2017 Fleche: Team Once in a Blue Moon

It’s been a week since our six-person, five-bike team Once in a Blue Moon rode 226 miles in 24 hours on April 22-23 as part of the D.C. Randonneurs 2017 fleche, and I’m just now getting my head clear to post our story, so forgive the tardiness. It’s worth it to get a story that isn’t clouded by sleep deprivation, I hope.

In case you are unaware of the fleche, it’s the main team randonneur event of the year. Teams of up to five riders or bikes (tandems count as one bike, yay!) make up their own route that covers at least 360 kilometers (223.6 miles), with 24 hours to finish and no stops of longer than two hours, so you can’t race and finish way early.

Interested? Perplexed? Shocked, even? Typical for randonneuring, there are a bunch of rules, see them here. In sum, it’s a long ride with time limits, just like other randonneur rides, but you get to make up your own route and have to finish together.

I tried to get this post out earlier in the week but needed time to process the whole event and catch up on my sleep.  I always think I’m back to normal from the fleche after just one or two night’s sleep, but it always takes longer.

The Fleche: What the Heck is That?

We like the fleche but mostly during the ride and after. In advance the concept is daunting.

The fleche is run on or near the Easter weekend so spring weather is a given. Riders have to bring night/cold/wet weather gear, and of course learn how to stay awake in the wee hours. They also have to get to a remote start, if a point-to-point route is chosen to the designated finish at the Key Bridget Marriott in Arlington, across the Potomac River from Washington.

This year our team had two randonneur newbies which added another bit of extra uncertainty – though they did fine! More below.  A team must have at least three bikes finish together for an official result, but the goal is always to complete the ride with nobody dropped, and optimally riding as a group the entire way.

Sunny skies in Cumberland for our arrival

 

Lastly, there is always the threat of bad weather. It’s rare that there is no rain somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic on a fleche weekend, and usually some winds. Every team (this year there were seven that attempted the DC Randonneurs event, five were successful) throws the dice in deciding their general direction regarding the weather. Last year half of 10 teams abandoned because of a massive cold front from the northwest with gusty winds.

This year we started in Cumberland, Md., at the northern end of the C&O Canal Towpath where it meets Great Allegheny Passage Trail that links Washington with Pittsburgh. Mary and I drove out Friday morning in a rental minivan with the Spectrum tandem, which isn’t allowed on the train because it’s too long – the tandem, that is!

It fits!

Clean, for the moment

 

Cumberland has an Enterprise franchise that accepted a one-way rental, and a staffer drove us back to the hotel, which was nice.

Our Team

Team OIABM was drawn together by our English pal and captain Jerry Seager, who loves to provide cue sheets in proper European kilometers instead of miles, finds restaurants for meals, and looks for mountains and dirt roads to liven up the proceedings. For the second year in a row Jerry had us start from a town on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited line, which has bike service, so that our team could ride a point-to-point route without arranging a shuttle.

 

Bilal and Natasha in Cumberland

 

We and Jerry were the holdovers from our team last year. Rando stalwart Eric Pilsk joined us this year along with newcomers Natasha Calderwood and her partner Bilal Zia, who Jerry recruited. They are very active cyclists in the DC racing/cyclocross scene but not randonneurs, so they were green to the brevet cards and middle-of-the-night riding thing.

The makeup of the team brought its own stresses, because it would be our first ride together, but also made it interesting to see if we could come together on the road.

Eric and Jerry at our first stop in Corriganville, five miles into the ride

 

To meet the minimum mileage, Jerry devised a question mark-style route that initially sent us in the opposite direction from Washington, which was kind of strange, but hey this is randonneuring so just follow the route, OK? Joking aside, devising a fleche route is not easy, and we’re indebted to Jerry for doing the work.

See our GPS track and data at RidewithGPS and see Jerry’s route at Ridewithgps.

Basically, we took the GAP Trail towards Pittsburgh over the Eastern Continental Divide and then left the trail in Meyersdale for some gruesomely hilly & gravelly/scenic riding to Bedford for lunch. From there we turned south through the steep but lovely Laurel Highlands, landing in the early evening in Hancock, Md.

Pointing our wheels to the southeast, the remaining highlights were:

  • rolling back roads to Shepherdstown, W. Va., (for a planned dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe, hence our team name);
  • a few flat and muddy miles on the C&O Canal Towpath to a Potomac River crossing at Brunswick, Md;
  • more back roads to Leesburg in Virginia;
  • the finish in Arlington via the paved W&OD and Custis paved trails.

Friday Arrival in Cumberland

The forecast for the weekend was ominous, and that left us with some dread on Friday, with cold rain forecast for most of Saturday and all of Saturday night. Our hopes were pinned on the chance that the rain would somehow miss us.

Mary and I got into Cumberland under sunny skies and light breezes, an ironic touch. I forgot my knee warmers at home but we found some nice Endura ones at the friendly nearby Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop, right by our Fairfield Inn hotel.

We had just one gear scare. I brought my Sidi road shoes by mistake instead of my mountain shoes. They are set up with Shimano SPD road cleats so we tried them out on the tandem and they worked fine with our dual-sided SPD pedals. Using only SPD pedals on our bikes paid off this time.

Saturday: Rain at the Start

We met at 7 a.m. for handshakes and photos under heavy cloud cover in Cumberland and sped off to the early control points that were needed to verify our route. We had our rain gear handy and it would come out in short order.

Our humble start point

Eric in Cumberland

Steep hill into Frostburg

Us, in Frostburg, mostly dry

Bilal and Natasha in Frostburg

 

Light rain started after Frostburg where we picked up the GAP Trail. By the time we were over the Continental Divide there was steady cold rain, and we were shivering. At the Sheetz store in Meyersdale we put on all of our cold weather gear and rode off in drizzle that seemed to be getting less intense. Before long the rain stopped completely, which was great news.

Natasha and Jerry on the GAP Trail. Courtesy Mary G.

The Continental Divide on the GAP Trail

Bagging that turkey on the GAP Trail

 

Best of all, the rain did not catch us again on the entire ride, as we stayed behind the cold front moving toward the southeast. It was chilly, especially on the downhills, and cloudy, but that was so much better than rain.

