Coffeeneuring 2017 Finale: The Coffee Bar and Chinatown Coffee

The fading afternoon light, the cold winds, the Thanksgiving holiday planning – all signs that the coffeeneuring season is coming to an end. And so this year’s challenge wrapped up for me this weekend with the final two rides I needed to complete an official finish and get the Coffeeneuring patch (and the not-so-secret official bandana)!

Eric and Pancho, on Beach Drive

 

Saturday was a loop ride into the country north of D.C. with friends. Sunday was a little coda with Mary in downtown D.C. to one of our favorite quiet shops, Chinatown Coffee, on the last official day of the coffeeneuring season. The Sunday outing crowd tends to pack into A Baked Joint, which is fantastic, but gets overcrowded. Chinatown Coffee, just off the Gallery Place tourist zone, is more for reading, laptop work and savoring, and they let us bring the bikes inside.

Saturday: The Coffee Bar

This week I reached out to local cycling personality and the mastermind behind NFS lube, Josh Simonds, to line up a ride on Saturday. Mary was out of town until early Sunday, visiting family in Iowa. By Saturday our group was four, with randonneur pal Eric Pilsk and another Friday Coffee Club regular, Pancho Bate, who is involved with the youth-mentor organization Phoenix Bikes. Eric offered his personal ride, Tour de Burbs, a real gem. See my Strava file here.

The Ritchey goes to The Coffee Bar.

 

Going into the weekend I needed two more coffeenering rides. The first came Saturday at The Coffee Bar in Shaw. Pancho and I are both D.C. residents and he met me there before we went to join Eric and Josh on Beach Drive. I had a head cold starting and wasn’t feeling my best, but a good cappuccino and a pastry got me propped up. Pancho was not actually coffeeneuring, but the meetup for a hot drink before the ride qualifed as fulfilling my “friends and family” coffeeneuring theme this year.

Pancho arrives!

 

Our ride was a total of 96 miles up to Clarksburg and back on pictureseque back roads. We unfortunately did not get any more coffee, but we enjoyed the day thoroughly despite some heavy cloud cover and a bit of light rain. The route went though Laytonsville, a jumping off point for Potomac Pedalers rides. It used to feel so far away when I drove to Pedalers rides there. I liked the idea of getting there and home on my bike.

The rain held off and we were all done before 3:30 p.m., beating the sunset and the rain & winds that came through in the evening.

Me and Josh, out in Laytonsville.

 

Country roads on a gray fall day

Sunday: Chinatown Coffee

Mary was due back from Iowa late in the morning, so I had some time to hang out. I watched European cyclocross on TV and made espresso. It was kind of exciting at first (the bike race) but then became a time trial with the tall Dutch guy winning his fourth pro cross circuit race out of four this year.

Chinatown Coffee, bike friendly!

 

We got out in the afternoon with limited ambitions – Mary came back with her own cold, so we picked a place where we’d find seating and was close to home. Chinatown Coffee was just right.

We got the window seats

 

Mary had a hot chocolate and I had almond milk cappuccino (though it was served in a big latte cup), and split a chocolate chip cookie. After all the hoopla that comes with the annual coffeeneuring season, a simple 4.4-mile outing to a local favorite and some conversation with Mary after a few days apart was a perfect way to complete my finish.

The holiday market, open on Friday

 

Afterwards we stopped by the downtown outdoor holiday market, which opens on Friday. I wished a fond farewell to fall and the official 2017 coffeeneuring challenge.

Coffeeneuring 2017, it’s been a blast

 

Thanks for all the work Mary on the annual Coffeeneuring Challenge, and congratulations to all the finishers for getting out there on two wheels in search of hot drinks and community. See you on the road soon!

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Coffeeneuring 2017 No. 4 and No. 5: Close to Home

After some recent weekends on the road and regular long days at work, Mary and I stayed around home Saturday and Sunday. The D.C. Randonneurs yesterday ran a brevet on the Eastern Shore (The Flatbread 200K), but neither of us had the drive to get up before dawn and ride in the 20s and 30s.

Swings on Sunday

 

The upside was that I was able to get my 2017 coffeeneuring program back on track. I needed two rides in Philadelphia to give myself a buffer, and got just one. That means I had to coffeeneur both days this weekend and get out there both days next weekend to claim an official finish. The end of coffeeneuring comes way too fast!

