DC Randonneurs Paul's Paradise 200 km Brevet

Our second 200 of the year was Paul's Paradise, a very hilly route.  The weather forecast was 40s and rainy.  Bleh.  If I were in better shape, I may have decided to skip it.  But with only 2 weeks until the 300, I really needed the miles, so I gathered up my rain gear.

I have two bikes with fenders.  One is a fixed gear — nope.  The other has fiddly cantilevers that are always going out of adjustment.  (I own some nicer Paul cantis but haven't got around to installing them yet.)  The thought of going down a wet Mar-Lu Ridge with brakes I don't really trust — nope.  So I decided to ride my Litespeed road bike, sans fenders.  I figured I'd eventually get soaked with or without them, and I probably wouldn't be going fast enough for anyone to want to draft me anyway.  Though, with hindsight, maybe I should have attached my Race Blades, which aren't as good as real fenders but are better than nothing.

I wore a short-sleeve wool jersey, shorts, heavy tights, cotton socks, wool socks, summer mountain bike shoes, a balaclava, light full-finger gloves, a rain jacket, and a reflective vest.  I started with the jacket's pit zips open (but mostly blocked by the vest).  I also had some arm warmers and an extra set of gloves in my bag.  Hindsight says I should have worn my winter boots, which are waterproof.  (Though maybe they would have made my feet too warm.)  Or, at least, two pairs of wool socks.

I started the ride at a carbo-loaded 208 lbs., only 1 pound less than the ride 3 weeks ago.  I've lost almost 40 lbs. since October, but very little in March, as I reduced my calorie deficit to keep from losing too much muscle mass along with the flab.  I'd never ridden this route before, but I rode the similarly hilly Urbana 200 at 228 lbs. last March, and hoped the 20 lbs. of weight loss would, if not getting me back to the midpack speed I had when I was riding every day, at least let me finish before dark.

My left knee started hurting on Urbana last March, and got bad enough on the Fleche last April that I had to abandon and then take time off the bike.  So I'd been paying close attention to it.  For this ride, I decided to raise my seat 3mm, as per the instructions for spring knee in Andy Pruitt's book.  And I brought Ibuprofin.  I figured that would be enough for 200k.

I did reasonably hilly 55-mile rides the previous two Saturdays, and a flattish 200k the week before that, so I was about as prepared as I was going to get, after a snowy winter of not riding much.  I figured I could go reasonably fast for about 30 miles then drag for the remaining 95, or go medium for about 50 miles then drag for the remaining 75.  The latter sounded smarter.  So I resolved to not chase the fast people early.

Driving to the start in Poolesville, I got to cross White's Ferry, then slow way down for the infamous speed camera.  Despite having to wait several minutes for the ferry, then drive at bicycle speed to make really really sure I wouldn't get a ticket, I still made it to the start in plenty of time.

30 people showed up.  About half of what we got for the previous ride, but considering the hills and the weather forecast, not bad.  No tandems, a sign of the hills to come.  We got one recumbent, though.

It wasn't raining (yet) at the start, which was nice.  I chose a small-print cue sheet because it fit on two pages and had the page break at a control, where I could theoretically flip the pages under cover and avoid soaking them.  This turned out to not be the best choice — while I could read the small print easily enough in the dry while stationary in good light, it was harder to make out the small print on a bouncing bike at dusk with water droplets all over the map case.  Next time I'll go with the big print version and deal with flipping the sheet an extra time.

We headed toward Mar-Lu slowly at 7 a.m.  I started in fourth position and stayed there, rather than sprinting to the front like an excited puppy.  Gradually the fast people passed me, and I stayed right where I was.  Eventually I felt like the group I was in was going too slow, and passed a few people, but I resisted the urge to go fast.  Not much point since I was going to go over Mar-Lu slowly regardless.  Approaching the light to cross Route 15, I remarked to someone that I'd never caught the green there and always had to wait for it.  Sure enough, the universe likes to prove me wrong and it turned green while we were a ways back.  So we sprinted for it.  I almost made it, but then it turned yellow and I started to brake, but then Bill (right behind me) kept sprinting so I re-accelerated and we both probably caught enough yellow to be legal.  Bill's a slow steady low-gear climber, so I decided to follow him up the hill at his speed, which turned out to be 5 mph on the lower 11% grade and 4 mph on the upper 15% grade.  Perfect.  We made it to the top, and I was happy to be breathing a bit hard but not exhausted, and then he shot away on the downhill at high speed, and I followed at a much lower speed, and didn't see him again for the rest of the day.