Dirt Climbing with Eric and Jerry

 

We still had a lot of ups and downs to conquer in the first century. Jerry has a knack for finding steep dirt lanes and on this day he did not disappoint. We took on a few including Schoolhouse Road on the way to lunch in Bedford, and the appropriately-named Hill Road that took us over McKee’s Gap into Hancock. We added these to our annual list of fleche grievances.

(Tech note: we enjoyed good traction with our new tire choice, the 700×32 Panaracer Gypsyking Gravelking file tread model. We’ve been using Panaracer Pasela PT 700×32 for years).

Crazy steep Schoolhouse Road

 

Jerry is also good at finding better lunch spots. This time we enjoyed the farm-to-table restraurant Horn O Plenty in Manns Choice, where Mary and I each had a Monte Cristo sandwich – a ham-and-cheese on French toast – which must have had 1,000 calories, and we didn’t leave any behind. The staff was really great too about getting us our food fast. Eric shot past the place (it was easy to miss), but he returned with five bonus miles and they got him fed in fast order.

Big Lunch at Horn O Plenty

 

The many hills in the area offered fantastic views but they came with a downside for a fleche team with a tandem included – we became well strung out.  The fast downhill speed of the tandem (48+ m.p.h. on one hill) pulled us away from the group and we rode a number of the miles by ourselves, with Eric coming up from time to time on the ascents before we’d fly off again. Jerry,

Natasha and Bilal were out of sight behind us somewhere, which made us worry, but we figured there would be a regrouping in Hancock. Temperatures remained in the 50s, not ideal but warm enough.

Up in the Hills courtesy. Mary G

 

We arrived at Hancock way behind schedule, at about 6 p.m., or 11 hours for the first 115 miles, and the rest of the group was some minutes back. We were barely making minimum overall speed for an official finish. Not good!

Dinner was not happening at the Blue Moon in Shepherdstown – the restaurant would be closed at 9 long before we got there, and Natasha’s stomach was acting up, keeping her from getting nutrition and slowing her progress.

There was some consternation at this point about our team prospects. We decided to split up, with Bilal and Natasha taking some extra time to see if she could recover. It was sad but we had to move on if there was to be any chance of making an official finish.

The Reunion and the Magic

Along the way to Shepherdstown, riding by ourselves, we got off course for a couple of miles. After returning we noticed bike lights ahead and eventually caught up to Natasha and Bilal, who had gotten past us. Natasha was so surprised to see us that she initially thought we were some other tandem couple riding around in the dark!

Meanwhile, Jerry and Eric found a pizza place in a shopping center near Hainsville and we had a happy gathering. Natasha’s appetite returned, we got plenty to eat, and set out in good spririts. The gentle terrain kept the group together and the miles flew by.

There was conversation. There was laughter. We stuck together and got into Sheperdstown late but happy.

Racing to the Finish

The night ride was foggy and damp but mostly uneventful, except for a chance meeting with the Severna Park-based Four Guys and Another Guy team at Harpers Ferry. Our group stopped under the pedestrian bridge across the Potomac River after midnight, only to hear people clomping down the spiral staircase above. Another happy meetup!

After some pleasantries they sped off east while we took the C&O south, splashing through the puddles, toward our next control at Knoxville outside of Brunswick, Md.

Eric in Knoxville

 

Our final goals were a 7-11 control in Leesburg, and then our last control at Amphora diner in Herndon, which we had to reach by 5 a.m. We knew it was going to be close. After getting confused in an apartment complex trying to get on the W&OD again in Leesburg that required a bit of bushwhacking, we rode hard to get to Amphora, and made it with about 10 minutes to spare.

After a 20-minute rest we trundled out toward Arlington, and a randonneur team time trial formed. We arrived with seconds to spare at 6:59 a.m.! It was a joyous moment after a long and at times tough ride.

Team portrait at the finish. Courtesy Mike Wali.

 

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of talk in cycling these days about epic adventure rides, particularly on gravel. The fleche, at least when Jerry is making up the route, is a great way to experience the long miles, night skies and remote roads right here in the Mid-Atlantic. This year’s edition was particularly challenging and an official result wasn’t always a sure thing. Our team pulled together in the dead of night and made it happen, and for that I’m proud of them and us.

It was a pleasure to ride with Natasha and Bilal, who remained calm and resolute throughout.

And, as always, special kudos are due to Mary, who rode with her usual aplomb. I’m always glad to be part of our tandem team.

Mary and Me. She looks much fresher. Courtesy Mike Wali.

DC Randonneurs 300K: Big Flat Looms Large

I’d have to stop and count the number of times I’ve ridden the DC Randonneurs 300K out of Frederick, Md., yet it remains my favorite of that distance.

Why? I have this love of conquering the big monster known as Big Flat Ridge, about a third of the way through the ride. Big Flat is part of the South Mountain extension and rises above the first control in Shippensburg, Pa.

IMG_0592

Signing In

See all of my photos here at Flickr.

A stairstep climb to the top gains more than 1,300 feet over seven miles, starting with a tough grunt up from orchard hills below, then culminating in a grind of about 1.5 miles with sustained grades over 10 percent.

Big Flat isn’t the only tall point on this ride – we also ride over South Mountain from Thurmont up MD 77 at mile 18, about 1,200 feet up over seven miles. The grades are not as bad there, however.

Still, Big Flat caps off about 45 miles of big hills, for a total of about 5,000 feet of elevation gain. If you push too hard to get past Big Flat, it’s hard to recover, especially if the winds pick up.

On the Spectrum tandem we’re way down in our lowest gear often on Big Flat – a 26×34 combination –  and standing on the pedals here and there to get off the saddle.

Saturday was a gorgeous day, but the ride was still as tough as ever. We had the benefit of a slight tailwind, but hauling a tandem over those climbs is always a challenge.

Here’s our route on RidewithGPS, but ignore the total climbing, which I think is a fair bit lower. Garmin corrects it to 8,338 feet.

A Fast Start

Organizer Chris Readinger sent us off at 5 a.m. from the Days Inn, 26 riders in all. Mary and I managed to stay close to the front group to Thurmont and got there in just over an hour, but they rapidly disappeared on the climb up to Cascade. Some riders caught us near the top, including Pat O’Connor, another D.C. resident who we had not seen at a DCR ride in a few years.