Mary displays the new limited edition coffeeneuring bandana

 

Saturday we did a minimalistic 3.7 mile ride (Strava file here) to the Velo Cafe coffee bar at District Hardware and Bikes in the new Wharf development. The Wharf is just down Maine Avenue SW from our place, less than a mile away. Mary and I took a longcut via the grocery store by Nationals Park (an errandonnee, if you will) to get the required two miles.

Velo Cafe at District Hardware and Bikes

 

I had an almond milk cappuccino and Mary asked for a decaf macchiato. Mine was ok but a little bitter; Mary realized after we left that they did not make hers a decaf. Oops!

The cafe appears to be still getting its legs and though they grind Vigilante beans, there is room for improvement. We’ll check back in a few weeks.

Living the dream at the Harris Teeter parking garage

 

Mary takes to the bleachers

 

Sunday we had another errand to accomplish – handing off a winter cycling jacket I sold. We agreed to meet the buyer at Swing’s Coffee Roasters in Alexandria and rode the Spectrum tandem there. The distance is about eight miles each way. Temperatures were warmer today and we had a pleasant ride with a lap around Hains Point on the way back. The full 21-mile route is here.

The paths around the Mall and Potomac River were pleasantly unpopulated. I like that part of winter in D.C.!

Tandem coffeeneuring, the best

 

Next Saturday Mary is away – I’ll need a riding buddy to go coffeeneuring with me to keep my “friends and family” theme intact. Or I’ll have to designate one of my bikes as family, which they kind of are.

 

 

Coffeeneuring 2017 No. 3: Philly Bike Expo!

Last weekend (Nov. 3-5) I completed my third coffeeneuring ride of the season in conjunction with our now-annual weekend at the Philly Bike Expo. The actual coffeeneuring ride took place on Sunday, when we stopped at Volo Coffeehouse in Manayunk. It’s become one of my traditional coffeeneuring stops since we started attending PBE in 2013, and it’s always good.

Mary riding in on the SRT. Coming in on Friday meant easy cruising.

 

Heading into Manayunk

 

Volo is about eight miles outside Philly on the way to Phoenixville (see the route here), where we leave the car and ride in on the Schuylkill River Trail, or the SRT as it is known locally. The total distance is about 29 miles to the convention center. This year we rode in to Philly on Friday, Nov. 3, so that we could go to see Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile at the Tower Theater (great show, nice crowd too!).

We had a lovely coffee at Volo on Friday but it did not count for coffeeneuring because I’m on the classic approach, so only weekend stops for me.

 

Volo Coffeehouse. Almond milk cappuccino for me and a hot chocolate for Mary.

 

The Expo was its usual over-the-top amazing collection of poeple, bikes and gear. Here are the highlights:

  • A great talk with Dwan Shepherd of Co-Motion Cycles about our next tandem.
  • Quality time with the guys from Velo Orange. Congratulations to Igor and Adrian on their new baby boy!
  • Hanging out with Deb Banks, head saddler of Rivet Saddles, and Ely Rodriguez of RuthWorks Bags, who shared a booth. Both fun people and great products. I ended up buying my first Rivet saddle, an Independence, as I restock my bikes after giving up on Brooks B17, which no longer works for me.
  • Meeting up with friends wandering the show, and talking with the exhibitors. We had some great conversations! This year we also ran into Mary’s relatives from Richmond, who were there helping out a business friend who had a booth.
  • Checking out all the cool gear. I took advantage of the opportunity to test the Elite Direto smart trainer – I want to add some structured workouts to my cycling.

Here are some photos:

Mary conquers Philly, again

 

Dwan of Co-Motion and me.

 

Barb, Ron and Joe. Great to see you guys!

 

Velo Orange goodness.

 

University of Iowa bike design professor and amazing rider Steve McGuire was there again.

 

Deb Banks and Mary. Yay Deb!

 

We met the BiKyle guys, and they were a lot of fun.

 

Thanks Philly and Bina Bilenky for an awesome PBE2017. See you next year!

 

Coffeeneuring 2017 No. 2: Small Wheels in Pittsburgh

This weekend I did not do any coffeeneuring, which is kind of sad because the weather on Saturday was gorgeous. Mary had a solo event lined up, so I went and rode the DC Randonneurs’ Civil War 200K brevet from Frederick. I did not buy any coffee before or after the ride, though I did stop at Gravel & Grind afterwards.

They closed early for a special event, but James was there and sold me a Berthoud Aspin saddle, which made the trip worth it.

But! I did get in my second 2017 stop last week in Pittsburgh, so here’s the belated report.

Chris and Mary at Thick Bikes, with the Coffeeneuring Patch

 

We drove up on the 20th to visit my daughter Dagny, who is in her second year at the University of Pittsburgh, or Pitt to you folks from the Keystone State.

