And we left around midnight to head back to Leesburg.

Marshall to Leesburg is only 38 miles, but it seems a lot longer when you're tired.  We went up Zulla Road toward Middleburg, then up Mountville and Snickersville and Watermill and Lincoln toward Purcellville.  I'd ridden all these roads before, but not in the middle of the night.  The good part was the lack of traffic; the bad part was finding all the potholes in the dark.  But we did our best to point out the road hazards, and nobody crashed.  We had one scary moment when some idiot came tearing down the road at easily double the speed limit, but luckily he was (mostly) on the other side of the road.  We all bailed onto the (nonexistent) shoulder anyway, then resumed riding.  Carol led a sing-along to keep everyone awake, though I didn't help much since I couldn't remember the words to anything.

Lincoln features one of those radar speed detection signs, which meant I had to sprint for it.  And I registered possibly the worst sprint of my life: 16 mph.  Hilarious.  At that point we were on really familiar roads: Route 7 Business through Purcellville and Hamilton, then down Dry Mill into Leesburg.  There's another radar speed sign on Dry Mill, so I gunned it again, and managed 28.  Alec claims the second sign was clearly reading high, while I think the first sign was reading low.  We're probably both right.

We got to the hotel at 3:13 a.m.  Though it took a couple of minutes to wake up our sleeping volunteer so we could officially finish.  I ate a few post-ride cookies and then left, before I had a chance to get too sleepy to drive safely.  My speedometer said I rode 258.8 miles (the course was supposed to be 251.4, so the first detour cost us about 10 miles and the second gave us about 2.5 back).  Average moving speed was 13.7 mph, a decent pace.  We had some hills, and some wind early, but it was calm late.  And I was lucky enough to follow people who knew the way in the dark, to avoid adding more bonus miles.

Other than the two bridge detours, it was a pretty uneventful ride.  I didn't bonk or dehydrate or have any flat tires.  Dropped my chain twice, so I need to do some front derailleur limit screw adjustments.

Thanks to Paul for navigating, Alec for giving me some much needed chain lube, Carol for keeping us all awake, and Matt for running the brevet.