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John on his Boulder

After Cascade we were among the riders we’d see the rest of the day: Greg Keenan, Gary Rollman and Scott Franzen of Pennsylvania, Paul Donaldson and John Mazur, who was on his single bike today, a lovely Boulder Bicycles 650b randonneur.

IMG_0604

Cascade!

Chris Readinger was there with his partner at the turnoff on Shippensburg Road to Big Flat with water and encouragement. We got over Big Flat and flew down into Shippensburg around 10 a.m., not bad for us. The sun was bright and warm and we took off layers.

IMG_0634

Gary and John Climbing Shippensburg Road

Headwinds and Bonking

The rest of the day we leapfrogged with the other folks in our riding orbit, which now included Roger Hillas and Mark Mullen. The wind was in our face after the midpoint turn south at Plainfield, and it was warm, well into the 70s.

IMG_0642

Mark in Plainfield

We made it up Whiskey Springs Road to the final tall spot of the ride, and then rode without much pop in our legs over to East Berlin with that annoying headwind. It was not strong enough to really knock us back, but kept us working. Being on a tandem helps, but only so much.

We thought we were the only ones to stop at Rocco’s for pizza, but Roger came in and sat with us while he ate a sandwich. This spot has been crowded in the past but everybody else went to the Rutters store instead.

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Spring Abounds

Arriving famished, I overate pizza and fries and paid for it with slow digestion. Oh well. The next stop was at Thurmont after 40 miles of slow progress over farmlands and the occasional hill and dip on quiet back roads. Here I had my classic final push treat of a Snickers ice cream bar and bottled ice tea. We joked about how the kid on the BMX bike in the parking lot was going to drop us on the way to Frederick.

Mary and I were, thankfully, invigorated for the final 18 miles – helped by some calories and lighter winds – and we arrived back in Frederick at 7:45 p.m. We came in at our normal mid-pack placing, a fair result for us given the winds.

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Pizza Time

Final Thoughts

Chris did a nice job with this ride. He asked riders to text him from Thurmont so that he would have hot pizza on hand, a smart idea. The pull of finishing pizza is strong and there was plenty when we rolled up, along with snacks and treats, including Easter-theme malted milk balls.

With the passing years (for me; Mary is as strong as ever)  this ride is getting harder, but it’s still a rewarding challenge, and I hope it stays on the calender.

Our next ride is the DCR Fleche next Saturday, where we will be riding with Team Once In A Blue Moon. Here’s our fleche route. See you!

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Winding Down

The Unintentional Century

On Saturday big crowds were expected in D.C. for the protest march, but I’m in the news business and had no related assignment, so I was looking for an escape from the city. The forecast was for a mostly dry, mild day, and a long bike ride in the country was in order.

Mary graciously agreed to join me and we set off from Marshall, Va. on what was to be an 85-miler, though it ultimately turned into a longer and harder route than we expected. See the final ride at Ridewithgps. The route we intended has a shortcut via the low water bridge over the Shenandoah River that is usually passable – but I should have checked beforehand.

The day was gray, with some light mist, and lots of fog. Temperatures were in the upper 40s, though, so no worries. I always keep the generator front and rear lights running in daytime, but I was doubly glad for them today because of the fog. (Tech nerds: our setup is a Schmidt SON 28/disc 36-hole hub, running a Busch & Muller IQ-X headlight and a B&M Toplight rear light mounted to a Tubus rack).

Wool blend jersey and vest kind of day

Wool jersey and vest kind of day

 

This route features one big climb, Snickers Gap, but otherwise is made up of rolling hills. The temperatures warmed up into the low 50s.

Bluemont Store. Snickers Gap ahead.

Bluemont Store. Snickers Gap ahead.

 

Snickers Gap was shrouded in fog.

The fog on Snickers Gap

The fog on Snickers Gap

 

We had an early lunch a few miles before Snickers Gap in Middleburg, which we thought would allow us to get around the course with just store stops.

Time out at the luxe Millwood store

Time out at the luxe Millwood store

 

All was going well until we got to the low water bridge at Morgan Ford Road, only to find it gone, with a new bridge under construction. This sad turn of events came later in the afternoon, which was a bummer. The only options were to backtrack over Snickers Gap, or go on to Front Royal and cross the Shenandoah River there.

And thus ended our plans to finish in daylight

And thus ended our plans to finish in daylight

 

We opted for the Front Royal option to keep things in a loop. Our thought was initially to take Rt. 55 straight back to Marshall, but that road is pretty scary leaving Front Royal and I talked Mary into taking Rt. 522, which took us over Chester Gap in thick fog and added a few more miles. Traffic was light and gave us plenty of room.

Our generator light did a great job on the descent, supplemented with a Light and Motion battery light, and we got off onto Hume Road without any issues.

From there it was quiet roads all the way back to Marshall, in and out of the fog banks. We never got really cold or wet, but it was still a relief to get back to the car, well after dark at 6:30 p.m.

Today (Sunday) I felt pretty tired but our pal and fleche captain Jerry S. talked me into a 35-miler out on the W&OD Trail out to Caffe Amouri in Vienna and back. The rain held off and it was a pleasant outing, and made an afternoon nap pretty sweet.

Jerry leads the way back to DC

Jerry leads the way back to DC

 

Next week: The DC Randonneurs club has their annual meeting and 68-mile populaire next Saturday, and that’s likely going to be plenty for us. I’ll make my 600-mile goal for January sometime this week and my legs are starting to feel it.

Winter Riding and Summer Planning

Ah, a three-day weekend. Better yet, on Sunday and Monday the weather was mild and dry. This is the time of year I find myself of multiple minds: trying to keep up the miles on the bike to get ready for the upcoming spring randonneuring brevets, and fretting over our summer tandem tour. A long weekend let me indulge both.

Friday morning started out pleasantly as always at the weekly Friday Coffee Club commuter cyclists gathering. The pre-work meetup is nearing its five-year anniversary, which we’ll celebrate later this month.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for the reopening of our original FCC location at Swing’s Coffee on 17th & G NW by the White House. It now looks like July or later according to the Swing’s site. A Baked Joint at 440 K St. NW has been a welcome temporary spot and we’ll continue there.