The BikePGH Headquarters

 

Saturday was a pefectly sunny warm day and we hoofed it around Lawrenceville, checking out some locales on the community artist tour and a small farmers market. Later we went to the South Side to check in at Thick Bikes, which celebrates coffeeneuring season with a kickoff party.  We bought some fenders for a project and Chris threw in a cool Thick buff for us.

Great place. Espress a Mano in Lawrenceville

 

Farmers market in Lawrenceville

 

Dagny and me

 

Dagny doesn’t ride so we made the most of our feet and that was great, actually. We stopped twice at Espresso a Mano, my personal choice so far in PGH, located in Lawrenceville, so all was good.

Sunday morning Dagny had to put in some hours at her work-study job, leaving time for me and Mary to get in our coffeeneuring ride. We took folding bikes because they stash easily in the car and are suited to short rides. Mary took her Bike Friday Tikit and I took the funky Dahon Hon Solo singlespeed.

Small wheels! Bike Friday Tikit for Mary, Dahon Hon Solo for me

 

Our destination was Commonplace Coffee in Squirrel Hill, just past Shenley Park. We went here on the same trip last year. It is about three miles from our hotel near Pitt and we didn’t have to drop down to the river – the ride back up would have been a walking affair with the Dahon.

Mary rolls with small wheel pride in Shenley Park

 

Commonplace pulls a really nice espresso, and make an equally good cappuccino. The pastries were quite tasty and fresh. Commonplace feels a bit old school but it’s only been in operation at Squirrel Hill since 2010. It is an expansion location for Commonplace, which started in Indiana, Pa.

We noodled a bit in Shenley Park and around the Pitt campus as the day warmed up. Total: 8 miles. Thanks again for the good memories, Pittsburgh!

Cool mural outside Iron City in Oakland

 

This Friday we are off to Philadelphia for our weekend at the Philly Bike Expo. We have some coffee faves there that make the weekend special, along with the amazing bike show.

Have a great week and enjoy all the coffeeneuring! It’s going strong and worldwide this year – see the latest roundup from Mary at Chasing Mailboxes.

 

Coffeeneuring 2017 No. 1: Shenandoah Sojourn

I consider the annual Coffeeneuring Challenge the best time of the year for cyclists who love coffee, tea or just taking a relaxing break during a ride.  It’s a wonderful segue into the fall after a long year of happy riding.

Me and Jerry, also coffeeneuring

By now Mary and I have enjoyed/completed in 2017:

  • the winter mileage buildup (and the Freezing Saddles challenge) and an early season marathon for Mary;
  • the DC Randonneurs spring fleche and brevets;
  • an unsupported two-week July tandem tour in the Rockies;
  • late summer long rides for both of us and fall marathons for Mary.

These days we continue to ride, but we also like a long stop more than usual. What better way to enjoy the fall weather than a ride and a nice destintion for hot beverages?

If you’ve stumbled onto this blog and are unaware of the growing attention to Coffeeneuring, read all about it here at Mary’s much better blog (compared to this one) Chasing Mailboxes. It was launched seven years ago and attracts a global following.

She encourages theme-within-a-theme approaches, so I am adopting two:

  1. One will be Classic Coffeeneuring, with my qualifying outings only on the weekends.
  2. The other will be Friends and Family. No solo rides, you have been warned, pals and relatives. The success of my plan depends on you!

I kicked off the challenge this year on Saturday by joining Mary (best friend/spouse) on tandem with our pal Jerry S. (riding friend/actual friend) for a 115-mile loop from Marshall, Va. to Luray and back via Front Royal in the Shenandoah Valley. It was a shortened version of the 200K route “We Can See Clearly Now” that includes two gaps — Edith and Thornton — the latter going over iconic Skyline Drive. You can see the full route here and our version here.

We got the tandem up Edith Gap

The day started out foggy and cool, but by mid-morning bright sun broke out and the temperatures rose into the mid-70s with light winds. The roads had relatively little traffic except around Front Royal and coming down Rt. 211 after Thornton Gap.

Atop Edith Gap

Our Coffeeneuring stop was at Gathering Grounds restaurant and espresso bar in Luray. I had a pretty decent cappuccino with soy milk. Jerry coffeeneured with a standard cappuccino, and Mary had a Coke (so no real coffeeneuring for her). We also had sandwiches and the three us shared two slices of apple pie.