After Mar-Lu, the route went through Jefferson then turned toward Middletown.  Even though I hadn't done this ride before, we use the same roads on a bunch of others, so it all felt familiar.  The sky was very dark but it wasn't raining yet.  It was windier than expected, though.  I wasn't tired yet, but I knew the rollers of Burkittsville Road were each taking a bit out of me and I'd be paying later.  The first control was at the LDS (not the religion) store in Middletown at 25 miles.  I bought some Gatorade and some cashews.  It still wasn't raining, so I was a bit warm, so I took off my balaclava.

The next stretch featured Harmony Road, which is hilly.  And then Harp Hill Road, which gets to 18%, possibly the steepest hill on any DCR brevet.  (The switchbacks in Lost River State Park might be steeper, and that climb is certainly way longer, but that's on a ROMA ride.)  Steep enough that you need to lean forward to keep the front wheel planted.  I got passed by a pack of 5 riders at the bottom of Harp Hill, but stayed at my 3-4 mph pace rather than chasing.  It went up for approximately 5 million feet with a couple of false summits just to be mean.  My lower back started aching hard, something I don't remember happening before on a climb.  I saw a couple of riders stopped to rest near the top, and I really wanted to join them, but I knew that if I stopped it would be hard to get going again, so I gritted my teeth and kept pedalling.  Eventually I saw a couple of McMansions, the sign of an approaching summit, and started zipping up everything I'd unzipped to prepare for the descent.  Then the descent was surprisingly tame.  The descent on Wolfsville Road a few miles later was worse, because of potholes, but at least it was still dry.  The wind was really starting to gust.

Roger caught me from behind around mile 40, said hi, and blew on by.  I matched his speed for about 100 yards then realized it was a bad idea and dropped off.  (Roger likes to start brevets fashionably late then pass most of the field.)  I resumed my plodding pace into the wind.  I wasn't really hurting yet, so I was still in a reasonably aero position in the drops rather than in the fully upright position I'd need to use later in the ride.  My knee started aching around mile 45, so I pulled over to take a couple of Ibuprofin.  While I was stopped, a rider in an odd-looking helmet cover I didn't recognize passed me and greeted me by name.  I didn't recognize the voice (probably because of the wind) and had to speed up and get a good look to see who it was.  Once I saw around the helmet cover I realized it was George W., and rode with him for a while.  He was riding with kind of a burst-and-coast pace, while I was still in steady plod mode, so I passed him once to try to get my rhythm back, but then he re-passed me at the next stop sign and I just stayed behind him after that.  It was starting to rain (not hard yet) and he had fenders and I didn't so I didn't want to spray him.  We were both hurting a bit due to the hills and wind, and the ride wasn't even half over yet.

We reached the lunch control at Paul's Country Market in Waynesboro PA at mile 55, as the rain started to pick up.  Paul's is a Mennonite store with good deli sandwiches and baked goods and clean bathrooms.  Pretty much the perfect control, except that it's closed on Sundays so you don't want to ride this route then.  (Yoder's on the Old Rag brevet is very similar.)  I had a tasty roast beef hoagie (we had crossed the Mason Dixon Line so subs had officially become hoagies) and a pack of oatmeal raisin cookies.  I spent a few minutes eating and chatting with riders and volunteers, then decided to hurry out since I wasn't going very fast and might need the time later.