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

 

Saturday

A typical cold and rainy January day met us. I got out for a nice midday Freezing Saddles ride for a coffee visit with Jerry and Carolyn at Chinatown Coffee.

Rainy Day in DC

Rainy Day in D.C.

 

The rest of the day I worked on our summer tour. This year we’re returning to Colorado, but starting in Albuquerque and finishing in Boulder! The route is here – we start for Santa Fe on July 1 and finish on the 13th, about 950 miles later.  We haven’t ridden in New Mexico before, and in both states we’ll see some new terrain and towns, notably:

  • Santa Fe, Taos and Chama in New Mexico;
  • the Black Canyon of the Gunnison;
  • Monarch Pass to Gunnison;
  • Independence Pass;
  • Aspen and the Rio Grande Trail to Carbondale.

We’ll also return to some favorites: Durango, Silverton, and Kremmling, and another go at hauling the tandem over the wild & wooly Rollins Pass from Winter Park on the final day. This time, big tires are going on the tandem for that doozy.

The route was already drafted – the real work was making hotel reservations and buying our airline tickets. I always feel a little nervous locking down our July trip in mid-January, but it’s also nice to have everything lined up. I’ll make up cue sheets in the coming weeks and figure out the coffee places, bike shops and restaurants in the new towns.

Sunday

The skies cleared and we rode the Spectrum tandem to Frederick, Md. to one of our favorite area shops, the enchanting Gravel & Grind. Mel and James have created something really special and we always enjoy ourselves there. Everything is good (the coffee, food, bikes, stuff, and scene), but especially their welcoming vibe.

James, Mel and Mary

James, Mel and Mary

 

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

 

Mary, James and Me

Mary, James and Me

 

A randonneuring friend of ours has been talking to James about staging a fall randonneur brevet from the shop, so everybody could get some food and drinks and hang out afterwards. I hope it comes true.

The ride was a good one for us, at 117 miles without any extended climbs – perfect for winter when the wind isn’t blowing. Here’s the route on Garmin Connect or you can check it out at Strava.

The ride home was uneventful except for this very cool hawk on the side of River Road, near dusk. It calmly let us take photos. Thanks hawk!

A Hawk Surveys Its Domain

Hawk Surveys Its Domain

 

Monday

Mary and I each had dentist appointments and the skies were gray. I rode my Rivendell Bleriot, which sees far too little use these days, up to Clarendon in Arlington to turn in a very old Mac Mini for recycling (the PowerPC generation, if that rings a bell). The bike, unlike that old Mac, is just as good as ever, though it needs better fenders.

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

 

From there I rode down to the Mall and went to the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, which was busy with visitors — appropriately so on this day.

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

 

Spiraling Into 2017

When one gets obsessive about annual cycling mileage, Jan. 1 marks the abrupt end of one quest and the start of another.

Looking Out Over the Potomac

Looking Out Over the Potomac

 

I made it a goal around Thanksgiving to get to 8,000 miles in 2016, and dubbed the effort Project 8K on my Twitter & Instagram feed to motivate myself.

It seemed doable, with about 350 miles to go in December, my records told me. Then I found a big mistake in my log — I had uploaded a century twice by running two Garmin GPS units on a ride. Why? I was debugging a problem with my Edge 810 bike unit and rode with my GPS watch as a backup, and forgot that it uploaded the miles on the next sync some days later.

Taking that ride out was the only honorable thing to do. But it made my goal jump to 450 miles, no small amount in December with iffy weather and holiday time with family. I started putting in a few extra miles on the weekdays and rode a 200k with the DC Randonneurs with Mary on Dec. 3, which got me closer. But then I got sick and lost four days mid-month, including a weekend.

Things looked tight, but I got some miles at the Hains Point 100 and managed a solo century on the Dec. 23, which did most of the job. Along the way I got some very nice online and in-person cheering from the BikeDC gang as I posted my progress. Thanks all!

I made it to 8K on Dec. 29, fittingly riding around Hains Point after work with Mary and our mega-miler pal Judd joining in.

Me and Judd (courtesy Mary G)

Me and Judd (courtesy Mary G.)

 

Then, barely 48 hours later, I’m back at zero miles on Jan. 1. Geez! At least all the other mile/kilometer chasers were in the same boat. It was our good luck then that we had mild, dry weather on Sunday, and we took the tandem out to Adamstown, Md. for a long ride west to Shepherdstown, W.Va. and back.

Quiet Winter Roads

Quiet Winter Roads

 

I modified the Century of the Spiral Staircase to start in Adamstown to an 88-mile version that let us start a little later in the morning, and meet a local furniture dealer after the ride.

Glad to Be Out Riding

Glad to Be Out Riding

 

This century was one cued by tandem riders John Fauerby and Lynne Rosenbusch, whose death caused by a drunk driver on Halloween in 2015 remains hard to accept. Here’s a link to a memorial fund set up in their honor to promote the work of Bike Maryland to make the roads safer for all users.

Here’s their full 1o1.5-mile route, (input by our riding buddy Eric P.), and our shorter route.

Gapland, a Familiar Sight

Gapland, a Familiar Sight

 

To celebrate New Year’s Day I counted our firsts of 2017 along the way. Here are a few:

  • first tandem ride of the year;
  • first summit of iconic high point Gapland;
  • first lunch at Blue Moon Cafe, a Shepherdstown favorite;
  • first espressos at Lost Dog Espresso, another Shepherdstown favorite;
  • first hauling of the tandem down the spiral staircase to the C&O Canal Towpath in Harper’s Ferry;
  • first “she’s not pedaling” jibe by yet another smartaleck old guy;
  • first sunset together on the bike!

On the final miles we caught up to a group of randonneurs riding a 200K permanent. They had 30 miles to go with the sun going down and were happy as clams. Check out these smiles.

 

Randonneurs Katie, Emily, Mike, Steve and Nick

Randonneurs Katie, Emily, Mike, Steve and Nick

 

Our ride also got us going in the annual Bike Arlington Freezing Saddles winter riding challenge. This is my second year and I’m again shooting for perfect attendance. This is my chance to make up for never getting the attendance ribbon in elementary school, I always stayed home sick at least once.