Mary asks that we rate our stops on bike-friendliness. GG has no formal bike parking out front, though they do have a lovely Mercian hanging from the ceiling inside. There’s no real attempt to cater to cyclists, but that’s normal in these small Virginia towns.

Jerry leaned his sturdy Independent Fabrication sport-tourer along the front window and we parked the Spectrum around the side of the building. Not totally safe, but Luray isn’t very sketchy. Next time I’ll figure out how to lock.

Downtown Luray

The ride back to Marshall was just about perfect, though we started slowly with all the food to digest. After the climb over Thornton Gap the route takes the sublime Gid Brown Hollow and Harris Hollow roads, with some gravel, through quiet hills and forest to “little” Washington, Va.

Fodderstack Road to Flint Hill was bathed in late day golden sunshine. We stayed on Crest Hill Road from there all the way back to Marshall, cutting off four miles from the route, which normally goes over to the Orlean Store and then comes back to Crest Hill.

Fodderstack Road

We wrapped up with almost an hour of daylight left. The early sunsets are a thing this time of year, even before we set the clocks back.

I feel like we kicked off coffeenering the proper way, on a warm October day that will contrast nicely with the final weekend in November when sunset comes early the temperatures are likely to be a fair bit colder.

Until Ride No. 2, happy coffeeneuring!

 

Three Big Days in the Colorado Sky

Our New Mexico – Colorado tour got back on the road Sunday with the first of three long days that took us across two of Colorado’s highest passes and another big ride to come tomorrow that crosses I-70 up to Kremmling.

Mail stop in Gunnison

Sunday the route from Gunnison started well, with a gentle tailwind pushing us to Monarch Pass. But once on the ascent the traffic was very steady and noisy, with lots of trucks pulling campers, and in a couple cases we were harrassed. In another case I think a senior driver never saw us in front of her and I had to steer into the gravel as she blithely drove past. 

One of the threatening moves came from a driver of a cheapo Jeep who buzzed us and whose passenger flipped us off even though they had a clear passing lane to their left. We see more bad behavior from Jeep owners than other makes; I think they market to aggressive drivers.

All this made it hard to enjoy the stunning views though we pulled over a couple of times for photos and to clear our heads. Colorado should really consider a bike lane on these long ascents if they continue to tout the state as a cycling destination.

A Gunnison-based rider at the summit who we met chalked it up to drivers going home after the July 4 holiday and to construction to pave Cottonwood Pass east of Crested Butte. 

A rare quiet moment on Monarch

The descent to Salida for lunch was fast and uneventful though traffic was still strong and drivers seemed to be intent at all costs on passing any vehicle ahead.

It was hot in Salida and we cooled our heels for awhile at Dawn Cafe, a funky coffee shop, and then went to pizza at brewpub Moonlight, which was fun. We got some praise for the tandem and our route from a couple of bikey folks and the food was quite good. 

Cafe Dawn. An oasis on a hot afternoon.

Also a relaxing stop at Moonlight 

US285 north to Buena Vista was one never ending stream of traffic, but the shoulder was wide except where an uphill passing lane was provided, which left us a teeny 3-foot shoulder. Colorado, more work needed here too.

Buena Vista was a good stop for us. Our old pals at Boneshaker Cycles were closed but staff was still there and nicely sold me a tube of chamois creme. 

Deer paraded down Main Street as we had dinner at an outdoor eatery, real small town life.

A Sunday evening stroll

Today (Monday) US285 was much more quiet as we set out for Carbondale via Independence Pass and Aspen. After a solid coffee start at Buena Vista Roastery Cafe, we got bananas at City Market, where I realized that I left my phone on a ledge outside the coffee shop. It was still sitting there when we returned, whew!

The climb up Independence was steep at the bottom but had enough moderate sections to allow some recovery. There was little car traffic and we got some nice thumbs up here and there. 

Still on the lower slope

Still, topping 12,000 feet elevation is always a slow affair on a tandem and we were at it for more than two hours for the 12 miles that make up the main climb from the eastern side. 

Nearing the top, and the rain

Dark clouds gathered and it was drizzling at the summit. We got our photo taken and put on rain gear for the fairly technical descent to Aspen, with narrow switchbacks along the way. Another Jeep driver nearly caused a pileup trying to pass us around a blind turn when we were cruising at more than 40 m.p.h, but backed off when an oncoming car appeared and started blowing their horn. 

Aspen was busy but we made the best of it with lunch stuff from City Market that we ate in a nearby plaza. We also got me an espresso at Victoria’s (though not the $7 cake slice I really wanted) and we talked with a rider who had passed us on Independence and was there all cleaned up and in street clothes! He remembered us and I emailed him a photo of him easing past us on a steep part.