Unfortunately, I got turned around and headed down the wrong road.  Fortunately, volunteer Mike W. saw me going the wrong way and chased me down in his car and turned me around, so I only did 1.2 bonus miles instead of the at least 2 I would have done if I'd had to figure out my own mistake.  Still annoying, because I had to add 1.2 to every cue sheet distance for the rest of the day.  Back on course, I retraced the route back to Rouzerville, then went up Old Rt. 16 and Buena Vista, which went up a long long way.  Not steep, but far.  The climbing was annoying, as was the increasing rain, but I was happy to be halfway done with the ride and past (presumably) the 3 worst climbs.  It got really foggy up there on top of whatever mountain that is, and I was worried about half-blind drivers, so I made sure all my lights were on and prepared to bail off the road if needed, but luckily it wasn't.  The wind also got really ferocious without the side of the mountain to block it.  Crossed the Appalachian Trail, which meant it was time to go downhill again, and fortunately both the fog and the wind decreased away from the summit.

Spruce Run Road at mile 76 was a treat — steep, narrow, downhill, wet, and potholed.  I dragged my brakes most of the way down, alternating to avoid overheating either wheel.  Luckily there was no oncoming traffic so I was free to use whatever part of the road was the safest.  I got to a (different) LDS store at mile 79, but wasn't sure it was the right one at first.  It was.  I bought more Gatorade and some Golden Oreos (not as good as the cookies at Paul's but still a nice source of calories) and had a hard time getting the money out of my wallet to pay for them, as my hands were too cold and wet for fine motor control.  I swapped my gloves for dry ones (which would only stay dry for a few minutes).  George and Gary arrived while I was there, and I left before both of them.  Slow, but still not last!

Gary passed me a couple of miles later on Wolfsville Road.  Then we had to do Harmony Road again, but at least the return route bypassed Harp Hill.  (Going down the steep side in the rain would not have been much fun.)  George passed me pretty close to the 95 mile control at the Jefferson Crown gas station.  Not the most scenic control, but they had food and bathrooms, so good enough for me.  I got a Hershey's Moose Tracks cone that was surprisingly delicious; it was a bit cold for ice cream but I was feeling lethargic and wanted something with a lot of calories.  I took a couple more Ibuprofin for my knees (plural; my right knee was also aching a bit by this time).  George left right in front of me and we started up the less-steep side of Mar-Lu.  After Harp Hill and Buena Vista, it was really easy.  Then we had to go down the steep side, and it was wet, and I was very careful.  So was George, so I almost caught up with him again right after the light at US 15.  But he had more left in his legs than I did, and slowly drifted away into the distance, as we rode the nice flat(ish) section around mile 100.  That was the last time I'd see another rider until the end.

The rain was getting a bit harder, and my feet were getting cold.  I was happy that the ride was almost over.  Some quick (and probably questionable) math told me that if I could keep riding at 12 mph I'd finish in under 12 hours.  That seemed good enough, but not enough to really give me a sense of urgency.  I found myself using my small ring even on fairly flat roads.  Fingerboard Road had a bit of traffic.  Slate Quarry Road had some epic potholes.  As did Peach Tree Road, which featured an information control whose answer was "dumping."  Soon afterward, Peach Tree turned downhill, but it was so rough that it was still work rather than an easy coast to the end.  I pulled into Poolesville at 6:55 p.m., with an elapsed time of 11:55.  Really slow, but over an hour faster than Urbana last spring.

I ate 3 pieces of pretty good pizza at Cugini's while chatting with the other riders and volunteers.  The rain was steadily increasing outside, so I was glad to be done.  I hadn't remembered to bring dry clothes to change into, so after a while it started to get cold, and I headed to my warm car.  This was probably the hardest 200 I'd ever ridden, considering the hills and the weather.  Still only a 200, though, so not that hard in the grand scheme of things.

My knee held up okay, with only minor pains that were squashed with Ibuprofin. I was slow, but much faster than at Urbana last year.  I made it up Harp Hill.  My bike was mostly okay, though it autoshifted a couple of times, perhaps an indication that it's time to change the chain, cassette, and chainrings.  All in all, a pretty good day, though I was pretty grumpy for the last half of it.

We have a 300 coming in two weeks, a 400 in five weeks, and a 600 in seven weeks.  I'm cautiously optimistic about the 300, and worried about my ability to finish the others.  I don't think there's enough time to properly prepare.  But at least it should warm up before then.