Good luck and tailwinds this year, readers. We’ll be looking for you!

 

Coffeeneuring 2016: Sipping The Fall Away

Well! This fall has been a busy one here in the TDR household. Mary and I are always on the run (in her case, with marathons, literally) nonstop from Labor Day through Thanksgiving. Coffeeneuring comes naturally as part of all that. I can hardly imagine the leaves changing color without stopping in our favorite coffee haunts as we ride around town and out into the Mid-Atlantic countryside.

This year I accomplished my sixth completion of the Coffeeneuring Challenge, but my first with a theme-within-a-theme: Classic Coffeeneuring.

Why is this, you might ask? It all got started because Mary shook the coffeeneuring world this year by amending the rules to allow weekday coffeeneuring rides.

This was all fine and good, but as an original coffeeneur, I’m happy to keep associating coffeeneuring with carefree weekends spent on the bike and not at work.

Stuck in the coffee mud, so to speak, I followed the old rules and kept my rides to Saturday, Sunday, and the one Monday holiday, Columbus Day. For that day I relied on the 2014-era Tara Rule that allows two qualifying rides on that particular three-day weekend.

Riding to Philadelphia with Mary and Carolyn

Riding to Philadelphia with Mary and Carolyn

 

This year I also went to familiar coffee shops in and around Washington and in Philadelphia, with just one new to my personal lineup. These places have become woven into my coffeeneuring fabric and I didn’t feel like much experimentation.

The sole addition, Gravel & Grind in Frederick, Md. is a seriously cool and unique bike shop and stellar coffee cafe that I’ve visited by car, but had yet to stop there more than once by bike. I recommend any lover of bikes, and coffee, stop there.

Maybe it was all the uncertainty surrounding the elections this year that led me to stick to tried-and-loved shops. Really, these locales are among my favorites on weekends and play a regular role in outings long and short. Life’s too short for bad coffee, OK? These places care and are all welcoming respites for the two-wheel adventurer.

Stepping down from the soapbox, I want to commend Mary. She gets the wave, a standing ovation and a gold star for running the Coffeeneuring Challenge again this year, which takes up a fair bit of her time.

There has been growing participation in the challenge around the world, which is always fun and inspiring to see up close. She and her homespun contest even got written about in Bicycle Times magazine (sorry, article is not online), and the Facebook Coffeeneuring group is full of tales that will warm your heart as the cold weather sets in.

So with utmost respect, I hereby detail my rides for certification by Mary. Caveat: I don’t rate coffee places on whether they are bike friendly – all the ones I visited were safe enough for locking up outside, even if they did not have bike racks.

Ride No. 1

Sunny Fall Baseball Sunday

Sunny Fall Baseball Sunday

 

  • Date and Location: Oct. 9, Peregrine Espresso, Eastern Market, Washington.
  • Distance: 4.3 miles
  • Drink: Espresso
  • Companions: Mary
  • Observations: We coffeeneured to Peregrine at Eastern Market, one of my solid weekend stops, before going to the Nationals baseball playoff game. It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. A nice little ride and a great way to start the coffeeneuring season. Plus, the Nats won!
  • Rating: ☕️ ☕️ ☕️ ☕️

 

Ride No. 2

I hope Chinatown Coffee never changes. Always an oasis in the city.

I hope Chinatown Coffee never changes. Always an oasis in the city.

 

  • Date and Location: Oct. 10, Chinatown Coffee, Washington.
  • Distance: 11.6 miles
  • Drink: Soy Cappuccino
  • Companions: Mary
  • Observations: A welcome Columbus Day holiday, invoking the Tara Rule here. Chinatown Coffee has both great espresso drinks and a welcome vibe. We got a few more miles around Hains Point to round out the lazy day off.
  • Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

 

Ride No. 3

Not quite artisan, but good flavor

Not quite artisan, but good flavor

 

  • Date and Location: Oct. 15, Caffe Amouri, Vienna, Va.
  • Distance: 88.6 miles
  • Drink: Soy Cappuccino
  • Companions: Ted, Jerry and Carolyn
  • Observations: Mary was out of town and I accompanied Ted on the “Leesburg Loop” ride with Jerry and Carolyn along for part of the way. No ride out on the W&OD Trail is complete without a stop at Caffe Amouri, another solid coffee & espresso cafe tucked among a sea of chain coffee places, with good pastries and light lunch options.
  • Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️

 

Ride No. 4

A Baked Joint. Warm outside. I took my Always Be Coffeeneuring Patch.

A Baked Joint. Warm outside. I took my Always Be Coffeeneuring Patch.

 

  • Date and Location: Oct. 16, A Baked Joint, Washington
  • Distance: 7.6 miles
  • Drink: Soy Cappuccino
  • Companions: Just Me
  • Observations: Mary still out of town. I finished Saturday’s ride with a noise in my front hub, so I took the wheel over to BicycleSpace at Franklin Square for service. Jerry, their wheel expert, was at the shop and said he could fix it then, so I went next door to ABJ for an impromptu soy cappucino. This place has really grown on me since I started working less than a mile away and we relocated Friday Coffee Club there while Swings Coffee Roasters renovates. The coffee drinks are always good and the staff are pretty groovy. Going five coffees on this stop, though without Mary it was a rather low-key outing.
  • Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

 

Ride No. 5

Out in the wilds of the Catoctins before finishing at Gravel & Grind

Out in the wilds of the Catoctins before finishing at Gravel & Grind

 

So Much Treasure

So Much Treasure

 

  • Date and Location: Oct. 22, Gravel & Grind, Frederick, Md.
  • Distance: 100 miles
  • Drink: Almond Cappuccino and Espresso
  • Companions: Jerry and Mary
  • Observations: We got out for a hilly century in the first serious cold snap of the fall. The rain held off, yay!, and we got around to our final rest stop at G&G in Frederick before riding on to the start/finish a few blocks away. James and Mel have built an incredible place in downtown Frederick, a place not known much for its cycling culture. It’s worth a stop to meet them and see the eclectic bikes, touring and bike camping gear, and enjoy the very good coffee and tasty cafe fare. The soup was a delight!
  • Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

