DC Randonneurs Civil War Tour 200k brevet

I didn't do any long rides in July or August. So I was really looking forward to a nice scenic 200 in relatively cool September weather. Unfortunately there were some big thunderstorms in the forecast, but the weatherman is often wrong…

I woke up at 4:45 a.m., packed my stuff, and pumped up my tires. I didn't bother with a rain jacket because I figured it would be too hot to wear one, but I did bring a cycling cap to keep rain out of my eyes. Otherwise I just brought a spare tire, 3 tubes, a few Gu packets and Clif Bars, and two Magnum bottles of Gatorade. I decided against a Camelbak because it was only 200k and the high was forecast to only be in mid 80s.

Got to Frederick early enough that there were only a handful of people there. That gave me time to replace the battery in my bike computer, which had been intermittently cutting out for a couple of weeks. The sun came up well before the 7 a.m. start, so we didn't need lights, though many of the riders had them anyway. I decided to stow my reflective vest (because it would get hot later), but kept my ankle bands on.

By start time, we had 34 riders plus a couple of volunteers named Bill. Nobody went hard at the start, so we ended up with a big pack of about 25 riders ambling along at the front. This makes it hard for cars to pass, so I prefer to get into a smaller group for safety, but it was only 12 miles until the first big hill and there weren't a lot of cars, so I just stuck with the pack.

After waiting forever for the light at Route 15 to change, we went up Mar-Lu Ridge. I started near the front of the swarm, which was a mistake because it meant more people had to pass me as I went up the hill at 5.5 mph. I was actually pretty happy to be going that fast, since I did the ride at 218 pounds, or about 20 pounds over my usual September weight. Luckily it was still early and cool, so going up the hill wasn't that uncomfortable. Mar-Lu is steep but not that long, so we were up and over pretty quickly. It split the big group up nicely, and then we got to enjoy the nice view at the top followed by the fast descent.

I went down the first half of the descent pretty fast, until I saw the first sharp curve. Then my cowardly lizard brain decided it would be a good time to brake really hard, and I lost all my momentum and went down the rest of the hill at a boring pace. It flattened out, and I followed a couple of riders into the little town of Jefferson. The riders were all strung out after the hill, and my usual early-morning delusions of strength kicked in and I started riding faster than I really should with over a century to go, and passed several people. The weather was looking ominous, with a wall of dark clouds over the mountains, and I wanted to be as far along as possible before having to seek shelter.

After going through Burkittsville, it was time for the second big climb of the day on Gapland Road. Gapland isn't quite as steep as Mar-Lu, but it's longer. A handful of riders who I'd passed on the flats passed me back on the hill, but I was still reasonably happy with my climbing when I reached the top. A bunch of riders (some on our brevet, some not) were stopped at the top to rest, but I kept going (because downhill is free) and hit the wooded descent down Thompson Road. I kept my speed moderate in case of deer or potholes, but hit neither, and rolled into the 30-mile control in Sharpsburg feeling good. I bought a bottle of Gatorade and a Crunch bar, then left quickly while most of the fast riders were still hanging around. The dark clouds had mostly stayed on the other side of the mountains, and it looked like we might get a nice day after all.

The route went into Antietam Battlefield Park, which, like every other battlefield in the area, has awful street signs. I stopped for a second to make sure I was turning in the right place, and Chris came up behind me, so I figured he knew the way and followed him. We went through the first information control of the day, writing down some private's name from a sign. Then, just a couple of minutes later, we hit the Secret Control. After 3 controls in about 2 miles, we left the battlefield and climbed up the shoulder of Route 40A for approximately 6 miles. It's not a steep climb, but it goes on forever, and there's no tree cover so it tends to get hot. Luckily it was a cloudy day so it wasn't too bad. At some point Mark caught us from behind, and the three of us made the turn onto Mountain Laurel Road, probably the prettiest part of the route.

Suddenly, without warning, on a fairly steep downhill, I felt my bike start braking by itself. Not a good feeling. I got it under control and then got off the bike and started looking for the problem. My Carradice bag was sitting on top of my rear wheel, and the tire had worn a groove through the canvas. Nothing was broken; I just hadn't properly secured the bag in the SQR mount. Oops. I fixed it, then flipped my cue sheet. When I was ready to get going again, I saw Chris coming back to check on me. He was glad to see I hadn't crashed, and had to fiddle with something on his bike too, then we were off again. We crossed into Pennsylvania on Harbaugh Valley Road, then went down the shoulder of 16 and up another hill on Jacks Mountain Road. About halfway through the ride, I was still feeling pretty good. I'd told myself before the ride that I'd ride a 400 next weekend if I finished this 200 strong, and now it looked like I'd have to live up to that.