Lunchtime in Aspen

The Rio Grande Trail, deserted on a Monday afternoon, got us to Carbondale 30 miles later around 6 p.m. We blew off dinner out and got pizza delivery to our abode tonight, the Comfort Inn. 
Tomorrow we ride a century to humble Kremmling.  

We have a few options to get us to State Bridge Landing and then up Trough Road, a gravel route into town for the night. We’ll check the fire reports but I think the one small fire near Eagle won’t affect us. 

It’s going to be hot but we’re used to that after nine riding days and will plan accordingly. We will try to avoid Glenwood Springs if we can; that bike trail along I-70 is a bit narrow for a tandem, we found on our 2013 Colorado tour. Plus, Glenwood is a busy place. 

Thanks for reading!

Hello From Our Rockies Tour

We’re on the rest day of the latest edition of our annual summer tandem tour, in Gunnison, Colo. This year we are riding from Albuquerque to Boulder in a serpentine route through the Rockies.

Ready to go in Taos

So far 600 miles have rolled by in various states of heat, cold, bright sun and rain as we made our way to overnight stops in Santa Fe, Taos and Chama in New Mexico, and Colorado towns of Pagosa Springs, Durango, Montrose and yesterday into Gunnison.

Mary has been posting daily at her blog Chasing Mailboxes about our adventures, which have been amazing in various ways — the visual beauty of the Southwest has been matched by the friendly people, especially in New Mexico, and the food. If you like green chili, this region is heaven. There are also some great coffee and bike shops; Pagosa Mountain Sports was a sweet place, as was Cimarron Coffee Roasters in Montrose.

Eric at Cimarron Roasters got us on the road to Gunnison in good spirits

We also had happy meetup with friends in Santa Fe (Patrick) and Durango (Jenny, Shawn, Jason and Matthew). So nice!

We’ve been asked about our touring setup. We ride our trusty Co-Motion Java 700c tandem and stay in hotels, which allows us to cover long distances, mostly paved with occasional gravel miles where practical. The route will give us about 1,000 miles in 12 riding days, ending in Boulder on Thursday.

Our first ride over 10,000 ft. elevation on US64 to Chama

We flew with the bike, which was made with S&S couplers, to Albuquerque via Southwest Airlines and assembled it there. We shipped the cases from our hotel to friends in Boulder via Bikeflights.com.

Team Photo

We carry spare shorts, socks, rain and cool weather gear, and dinner outfits in a large Carradice Camper saddlebag.  Other stuff — tools, electronics, snacks and so forth — go in the Carradice and in/on a front Acorn box bag.

We also use an Oveja Negra top tube bag for me, a Randi Jo Fabrications bar bag for Mary, and a surprisingly useful little frame bag from Nashbar for cables and other spares.

A spare tire goes in an Acorn seat bag lashed into a bottle cage. Tires are Clement USH 700x35mm.

Camelbak (me) and Osprey (Mary) hydration packs and three bottles ward off the heat. We run generator front and rear lights continuously (Schmidt) and Garmin GPS computers, which helpfully tell us how slowly we climb up these Rockies passes.

We are the dot. The dot has a long way to go.

The hotel experience can be kind of weird. We stand out among the families and retirees and get odd comments from old guys who think tandems are funny, but we also like showers and beds and the free breakfasts come in handy.

The only mechanicals on the bike have been a stuck chain link on the road to Gunnison and a couple of goat head flats on the day we left Albuquerque. I think we got them on the paved trail we used to leave town.

The cool espresso and bike shop here in Gunnison, Double Shot Cyclery, has been our home base today. Along with essential caffeinated drinks, I got a new 10-speed chain from them (complicated, but four removable links in one chain was going to be a bit much) and they let me use the bike wash station out back with a hose, real Dawn soap and brushes and an old workstand and everything.

The Co-Mo is all clean, lubed and ready for the climb up Monarch Pass tomorrow to Buena Vista via Salida.

Thanks Double Shot for the landing spot and the gear

A big thank-you also goes to James at Gravel & Grind shop in Frederick, Md. (also espresso and neat bikes, hmm…) for talking me into adding Paul Components Klamper disk brakes and 203mm Shimano Ice Tech rotors to our tandem. They are doing wonderful work controlling speed on the steep descents — definitely an upgrade over the Avid BB7 brakes and rotors we had before. Slowing from 50+ m.p.h. for that next hairpin without brake fade is kinda critical.

