DC Randonneurs Pastries and Coffee 209 km Brevet

DCR doesn't usually run brevets in July or August.  It's often really hot and lots of people are on vacation. But this year, at the last minute, we added a new 200 out of Severna Park, Maryland.  I hadn't ridden much in the Baltimore 'burbs, so this was a nice chance to see some different roads.

The route, shown here, starts in Severna Park and basically just scribbles north and south all over the place. You wouldn't think that it would be very hilly, and you'd be correct if you're comparing to a route that crosses actual mountains, but there are surprising number of streams and rivers to cross in that part of Maryland, and every one is preceded by a downhill and followed by a little climb. Somewhere around 6000 feet of climbing in 130 miles.

The weather was forecast to be unseasonably cool, which meant starting in the low 70s and peaking in the high 70s, which meant no concerns about clothes. Shorts and short-sleeve jersey all day. I did pack a cycling cap in case it rained, but didn't bother with a rain jacket since at that temperature it would just mean getting wet from sweat instead. I made sure to apply sunscreen, and brought some Ibuprofin in case my knee acted up, but otherwise it was a really easy packing job.

I resumed bike commuting (25 miles/day) on July 2 (after about two years of telecommuting a.k.a. not riding enough), so I was curious whether 2.5 weeks of steady riding would help with my 200 km pace, and with the stability of my left knee. I figured it was probably not enough time to make much difference.

It's about an 80-minute drive from my house to Severna Park, so I got up at 4:45 and left the house around 5:15. Arrived at Big Bean around 6:30 and the place was overrun with cyclists. There had only been about 20 riders pre-registered when I signed up a week before, but about 50 showed up to do the ride. They ran out of brevet cards and had to improvise for the last couple of riders. So I guess that shows that people will show up for a July brevet, if the weather is nice. I was happy to see Chuck and Crista there on their tandem, for the first brevet in a while. And Chris on a flat-bar hybrid, since he broke his trusty Litespeed (which looks a lot like mine except shinier) on the 600 and hadn't got another road bike yet. (I think it was the first flat-bar bike I've ever seen on a brevet, not counting recumbents.)

The big group headed out of Big Bean at 7, with ride organizer Gardner leading. I started near the front, around fifth, and stayed there for the first couple of miles as we went around 20 mph on nice suburban roads. Then we hit the first real hill and I instantly dropped back about 20 places. I wasn't going to overdo it early (this time), so I just shifted down and climbed sedately.

The hills broke the big pack up into several smaller groups. I ended up in a big group, which was moving a bit too slowly for my taste, so I sped up and chased down a group of five riders, Carol and several guys I didn't know. Carol's usually pretty fast so I figured if I was with her I was doing okay. We went up and down a bunch of rollers, got sprinkled on a bit but not enough to soak our feet, and soon enough reached the 25-mile info control, which involved writing down the number of the Knights of Columbus chapter that had adopted that highway.

We jumped back on our bikes and resumed churning. I eventually decided that group was a bit too fast for me and dropped off the back, so I rode alone for most of the next 17 miles. Somewhere in there I decided I might be a bit low on calories and ate a Clif Bar. The first real control was at Honey's Harvest in Rose Haven, right next to a marina on the Chesapeake Bay. There were a lot of bike people there, from our ride plus others. Honey's Harvest appeared to have real food, but I didn't want to wait for it and decided to just get ice cream and Gatorade to save time.

Leaving the control, I reversed course and was quickly passed by another rider with the same DCR jersey as me. Then by Chuck and Crista on their tandem, who are still faster than me despite their time off. We moved back inland a bit, until the second info control at mile 55. When I got there, there was a rider stopped at the corner, looking for the sign and not seeing it. I found it — it was an ad for a stable and we had to write down one of the services provided there. By the time I was done scribbling there were 3 or 4 more riders there, but I left first and none of them matched my speed.

We rode parallel to the Patuxent River for a while, then crossed Route 50, and then I caught up with Chris (on his hybrid) and rode with him for a while. He was climbing a bit slower than usual due to the extra weight of the bike, but that was fine with me. Several other riders passed us, then we passed them back, then they passed us again, and at some point I dropped off the back and was riding alone again. My left knee had started aching a bit around mile 35, and was we approached mile 70 it was getting bad enough that I decided to take Ibuprofin at the next stop. So, not surprisingly, 2.5 weeks of commuting was not enough to totally fix my knee.