 

Ride No. 6

Baked & Wired in Georgetown. Known for cupcakes, but we go for the espresso

Baked & Wired in Georgetown. Known for cupcakes, but we go for the espresso

 

  • Date and Location: Oct. 29, Baked & Wired, Washington
  • Distance: 101 miles
  • Drink: Espresso
  • Companions: Mary and Ted
  • Observations: A regular century ride of ours, the Sugarloaf Loop out into Maryland northwest of Washington, exits and re-enters the city through Georgetown. We rarely fail to stop at Baked & Wired, the companion location to the newer A Baked Joint (see above). Aside from the cupcakes, B&W has a high-end coffee bar, where a fine espresso is served. Mary, Ted and I stopped on the way out of town to wake up a bit more and get caught up, and it was worth it as always.
  • Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

 

Ride No. 7

Carolyn and Jerry know how to have fun on the bike

Carolyn and Jerry know how to have fun on the bike

Volo Coffeehouse, an annual coffeeneuring tradition

Volo Coffeehouse, an annual coffeeneuring tradition

 

  • Date and Location: Nov. 5, Volo Coffeehouse, Manayunk/Philadelphia
  • Distance: 29 miles
  • Drink: Soy Cappuccino
  • Companions: Mary, Jerry and Carolyn
  • Observations: Volo is our annual stop on the way into Philadelphia for the Philly Bike Expo on the Schuylkill River Trail. This year Jerry and Carolyn joined us for the drive to Phoenixville, where we left the car overnight and rode into the city. Volo was hopping as usual and the coffee was the same – fantastic. We also get lunch here so that once we get to the expo we aren’t looking for food. The day was one of the funnest of the year, and made a fitting end to a another satisfying and fulfilling Coffeeneur season!
  • Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Conclusion: 342 miles.

I’m so glad Mary conducts this challenge, even if I am biased because she married me. In an increasingly complex and challenging world, coffeeneuring offers a way for us all to enjoy two of life’s simple pleasures. It also gets us out into that world, hopefully where we make our friendships stronger and start some new ones.

Back Roads Century: Hello Again PPTC

After a long time away, I rejoined the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club this year, specifically to ride the Back Roads Century.

The club moved it last year from its longtime location in Berryville, Va. to lovely Shepherdstown, W.Va., and routed it over the rolling hills of the state’s eastern panhandle.  The reviews were good and we know two of the organizers, Eric Pilsk and Rudy Riet, so that got me and Mary interested.

The forecast this last Sunday was mixed, with showers predicted, so Mary took the day off from riding while I grabbed a single bike and went out to Shepherdstown all by myself. I did everything I could to ward off the rain, such as bringing a rain jacket, carrying my rainproof camera and riding with full fenders, among other it’s-going-to-rain strategies, which involved a fair number of Ziploc bags. I even left my tinted sunglasses in the car and rode with clear lenses.

The rain never appeared, to everyone’s delight, and the support and route were terrific. I rode with a number of Friday Coffee Club regulars, just like at the 50 States Ride last weekend, but this time out on the open roads.

Here is the route at my Garmin page.  The full set of photos can be seen at my Flickr page.

Quick Stop at Lost Dog Coffee Before Leaving Town

Quick Stop at Lost Dog Coffee Before Leaving Town

I had to stop at Lost Dog, a Shepherdstown institution.  Here you can see the Rivendell Rambouillet I rode today.

Engle Molers Road

Engle Molers Road

The ride was well stretched out by the time I got on the route about 8 a.m. The hills did a good job in splitting up the big groups, which made for easy riding.

Mike R. and Me

Mike R. and Me

Mike was out there. It was our first time riding together with neither of us on tandem.

John Pickett Getting Down the Road

John Pickett Getting Down the Road

John had his Surly out and we shared a few miles.

Cindy and John on their Co-Motion Tandem

Cindy and John on their Co-Motion Tandem

These guys, like us, dabble both in the randonneuring and big event rides.

Jean and Dave and their cool Co-Motion Tandem

Jean and Dave and their cool Co-Motion Tandem

Jean and Dave always look like they are having fun. Today was no exception, and they gave me a nice draft on this section.

Gordon and Kay – Another Tandem Team

Gordon and Kay – Another Great Tandem Team

It was a delight to see Kay and Gordon, our touring companions from Labor Day weekend. They were decked out in red and black.

Lots of Food at the Rest Stops

Lots of Food at the Third of Four Rest Stops

The Pedalers did a good job at the rest stops. This one at mile 61 had hummus sandwiches and lots of mini-Clif Bars.

Last Rest Stop, Famous Potatoes

Last Rest Stop, Famous Potatoes

Though it was warm and humid at mile 83.5 at the Yankauer Nature Preserve, the potatoes hit the spot and got me back to the finish.

Eric Pilsk cresting one of the many small hills

Eric Pilsk cresting one of the many small hills

This coming weekend, Mary and I are off the bike for a trip to Pittsburgh to see my daughter, who is in her first semester of college at Pitt. We’re also going to the Thrival Festival to stand in a field with thousands of people and listen to modern music. See you next week!

50 States in 62 miles

This weekend I rode the latest edition of the 50 States and 13 Colonies Ride, an annual fundraiser for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. The main route route ties together all 50 state-named streets in the District of Columbia and is known for many hills and intersections.

Going Past the Capitol

Going Past the Capitol

 

For the second year in a row, I rode the entire route. In the past Mary and I shortcut the route to shorten the time – the rolling average is about 11 m.p.h. – and get to the afterparty sooner. Last year I rode solo while Mary ran a marathon, and pushed all the way around, just to say I did it.

This year Mary joined me about four miles into the ride after a snafu upended her marathon plan and she rallied to come out to ride the course. I rode my refurbished ’87 Bianchi Super Sport with fat 650b tires, while Mary piloted her lovely Rawland Nordavinden.

Southwest DC -- The BEST

Southwest DC — The BEST

 

The weather was hot, well into the 90s, and the going was predictably slow. On my GPS track I count a minimum of 45 complete stops over the 62-mile route, and I would think that is undercounting them by a few. The route has about 3,000 feet of climbing, not all that much, but all in steep little segments that sap the legs.