That’s it so far. More to come. Thanks for reading!

Keeping the Wheels On: The DC Randonneurs 600K

Mary and I took a break from the longer brevets last year, mostly because of the 4 a.m. starts and being at new jobs that required us to be fully functioning on Mondays. This year we were able to plan ahead and made time for the D.C. Randonneurs 400K in May and the 600K this last weekend.

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Another fun weekend on the bike. Photo courtesy Mary.

 

There is a joke in randonneuring about randonnesia — where you forget the discomfort of the most recent big brevet enough that you sign up for more (I’m sure a version exists in all endurance sports). We had a version of that going into this year’s 400K and 600K, which is a good thing. We approached them with renewed enthusiasm for overcoming the logistical, physical and mental challenges.

We didn’t suffer too much on the Frederick 400K on May 20. It was the hillier version of the two that DCR ran this year, but we prefer hilly over flatter rides. You can see our GPS log from the event here.

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Outside Hancock, Md on the 400K

 

We finished in a solid 20:09 overall, falling short of the goal of taking only an hour rest per 100 miles, but there was a lot of climbing in the morning and some headwinds in the afternoon. We’re about an hour slower than our best performance of years past for the distance, which we could approach with less time off the bike. Maybe next year.

After having ridden 600Ks over the years, I’ve concluded our strongest rides come on the shorter brevets. Our legs tend to be heavy after riding the fleche and the 400K in particular. The overnight sleep stop on the 600K also makes a big difference — the better we feel on the first day, the sooner we arrive at the overnight and then get out on the road again.

This year we had a solid if not spectacular 600K. Here’s our recap. You will find our 600K GPS files at Garmin Connect: Day 1 and Day 2 (note: we turned the Garmins off for long stops), and my photos at Flickr.

Prologue

The weekend forecast called for the lots of sunshine and warm temperatures, possibly hitting the upper 80s. We got home early from work on Friday and had dinner before driving out to Warrenton, Va. to the start hotel, the Hampton. Ride organizers Kelly and Josie Smith greeted us in the lobby just as they were packing up from the advance sign-in, along with Eric Williams and Emily Ranson keeping them company.

We had no drama getting set up, which involves hauling the tandem off the car, getting it into the room and attaching the front fender, little bags and electronics, and stuffing in our rain jackets and other gear. As we have this spring, I had my Garmin Edge 1000 GPS computer up front and Mary had a Garmin Edge 810 on the rear top tube, both with OSM Cycle maps. We also carry USB batteries to recharge on the go; I ran mine off the battery the whole day and recharged Mary’s once along the way.

I made up custom courses in nine segments on RidewithGPS earlier in the week (see them here), and had those loaded on both Garmins. I like to break up the route in case one of the Garmins has a problem and shuts down, so that I don’t have to reload the entire route file. Plus, we get the Garmin fanfare noise and little “You Win” notice when we reach the end of each segment. Every little morale booster counts on these rides, haha!

One bummer was that our fleche team captain and fellow coffee stop afficionado Jerry Seager had to skip the event because of work commitments. We missed his good cheer.

An Early Start

The usual 20 or so of us attending DCR rides these days gathered for the 4 a.m. start. Having a Sheetz store nearby was helpful; Mary and I got a faux-cappucino to share and a breakfast sandwich for me. We also ate some Hippie Crack granola I brought from A Baked Joint bakery in D.C., which went down surprisingly well in middle of the night with soy milk. We both put on arm and leg warmers and light caps, but left our cold weather gear in our bags.

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Check in desk

 

Kelly and Emily were getting folks signed in, with help from David Ripton helping with lights inspection.

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Quiet anticipation

 

Right at 4, Kelly quietly sent us off into a cool, clear night.

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John and David ready to go

 

Compared to when I first started riding, riders are definitely more visible in the night. The quality of reflective gear and lighting has advanced a lot. It looked like a wall of white and red (some of the battery taillights were actually too bright) coming from the riders ahead of us.

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Roger and Bob

 

We rode with the front group as long as the rollers allowed, about 20 miles, as we steamed over the green hills and valleys toward the first control at Somerset, Va., mile 60. There were no services until there, but at this stage of the brevet season we can easily ride that far on pocket food and breakfast. We rode a bunch of miles with Bob Counts and Roger Hillas after the sun came up, as one gorgeous Virgina countryside vista after another came into view.

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Randos converge on Somerset

 

At Somerset the first group was still there, which meant we had kept up a good pace. I got some little country ham sandwiches and bottled ice tea, my go-to rest stop drink.

