DC Randonneurs Glen Echo 106k Populaire Ride Report

DC Randonneurs' first ride of 2014, a mere 106 km (66.2 mile) populaire, was scheduled for January 25.  It snowed.  They wisely rescheduled for February 1.  It didn't snow; it was just cold.  Not even horribly cold, compared to what we'd had lately; the forecast said about 28F at the start and 50F at the finish.  I hadn't done an organized ride since I hurt my knee on the Fleche last April, and I hadn't ridden at all in January (because it was cold and lack of bike commuting has turned me into a wuss), but I figured even I could handle that.

It was the same route as last year: start at Glen Echo Town Hall, west on MacArthur to River Road, then west on River Road for about 10 miles, then various back roads to the halfway control in Hyattstown.  Then other back roads to the 2/3 distance control in Poolesville.  Then back roads to River Road, Glen Echo, and pizza.  All very pleasant, except for River Road, which is a popular bike route despite being infested with rollers and cars.

We got 36 people, not bad at all considering the cold weather and the postponement.  I thought about what to wear for a while, then went with the winter boots and winter helmet, figuring I was not acclimated to the cold.  I also had tights, my thickest jersey, a light balaclava (am I the only person who owns 3 different balaclavas?), and a reflective vest, but those could come off if I got too warm.

Made it to the parking lot at Glen Echo Park (a nice little park run by the National Park Service, with a historic ballroom and an old carousel plus some trees).  I was about an hour early, so I rode over to the park to check out the carousel (which I vaguely remember riding as a kid 30-some years ago) and use the bathroom.  Then I meandered over to the Town Hall for the start.  There were signs saying to take off bike shoes to avoid scuffing the floor, but the organizers had thoughtfully put down cardboard to make this unnecessary.  I got my brevet card and some food, then still had time to kill, so I went back to my bike until I got cold, then took a seat downstairs where I could chat with people without being in the way.

About 15 minutes before the start I decided it was time to stop cowering and start getting used to the cold, so I went out and double-checked my bike.  We got a warning about bad road edges due to construction, and to watch out for leftover snow and ice, and then it was time to go.  Unfortunately, my winter boots are much harder to clip in than my summer shoes, so it took me multiple tries to get my left foot in for the uphill start.  Fortunately, this didn't cause anyone behind me to crash.

I started off near the front, like I always do, but knew I wouldn't last there.  So I just settled in at a gentle pace and let everyone gradually pass me.  The first few miles of the route are pretty flat, but the first decent hill told me that I didn't have my climbing legs.  I'd done heavy squats the day before, but I think the lack of riding for the last month had more to do with it.  Luckily, 8 hours to do 106k meant I didn't need any climbing legs.  As long as I didn't stop and take a long nap, I'd make it.

We had an information control at mile 14, right after leaving River Road.  Surprisingly, I was still wearing everything I started the ride with, even though it had warmed up to a bit above freezing.  My pen (which is the kind with 4 different colors, so that if one runs out of ink I have 3 backups) didn't work, probably because of the cold, but I had a golf pencil for backup.  Right after the info control, we turned onto Montevideo, which is an extremely small road by just-outside-the-Beltway standards — well-worn pavement, lots of shade, very little traffic, and thus the first unmelted snow and ice of the ride.  I was paying attention and dodged it easily enough.

A couple miles later, my head started getting warm.  And my helmet felt super-tight.  So I briefly stopped to remove my balaclava, solving both problems.  Of course, this happened just a couple miles after the info control so that I could make an extra stop.  No big deal, since I was riding alone and a minute didn't matter.  I just objected to the inefficiency on general principles.  I partially unzipped my reflective vest and my winter jersey but decided it wasn't quite warm enough yet to remove either one; I would pull those zippers up and down a few inches on most of the big downhills and uphills for the rest of the day, giving me at least the illusion of a bit of temperature control.

A pack of five more riders passed me right before the halfway control to remind me that I should ride more in the winter.  Then I reached the stop at Denise Bakery and Deli in Hyattstown.  There were a bunch of people there eating real food, but I wasn't that hungry and wanted to get going again, so I just bought a Cherry Coke (with HFCS for extra calories, my first non-diet soda in months) and got my card signed.  There was a bit of drama because the brevet card said the control closed at 10:24, making most of us still at the control disqualified by a few minutes, but we figured it was a typo.  (It was; someone later noticed that the cue sheet had the correct time of 11:24.)  I ate a Clif Bar for some more calories, swapped my lobster claws for my lighter full-finger gloves, and got back on the bike.

The 14-mile section between controls was very pleasant, with Peach Tree and Comus and Barnesville and Cattail all being reasonable cycling roads without too much Saturday morning traffic.  I got passed by the same group of 5 riders (who were riding a bit faster than me but controlling a bit slower), but reached Cugini's Pizza in Poolesville in good spirits, probably buoyed by the sugar and caffeine.  I decided to repeat my successful meal experiment with another Cherry Coke (identical to the previous one but costing about a quarter more — I guess Poolesville is the posh part of western Montgomery County), and headed out without getting any pizza.  I knew there'd be pizza at the end of the ride when the clock would no longer be ticking.

The 7 miles from Poolesville back to River Road were fine, but I was definitely slowing, despite the temperatures warming into the high 40s.  Clearly the fault was with my lack of endurance, not the weather.  My attention wandered at one point and I found myself going right over a patch of unmelted snow that I didn't see until it was too late, but it wasn't that slippery and I was going straight so there was no drama.  River Road was once again hilly and once again somewhat full of cars, but most of them were pretty polite and gave me a wide berth.  (The double-yellow line has noise grooves in it to prevent head-on collisions, and I got used to hearing the noise of cars crossing it to give me more space.)  It seemed like that road went on forever, but just as it made the transition from semi-rural to suburban, the turn onto Persimmon Tree arrived.

The last few miles of the ride were easy.  3.5 miles on Persimmon Tree, a mile and a half on MacArthur (quite torn up by construction but still fine if you took the lane), and then done.  My time was 6 hours, an embarrassing 11 mph.  That's a 600 km pace, including a sleep stop, and there was no sleeping on this ride.  So clearly I have a lot of work to do this spring to get the pace up.  But no injuries, no mean dogs or really bad drivers, nice weather (no mean feat this winter, which has been very cold and pretty snowy), and a chance to see a bunch of friends I hadn't seen in a while.

Next ride is the Wilderness Campaign 200 on March 8.  I did it in 8:57 two-years ago (in hardcore year-round bike commuter shape) and 10:34 last year (in soft telecommuter occasional weekend cyclist shape).  My modest goal is to finish faster than last year.