The vibe is very celebratory for the first half, as talkative groups form to ride from stoplight to stoplight on quiet Saturday morning streets.

Jean and Mary at Union Station

Jean and Mary at Union Station

 

The riders break up after the midpoint after the hills of Anacostia, as more hills come into play in the Northeast and Northwest quadrants and legs get heavy.  It felt like an ultra-long commute:  more tiring from all the intersections and stops and starts and car traffic than the actual distance. We found a flat on Mary’s bike when we came out from lunch at District Taco, and that slowed us a bit more.

As such, we would never do it on tandem! The big bike would be too much to manage for me to pilot us around the cars, and for Mary having to get on and off the saddle all day.

WABA did their usual diligent job getting us started, though there were scores of people still checking in at the start at 8 a.m. in Adams Morgan. Everybody got out there in the end.

Signing In at the Start

Signing In at the Start

 

The rest stops were festive, including the annual one at mile 52 hosted by our cycling pal Mike and partner Lisa in Northwest at their home.

Mike and His Handy Floor Pump

Mike and His Handy Floor Pump

 

The Anacostia stop had a bit of homecoming scene, as we saw some of our randonneuring pals.

Dave and Kelly at the Anacostia River Stop

Dave and Kelly at the Anacostia River Stop

 

Thankfully, there was no rain, but it was just hot and humid going, especially when we were stopped at intersections. That gave us a chance to talk with fellow riders, however, including Boomer, who participates in Mary’s annual Coffeeneuring Challenge.

Boomer and Mary

Boomer and Mary

 

A number of Friday Coffee Club regulars lingered at the afterparty in Adams Morgan at the Mellow Mushroom, where we arrived after 3 p.m. I bought some WABA socks as a souvenir. We were pretty fried and the time enjoying a cold beverage and pizza with friends was really nice.

Bikes Outside the Mellow Mushroom

Bikes Outside the Mellow Mushroom

 

In case you want to see all my photos, I posted a little set.

We took Sunday off the bike. Both of us are feeling the recent miles, and Mary puts in a fair number of running miles each week in addition. It was a welcome break.

This coming weekend we’re back on the tandem at the Potomac Pedalers’ Back Roads Century in Shepherdstown, W.Va., one of our favorite towns in the region. Our pals Eric P. and Rudi R. are involved in the ride organization, so that got us to join the Pedalers this year and sign up for the ride.

The Feeling Returns

When inspiration strikes, the feeling is magical. After this weekend, I’m enthused about spending more time out on the open road, now that summer is ending.

How so? Last week Mary and I decided to ride a DC Randonneurs 300K course, the “Contrary Mother of All 300Ks,” as a two-day, no credit tour. We’re randonneurs in the spring, but the rest of the year, we veer more toward touring and centuries, and this one is a beauty.

The West Virginia town of Romney, nestled in the hills, is at mile 102 and has a good hotel and dinner options. The second day would be about 90 miles, just as hilly but not as long. See the routes: Day 1 and Day 2.

We also put out the word on the DC Randonneurs listserv to see if anyone wanted to come along. To our happy surprise, another tandem team joined us – Gordon M. and his wife Kay T., on a lovely black Co-Motion tandem.

Gordon and Kay

Gordon and Kay

 

I’ve known Gordon for 20 years but only recently met Kay, a very active rider who has a successful masters-level bike racing pedigree. They were married just three months ago and are enjoying newlywed bliss.

We met Saturday in Middletown, Va. in the Shenandoah Valley, and pedaled off to the north and west into the rolling hills. Mary and I stuffed the Carradice with a few essentials, while they carried lightly loaded panniers.

The weather cooperated wonderfully with bright skies, low humidity, and moderate temperatures in the 80s. This after forecasts earlier in the week talked about possible rain from a tropical storm moving up the Atlantic coast. For once, the storm moved away and we were left with perfectly clear late summer weather — whoo!

This route is rarely flat and we were a bit quicker up the hills, but Kay and Gordon came on fast on the descents and flats and were rarely far away. We stopped to enjoy the orchard views and lingered at the rest stops, including a well-deserved late lunch in Capon Bridge.

Riding along the Capon River

Riding along the Capon River

 

Dinner at a local place that shall go unnamed in Romney was slow and kind of odd, but it gave us time to get better acquainted and learn more about each other’s bike collections. I’m afraid I took the prize for boring everyone with the nuances of 650b bikes vs. gravel grinders vs. singlespeeds, and so on. (See? I’m doing it now!)

Day 2: Sweet and Scenic

 

Sunday dawned a little overcast and cool. Mary and I rode by ourselves down into town to the Sheetz for a coffee-type drink and breakfast sandwiches, while Gordon and Kay lit out on the course toward Lost River ahead of us. The motorbike guys at the Sheetz asked us about the tandem and I found out a little about Honda Gold Wing touring motorcyles. Word is, the engines last forever. “The Cadillac of motorcycles,” one guy said.

A brief derailleur adjustment and photo stop

A brief derailleur adjustment and photo stop

 

On the way to Lost River we rode over one hill after another on quiet roads, with just the occasional herd of cows and sheep looking on. One little dog came out to chase us, but I was certain the chain would stop it at the road’s edge. Then we noticed the chain wasn’t anchored! It gave a hearty chase, dragging the chain. That pup won the day’s prize for spirit.

Speaking of dragging chains, we kept dropping ours past the small front chainring on uphills, and had to stop a few times to pull the chain up onto the ring and fiddle with the front derailleur. The hills were steep enough – one was 16 percent – that we really needed to use that ring, and were glad when we got things working correctly. Relieved is more accurate, actually.

The Lost River Grill was supposed to stop serving breakfast at 11:30 AM and we arrived right then, trailing Gordan and Kay by 20 minutes. He talked them into keeping the breakfast menu going a little longer for us. I had purchased a little bottle of maple syrup at the South Branch Inn in Romney and was thrilled to order a waffle to justify carrying it over the hills. Unfortunately I left it there by mistake, still half-full. Oh well. It was delicious syrup and worth having it.