When we went to leave, Mary’s Garmin had shut itself down. It restarted fine, but reset back to zero so she had to add 60 miles to her distance total the rest of the day. The unit saved the lost segment data to internal memory and I was able to join it with the rest of the day’s track when we got home on Sunday.

On the way to the control at Dyke, mile 81, a driver slowed to warn us about a dog that had bitten a rider ahead, and then an ambulance passed. We were worried. It turned out to be a cyclist not on our ride, but we were saddened that somebody got hurt. At the control we learned Roger had talked to the fellow — “he was bleeding all over his Sidi’s,” Roger said, but said he wasn’t in bad shape.

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Theresa Furnari arrives at the Dyke store

 

Caleb joined us for the run to Crozet, mile 103, over the high point of the ride in the Appalachian foothills. We got there just after 11 a.m. and went to Green House Coffee by ourselves and had sandwiches, espresso and treats. Everybody else did the rando thing and went to the convenience store. It felt good to sit down and catch our breath in a relaxed setting. The nice staff filled my Camelbak with ice, too.

Mary in Crozet

A good rest stop in Crozet

 

The air was hot as we departed. The cue sheet did not mention any more stores until mile 178 (there were a number of them, I should have recalled) so we stopped again at Brown’s Store, mile 127, to get more ice for our Camelbaks, fearing we’d run out of water.

Jack Nicholson, Bob Counts and Pat O’Connor rolled up and took our surplus ice, and Gardner and Theresa pedaled past, showing strong time discipline.

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It’s hot! Time for more ice.

 

The terrain leveled off, we had a hot tailwind and by mile 164 I was overheated.  We stopped at the friendly LJ Store, where I got an emergency Snickers ice cream bar and ginger ale.

The Wheels Come Off

At Louisa, mile 178, I was in distress. I was nauseous and grouchy. The new Sheetz had a sitting area and I took a 20-minute nap while Mary fretted about my situation. Normally my stomach never bothers me. Dehydration, I think, was the culprit and nothing was appetizing, even though I had consumed more than 100 ounces of fluids in 60 miles. I didn’t think to get something moist and easy to digest, like a banana.

I finally managed to drink another ice tea and we decided to go to the control at Orange and see if I could recover.

We spent an hour in Louisa, which put a 30-minute dent in our plan to get to the overnight by midnight. Most of the people in our ride orbit were now ahead of us, not to be seen again today. It was definitely a low moment, not knowing if more trouble was ahead.

I Am Focused

The cooler evening temperatures and easy terrain made a huge difference, though. By 20 miles later in Orange, mile 199, my appetite had returned and we ate at McDonalds. I recovered and we rode steadily, though I was fighting drowsiness and saddle soreness at the end and counting down the miles.

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Appetite returns in time for McDonald’s.

 

About an hour out from the overnight stop, blearily riding along and not paying attention, I said loudly, “I am focused!” Mary was naturally perplexed. I said I was declaring myself focused on getting to the hotel with no missed turns. This exercise seemed to work, though I had to repeat it occasionally, which became a bit of running joke.

We arrived to the hotel at mile 255 at 12:40 a.m., not far off our usual 400K pace.

Kelly and Josie had a nice spread of hot and cold food going in their room. Caleb was there taking a peaceful nap in advance of heading out into the night. After some chicken soup for me and chili for Mary, we got almost three hours sleep.

Day 2

We arose in the usual randonneur fog after short sleep, ate the last of our granola and got some bananas from Kelly and Josie (yep, still at work!), and checked out of our room. By 5:10 a.m. we were off just before first light, and I felt back to my usual self. I like the exit from Warrenton on this route because it trends downhill, making the initial miles go by without a lot of effort to start. Unsurprisingly, my Garmin advised me that my recovery status from my last ride was “poor.” Gee, thanks for that.

Our ride to Fredericksburg was pleasant though we had no sighting of any riders. I’d see a red light ahead in the dark but it would always be a driveway reflector.

The genial clerk at the 7-11 at mile 279 said some folks had come through about 40 minutes earlier, which we assumed was the first group that had slept. We saw from Instagram later that Caleb and Paul Donaldson had ridden out first.

We stopped to move a turtle off the road. It protested wildly about being picked up, but I got it into the ditch before it clawed me.

At Fredericksburg, around 9 a.m., we stopped at Hyperion Espresso for today’s sit-down meal and coffee. The air conditioning was delicious too. I was hungry enough to eat a cold tofu and cole slaw sandwich, which would be well off my radar, but that was all they had outside of pastries, and it tasted great.