We started seeing a bunch of fast riders not affiliated with our group — the leaders of the Civil War Century, held on the same day and some of the same roads. RUSA rules say that you can't ride with people who aren't doing the same ride. So we avoided matching speeds with them, and tried to avoid following them off our course or leading them off their course. We came up to a one-lane covered bridge with a traffic light that can't sense bikes, behind a CWC rider. He ran it, cutting it a lot closer to an oncoming car than I would have. After waiting for about 5 cars going the other way, we finally got a car behind us to trip the light, and we rode into Fairfield. We stopped at the non-control Foodmart there at mile 69; I got more Gatorade and some Pretzel M&Ms.

The route then went into the beautiful and historic (but badly signed and often infested with bad drivers) Gettysburg Battlefield. I always worry about getting lost, doored, or run over there, but Chris seemed to know the way, and car traffic was light and sane. Another CWC rider tucked on behind me, and when we had to turn left he asked if we were on the metric or the 100. I told him we were on the 125, which confused him (I didn't have time for a longer explanation), but kept him from following us off-course.

We made it through the battlefield, into the town, and to the 7-11 control at mile 81. Lane and Bennett and Maile and Mark were there, and Chris and I went through the control fast enough to leave with them. We just had to circle through the battlefield for a couple more info controls, then ride about 40 miles of mostly downhill back to Frederick, with a group of 6 to provide a draft. Perfect.

The little stretch through the town back to the battlefield was fine, with no traffic problems. Our group was split by a red light but we got back together. We eventually found the Virginia Memorial and wrote down the answer to the question of how much the fine was for defacing the memorial. ($500.) Then we continued on toward the next info control at Auto Stop 7, when the dark skies that had been threatening us all day erupted. It went from dry to ridiculous in about two minutes. We got 35 mph side gusts that required serious leaning to stay upright, sheets of water coming between the trees, big drops that really hurt when they hit you in the eye, falling branches, etc. It would have made sense to seek shelter, but there really wasn't any, so we just kept going. Eventually we found Auto Stop 7 and stopped to find the answer (the attack started at 4 p.m.), but nobody wanted to soak their brevet cards writing it down, so we just decided to remember it. While we were stopped I turned on all my lights and put on my reflective vest and cycling cap. I needed to flip my cue sheet, but it would have gotten soaked, so I decided to not bother until the rain stopped and just let someone else navigate.

We continued through the heavy rain and debris, and got a bit of thunder and lightning, and then the worst of the storm was past and the rain diminished from painful to merely wet. Most of us didn't have fenders (and Lane's bike with fenders lacked a flap), so drafting meant taking a stream of water off another bike's wheel in the face, so our formation loosened up and our speed diminished. Mark eventually went off the front, and Maile (who had ridden a 1200 the week before and wasn't quite recovered) started slowing down. I decided to slow down to Maile's pace to preserve my legs for next week's 400. We missed one turn, but otherwise the rest of the ride was pretty easy. Except for the short steep hill on Ball Road at mile 125, right near the finish.

We finished in 9:38, and I ate way too much post-ride pizza. I had done the ride on about a gallon of Gatorade plus one Gu packet, one Crunch bar, and one bag of Pretzel M&Ms, probably not enough calories. Not the fastest time, but considering the weather and the deliberate slow-down for the last 20 miles, I was happy with it. Good enough to do the 400 next weekend, anyway.

Gear review #1: my little cycling cap fits under my helmet and has enough of a visor to keep some of the rain out of my eyes. (Not as much as a baseball cap, but my baseball caps aren't very compatible with my helmet.) It was less than $5 at Nashbar. Glad I brought it. I really should just buy a MTB helmet with a visor, though, so there's one less thing to remember to pack.

Gear review #2: my brevet card and cue sheet were both dry at the end of the ride. The card was in my Ortlieb handlebar bag and the sheet was in my Ortlieb cue sheet holder. "Ortlieb" is apparently German for "waterproof." Many of the other riders had soaked brevet cards, so I was pretty happy about this. (I almost got disqualified from the 400 two years ago, when my brevet card got so soaked that one signature that was done in water-based ink completely washed away. Luckily about ten people remembered seeing me at that control so they let it slide.)

Gear review #3: my shoes and socks were completely soaked at the end of the ride. My feet looked like prunes. (I was very happy that I had dry shoes in the car.) Maile was wearing Shimano cycling sandals (with no socks) and her feet were a lot happier than mine at the end of the ride. I'm not really a sandal person (they go with recumbents and gigantic beards, right?) but it's hard to argue with results: on a wet ride, drainage is nice.