We climbed up Wolf Gap and the Garmin GPS unit went haywire trying to route us, beeping madly about a turn that did not exist, and finally just shut down at the top of the climb. No matter, we’ve blasted down that descent a few times and know the drill. The Spectrum tandem handled the sharp turns with aplomb and we got down to the Larkin’s Store in Edinburgh with smiles on our faces.

The smiles turned to frowns when we discovered the store was closed for repairs from a fire. We read later that a drink cooler caught fire and the owner saved the structure by getting everbody out and closing all the doors to limit oxygen. They’ve promised to re-open, I hope soon. That place is a main stop for the randonneurs and other riders in that part of the valley. We made do with some pocket food and didn’t need water, so all was well enough.

Larkin's is closed, but repairs are underway

Larkin’s is closed, but repairs are underway

 

Back Road never fails to entertain and was lovely and challenging with its many rollers and wide views. I just wish there was a crossing of Rt. 55 without having to ride on it for a few miles first – fast traffic and no shoulder make it a little scary. We got back to Middletown in good shape, and greeted Gordon and Kay who looked fresh and happy as they rolled into town.

Yes, that was fun!

Yes, that was fun!

 

Mary and I went to dinner at Roma Italian at Stephens City, which made for a satisfying end note to the weekend.

Sometimes things just work out well without drama. I took a lot of inspiration from Gordon and Kay, who thoroughly enjoyed themselves – and Mary, who rode strong as always.  This weekend was a great finale to a fun and active summer.

The Spectrum Tandem, Bowie, and the Snow

Last week was a weird and long one. The death of David Bowie on Sunday hit me harder than I expected.

I saw Bowie perform twice. The first time was on the first U.S. stop of his monster Serious Moonlight tour in 1983, at the US Festival in California; there were 300,000 people there. Like many in the crowd, I suppose, I was a recent convert, having been drawn in by the Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) and Let’s Dance albums.

My Vantage Point during Bowie's US Festival show

My Vantage Point during Bowie’s US Festival show

The show was a revelation in what rock music could be — both powerful and artistic. It was at that time and remains for me the most electric rock concert I’ve seen; a standard in terms of theatrics and raw rock sound that nobody else has equaled.

Up to then I’d always been a fan of his sound but I was more into the hits than his albums. I realized why his fans were so ardent.

I was on Team Bowie until I saw him at Merriweather Post Pavilion outside DC in 1990 on his Sound+Vision Tour, which was supposed to be his last tour singing his big hits. That experience was a letdown; he appeared to be disinterested.

After that Bowie’s output didn’t register, until the release of the Blackstar album on Jan. 8. It had that Bowie weirdness that caught my ear. It seemed Bowie was back in form — at age 69 — pushing current rock artists to do something really new (looking at you, James Murphy!).

Then his surprise death kind of knocked me down. The guy had cancer, kept it secret, recorded one final album about it, plus two eerie videos, then died two days after the release. This was an artistic act nobody else would pull off. Who does that?

Johnny Cash recorded three albums in his final years, but it was known that he was ill and was racing time.

As long as Bowie was still recording, it felt like I still had a living link to those days of youth; all that’s gone now. But we have something else.

Bowie’s final gift was his challenge to us to create, to push our own and society’s limits, while we still have time, right up until the final day.

I’m starting to dig into Bowie’s back catalog to hear the songs that didn’t get into compilations. I’m also interested to see whether renewed public attention to his work will spur some of today’s artists toward bolder directions.

The next album from Arcade Fire should be interesting and so should one planned by Murphy and his renewed LCD Soundsystem. Murphy played on Blackstar, so I hope that experience will have an impact.

Even in death, I believe Bowie is going to move rock music in ways we can’t yet predict.

The end of work on Friday came none too soon. With a three-day holiday weekend ahead, Mary and I got out the car on Saturday to take our new Spectrum road tandem back to Tom Kellogg’s workshop in Breinigsville, Pa. for a small fix.

The view from the car roof (courtesy Mary G)

The view from the car roof (courtesy Mary G)

He used internal cable routing for the rear brake and on our second ride the sleeve started to make a metallic noise inside the frame when we went over a bump. By phone, Tom suspected the sleeve was hitting a set of bottle cage bolt bosses that protrude into the frame tube.

Tom brought us into the warm confines of his shop at his rural home, and quickly confirmed the noise source was that sleeve. While we went to lunch, he injected some expanding insulation foam into the frame tube, which isolated the sleeve and stopped the noise.

We had a nice visit afterwards where we talked about bikes and riding. Tom gave us some free T-Shirts for our trouble.

A souvenir from Tom

A souvenir from Tom

On Sunday we decided to ignore the gloomy forecast for snow showers and took out the Spectrum, with Ted N., to Leesburg via the W&OD Trail. The skies were dark grey but the temperatures were enough above freezing, so we kept on going after Ted turned back in Vienna, about 20 miles out.

Not snowing, yet

Not snowing, yet

The frame noise was gone, so we were glad about that. The whole bike rolls really smoothly. It’s appropriately stiff but not as rigid as our Cannondale MTB tandem (super-stiff) or our Co-Motion Java (very stiff), and has a more agile feeling in turns.

By the time we got to Leesburg snow flurries had started and were gaining intensity, but were still melting on the ground, so we were OK. After getting hauled over the Potomac on White’s Ferry we rode through a fair squall and got cold and a little wet. This was a bummer! Riding a century in the January cold is never easy, is it?

You can see our ride details at my Garmin Connect page.

Waiting on White's Ferry

Waiting on White’s Ferry

The tandem discount. One bike, not two riders!

The tandem discount. One bike, not two riders!

We warmed up in Poolesville at the McDonalds while the snow tailed off, and by the time we got home in late afternoon the sun had come out. We rode around the neighborhood to make it an exact century, 100.0 miles, right outside our door so that we could claim some bragging rights on the Freezing Saddles challenge.

Warmup at McDonalds

Warmup at McDonalds

I’ll write up a separate post on buying a custom steel tandem; it took a long time to get and costs a lot, and then you find out how it rides. After our first century, in the snow, we’re satisfied, and expect the feeling to grow.

The Spectrum's first ride on Whites Ferry

The Spectrum’s first ride on Whites Ferry