I caught up with Chris again, who was riding with Leslie, who I hadn't seen earlier in the ride because she wasn't actually doing the brevet, just riding some of the same roads. There's a rule that you're not allowed to draft off people who aren't doing the same ride (to prevent people from hiring ringers to pace them for short sections of PBP), so I scrupulously avoided doing that. We had another info control at another stable sign at mile 71, where Chris and I stopped and Leslie kept going. I took my Ibuprofin, which worked, and my knee didn't bother me again for the rest of the ride.

Around mile 78, we got caught by a group including (the other) ride organizer Theresa, just before we had to cross Route 3 and optionally stop at a 7-11. That looked like a complicated crossing on the cue sheet (it was recommended to take a pedestrian crossing on the left side of the road), so I decided to follow the herd. About 6 of us waited approximately forever (probably actually 3 minutes) for the light to change, then crossed Route 3 and went to 7-11, where I bought 64 oz. of Gatorade and more ice cream. I refilled my bottles, chugged the rest of the Gatorade, enjoyed my ice cream, and sped off alone to steal a few minutes from those who were faster riders but longer stoppers.

A few minutes later, the sugar rush from the ice cream hit, and I got my second wind and rode fast for a bit. I caught and passed Carol, who was suffering from leg cramps. But then I needed to stop in the woods to water some trees, and a whole group of riders passed me. (Actually getting far enough from the road to avoid getting charged with indecent exposure costs a lot of time.) The sugar rush wore off and I was back to riding at 15 mph, as the cue sheet dumped us onto the BWI airport trail. It's pretty much just a big sidewalk next to the airport fence, not much of a trail. While I was slowing down to make sure of a turn, George caught me, and I rode with him for a while, trusting that he knew where he was going since he lives in Maryland. But, just like on the 300 and the fleche, George was a bit too fast for me, and I eventually got dropped.

Right around the 100 mile point we turned onto Ilchester Road, but fortunately it was above the infamously hilly part. The outer edge of my left foot was bothering me, a problem I'd never had before. I decided to sit down in a shady spot for a bit, take off my shoes, and massage my feet. That seemed to help, though it cost me a few minutes, and Joel and Calista (who had been tricked into stoking Joel's tandem) passed me while I was sitting there. I decided to get back on my bike and caught up with them and followed them for the next few miles into downtown Ellicott City. We had an open control there, and I figured one of them would know a good place to stop. We ended up going to a yuppified coffee shop, where I had a gigantic muffin, then left while they were still eating. (It was apparently my day for fast stops. Or I was just worried about having my bike stolen since there were a ton of people there.)

The next section involved the Grist Mill Trail in Patapsco Valley State Park, which was really nice. There was a skinny little pedestrian bridge to cross to get on the trail, then 2.5 miles of beautiful, shady, paved trail right next to the river. Lots of pedestrians and joggers and dog-walkers and little kids to avoid, but I wasn't in a hurry and they were all courteous. Then the route proceded down a "decrepit" road (first time I'd ever seen that word on a cue sheet) leaving the park, an old park entrance road that's no longer maintained and now closed to cars by a gate. No signs prohibited bikes from using it, though. It was a very rough road but I didn't get a flat so no problem.

After leaving the park, I crossed the Patapsco River, then caught up with Chris and Carol as they approached a traffic circle. They were moving at a nice sedate pace so I stuck with them for the rest of the ride. We had to navigate two traffic circles (got one right, got one wrong but figured it out quickly enough) and some more BWI Airport Trail, a few more small hills, and finally a couple of miles on the B&A Trail at the end of the ride coming into Severna Park. The end control was at Squisito's, which has pretty good pizza. We finished in 9:34, not fast for a flattish 200, but not that bad either. (Way better than the 10:20 I did on the Wilderness Campaign 200 in March.)

Overall, it was a good ride. Big turnout, perfect weather, no big problems with drivers or dogs. Though we later heard that one guy crashed and trashed his back wheel, but he wasn't injured. I would ride this route again.