DC Randonneurs Woodbine Wallop 200 km brevet

The last couple of 200ks were routine enough that I didn't bother writing ride reports. But I'll summarize before I forget what happened.

North by Northwest was a new brevet based on an existing permanent route, and only featured two hard climbs, a rarity for that area of Maryland and Pennsylvania. We got a pretty small field for such a nice route on a nice day, only about 22 riders. I rode up front with no-cue-sheet Jeff and Dave from SPP until the first big climb when I got dropped, and ended up finishing behind those two and Matt from PA. I rode in alongside Bill at the front of the non-mountain-goat category. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that I couldn't climb with the lighter guys.

And the Flatbread 200 was flat and windy as usual. We had a huge field, over 70 riders. I rode up front with Greg and Andrea and Mark V., and Dave and Bryan from SPP, until the Delaware border, when I realized that 20 mph into a headwind just wasn't something I could sustain all day. Plus I really needed to eat (I never remember to eat while sucking wind that hard) and find a bathroom. (Not nearly enough woods or cornfields in Delaware.) I ended up dropping way back and finishing an hour and a half behind the front group. Also, my brain was kind of fried and I missed a hard-to-miss turn. Luckily Ed and Mary on the tandem were close behind and yelled me back on course, and I followed their wheel for the last few miles. In hindsight, while chasing faster people is good exercise, I should have dropped off after 20 miles rather than 35.

And then I had a fun mechanical on a Crista century a couple of weeks ago. Just Riding Along on a small hill about halfway through the ride in the middle of nowhere, my back tire insta-flatted. I found that the wheel had actually cracked near the valve stem hole, and a sharp piece of the wheel had knifed through the tube. Luckily Chuck was close behind, and helped me fix it with duct tape and a tire boot to stiffen the broken rim, and I inflated it to only 55 psi to minimize stress on the rim and took a 29-mile shortcut and managed to make it back to the start in Warrenton without further problems. Didn't hit a significant bump or use my rear brake for the rest of the ride. I couldn't figure out my new cue sheet holder while stressing about my wheel, so I relied on new guy Mike from Google to lead the way, which he did flawlessly. The rim was a 2-year-old Velocity Aerohead OC with about 12000 miles on it. The consensus was that it was probably corroded from the inside from lots of rain riding. I'll try to replace my rims more often.

So I showed up for the hardest 200k of the year with a new rear wheel that had only done a few commutes. We only got about 15 riders, not too surprising for a very hilly ride on a 30-degree day that was forecast to be windy. At least it was dry so we didn't have to worry about snow or ice. Against my better judgment I started up front with Greg and Andrea and Chip and tall fast David, but I came to my senses and dropped off voluntarily on the second small hill about 8 miles in, rather than trying to stick to their speed until Mar-Lu Ridge at mile 37, when I would have definitely been dropped regardless. And, unlike Flatbread, this ride was hard enough that wasting energy chasing them could have rendered me unable to finish. I got passed by Bryan around mile 12 while I was taking it easy on a small descent with my untested wheel, then didn't see anyone else all day except at controls.

I was wearing a summer jersey and shorts, cotton and heavy wool socks, polypropylene long underwear top and bottom, thermal tights and my warmest winter jersey. Plus my Lake winter boots, a balaclava under my helmet, a reflective vest, and lobster claws. That was warm enough, except on fast descents where the wind went through all those layers. But if I'd had a jacket on top I would have got too sweaty everywhere but the descents, and constantly putting the jacket on and taking it off would have been too annoying, so I think I got it about right. I would have liked a warmer helmet, though, since my Bell has a zillion vents and fits too snugly to put a decent-sized hat underneath, so I ordered a Bern Brentwood winter bike helmet for the next cold ride.

At the first control at mile 26 I saw the 5 riders in front of me, and 2 or 3 of the riders behind me, and drank a chocolate milk. (It was cold enough that I should have had something hot, but I don't like coffee and didn't see any other quick hot options.) The wind was gradually picking up and was cold and right in our face. Mar-Lu Ridge came at mile 37 and it was as hard as usual. At least this time my derailleurs were correctly adjusted, so I had no problem getting into my 34×28 and staying there. The thing about Mar-Lu is that it's pretty steep most of the way up (4 mph for me, faster for the climbers), then gets steeper near the top (3 mph for me). And then there's a little notch and a second summit, though the little second climb is actually quite easy. There's a big descent down the back side, which I took mostly riding the brakes (to minimize the wind chill, and because I didn't fully trust my new wheel, but mostly because I'm a big wuss).

After Mar-Lu the course rolled for a few miles into Burkittsville and then up Gapland. Usually this part is easy, but today there was a huge headwind whipping through the valley so it was slow going. On many rides Gapland would be a feature climb, but after Mar-Lu it doesn't seem that bad, and the hill broke the wind. I stopped at the top to make sure I was going down the correct way (Townsend is the second right, not the first), then went down carefully. I remembered Townsend being bumpier; maybe they repaved it at some point.

The 15 miles from Gapland to Shepherdstown is usually a nice easy bit, but not riding alone with a big headwind. I kept looking down and seeing 12 mph. I had to pedal down hills that looked coastable. I just hoped the wind would be behind us on the way back. Crusing from Sharpsburg toward Shepherdstown I saw the lead foursome coming back the other way, probably 20 minutes ahead of me.

Shepherdstown Sweet Shop is the best control ever, because they have yummy food and clean bathrooms. I overshot it by a few feet, then turned back around and saw Bryan leaving as I arrived. I had some kind of strawberry danish (yummy) and a slice of chocolate torte (delicious) and a bottle of Nantucket Nectars lemonade (sickeningly sweet, like badly mixed Kool-Aid, with no real lemon flavor or tartness.) Mike, the next rider behind me, came in while I was about to leave, with RBA Bill and his camera trailing behind. Bill hadn't caught the lead riders with his camera, so I warned him of how far ahead they were. I refillied my water bottle (singular; I had only drank 28 ounces of Gatorade and a bottle of chocolate milk in 60 miles) and headed back toward Maryland. Well, actually I headed the wrong way, since I'd overshot on the way in reversing my path led to heading the wrong way, but I eventually got pointed the right way.

I made it all the way through Shepherdstown without any near-death experiences with the local bad drivers (college towns have the second-worst drivers in the country, after Florida). After the halfway point the wind was no longer in my face, though it was only a direct tailwind for a few wonderful miles. (We really need to figure out how to rig sails to bicycles so that we can benefit from the wind from more directions.) About ten miles of rollers led to Reno Monument Road and the worst climb of the ride. (Before the ride my opinion was that Mar-Lu was worse, but I'm changing it.) It was about noon and warming up a bit, so I stopped before the climb and took off my balaclava and my long underwear top and my reflective vest, and swapped my lobster claws for lighter gloves. Equipped to climb without roasting but probably to freeze on the descent, I did the first short steep bit and then the downhill, and thought I remembered Reno being longer than that. It is. The next part is brutal, winding up at 3 mph for a long way. Right before the top my heart rate hit about 180 and I decided to stop and catch my breath, the first time I've needed to stop on a climb in a while. I knew I was only about 50 yards from the summit, which made it worse. I stood there for a minute breathing slowly, then I drank half of my second bottle of Gatorade, then I rode up the rest of the hill. Getting started on the steep slope in my hard-to-clip-in winter boots wasn't easy, but once I got going the last bit wasn't hard in my newly rested state. I stopped again at the top to put my balaclava back on and zip up my jersey, and admired the bit of snow on the ground up there, then bombed down the descent for a bit, got scared by a blind curve and hit the brakes way harder than I meant to and almost went over the bars. That was the end of fast descents for the day, except for dead straight ones with the bottom fully visible and no cars in sight.

There was a 50-mile gap between controls so I was a bit tempted to stop in Middletown around mile 75, but I had a full bottle of water and a half bottle of Gatorade and some Gu and Clif Bars, so I kept going. Without the headwind I made a decent pace, around 15 mph, until the next big climb up the shoulder of US 40 and then up Shookstown Road. The cue sheet said the descent after Shookstown was twisty, and after my near-mishap on the previous descent I used a lot of brakes. The ride then wandered through a lot of familiar exurban roads around Frederick. A rider caught me from behind and I said hi, but he turned out to not be from our group, even though he had a bright orange reflective vest in broad daylight that was dorky enough to scream "randonneur." I dropped him on a little climb and then stopped to get some food out of my bag (embarrassingly, I can't open Clif Bar packages with gloves on while riding), and he passed me and then turned the wrong way onto Bloomfield Road. I almost yelled at him to get back on course, when I remembered he wasn't actually riding the brevet. (Good thing I didn't draft him, as it's illegal to draft people who aren't on the ride.)

Many of our rides end in Frederick, so I felt like I was heading for the barn, but there were actually 30 miles left. My new goal was to make it to the finish before dark, but I just didn't have much left after fighting the wind and hills. I went through the 7-11 at mile 111 fast, bought a bottle of Gatorade and a big Snickers, and ate them while some silly teenagers with especially stupid hair whined about not having enough money for all the cigarettes and lottery tickets and candy they wanted. Get off my lawn!

Just to be mean, the finishing stretch went over Buffalo Road. Not as bad as Reno or Mar-Lu, but still a pretty bad climb. I really had to pee and eventually found a stretch of woods out of sight of houses. It was approaching dusk so I put my reflective vest back on and turned on my lights. This made me safe and legal for after-dark riding, but my goal was still to finish before sunset. The sun went down when I was climbing Watersville Road, so I missed it by a few miles. It was too dark to easily see the street sign for Old Frederick Road and I hadn't put on my helmet light, but I eventually spotted the sign and made the last turn. From there it was a quick little ride into Pizza Hut in Woodbine. Volunteers Bill and Mike were there, but the five riders in front of me (four fast finishers and one DNF) were already gone. More pizza for me.

That was probably the hardest 200k I've done. My lungs were okay (except on the top of Reno) but my legs and lower back were beat. We had 2 DNFs out of 15 riders, one at the front (Went too hard and ran out of gas?) and one at the back (knew he couldn't make the time limit and shortcut his way home). Hills and wind and cold are a bad combination. In hindsight I should have slowed down a bit and waited for the next rider to catch me, to have a partner in the wind. But I didn't want to slow down, since I already felt like a slug. Probably exercise-induced testosterone poisoning.

Total climbing: somewhere over 10000 feet, depending on whose GPS you believe. Total food intake: 2 Clif Bars, 2 Gu, 88 ounces of Gatorade, 16 ounces of chocolate milk, 16 ounces of (vile) Nantucket Nectars lemonade, one strawberry danish, one slice chocolate torte, one large Snickers, and 3-4 slices of post-ride pizza. At the airport in Frederick they said the peak winds were 16 mph sustained with gusts to 22, but I think it was worse than that up in the mountains.

Goals for 2012: finish the 600 and get my weight down to 180 so I can go up hills faster. (Some people bike to lose weight; others lose weight to bike.)