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Not a convenience store.

 

The ride though the Fredericksburg Battlefield is always a highlight and we enjoyed the tree-lined, peaceful Lee Road and the little dirt footpath connector section. No randonneurs were anywhere in sight so we presumed we got passed at breakfast, and that was that.

We learned later that Roger Hillas saw us up ahead at one point before the battlefield but we caught a traffic light and he got stopped.

At Spotsylvania, mile 325, the sun was blazing. Choosing the Fasmart to control just on the edge of town, we bought a big tub of cold potato salad and cold ice and cold drinks. If it was cold, it looked good.

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Potato salad. Hot weather food.

 

We were cheered up a lot when Roger rode into sight and turned into the parking lot, but then he made a quick U-turn and rode away, apparantly not seeing us at all. Oh well!

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So long Roger! Photo courtesy Mary.

 

The chains were driving me crazy with noise, so I oiled them, but I forgot to reapply sunscreen to myself, so it was a half-victory on the tasks list. I suffered some sun exposure by the end but didn’t burn, but it was an risky mistake.

The Invention of RandoBall

There was a lot of Sunday morning traffic over the next 14 miles to the information control at the church at mile 338, on twisty and hilly roads. Everybody was nice to us, but it was pretty stressful. The traffic let up after that, yay.

At the church, Mary shot a couple of baskets, including a nice layup, and we enjoyed a shade break. Our progress was good and there was no more stops over the next 45 miles. We had plenty of fluids and food, and set our sights on the finish.

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383 miles and two points.

 

Our aches and pains were piling up, though, which made the last miles a challenge. My big pain points were the heel of my left hand, which stays on the bars most of the time while I shift the rear gears,  my seat from compression soreness, and my left big toe, which was throbbing for no real reason.

We had some breeze, thankfully, and kept up a decent rolling pace, taking just one shade break.

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Shade and some personal care on Summerduck Road. Photo courtesy Mary.

 

I liked the routing at the end via Courtney’s Corner, Shipps Store and Elk Run roads. It’s a peaceful stretch with good shade. After the usual turns and hills into Warrenton we arrived at 3:55 p.m. for a total run of 35:55. That’s a fine outcome for us, especially given the ride was 383 miles. For the record, we passed the the 600K distance, 375 miles, at 3:18 p.m.

Kelly texted us earlier and asked that we give him an arrival time so he and Josie could order pizza, and there it was in the room, still hot, along with plenty of cold drinks and other snacks. Nice going team! He also came down to greet us.

Epilogue

This year’s 600K was a return to form for us. As the years go by, keeping up with past performances is the primary goal for me.

It was unusual to not see anyone for all of Sunday other than the random sighting of Roger.  The ranks of the regulars have dwindled for DCR rides and it appears there is too much separation on a 600K for groups to form. I hope this trend changes.

Big thanks go to Josie and Kelly, and to Bill Beck and Emily  (with Kelly) for riding the checkout over Labor Day weekend. Also big thanks to Nick Bull, our hard-working brevet administrator, for managing another long spring series.

Our next big event is our annual summer trip, this year a 1,000-mile unsupported tandem tour from Albuquerque, N.M. to Boulder, Colo. starting July 1. The brevet and fleche miles should come in handy in getting over the summits out there.

Tech Notes

Our Avid BB7 disk brakes were annoying on this ride, with the disk pads tending not to retract fully on the front wheel for awhile after hard braking, skimming the rotor. This is unusual. I hope it’s just time for new cables and housings. We also had our rear shifting start to get clunky at the end. I’m thinking of going from 9-speed to 10-speed shifting, which we have liked on our other tandem for a few rides so far. I’m still sticking with bar end shifters, though. No matter how sore or cold my hands get, I can always shift them.

Our tires, Panaracer GypsyKing GravelKing 32mm smooth tread, remain a mixed bag. They roll and corner really well and mount easily but are stiffer than our standby, the 32mm Panaracer Pasela PT. I presume they are made that way to ward off sidewall cuts. It was noticable on the rougher roads in central Virginia. Maybe I’ll lower the pressure as they are less likely to pinch flat. (Sorry folks we are not going tubeless).

My new Voler Black Label shorts were a fail on Saturday. I’m between sizes and moved up to large after finding the medium was too tight, but the chamois was too big and caused some chafing. They are going back. I pulled out a pair of my Voler Caliber shorts for Sunday, which were fine. I’m not a big fan of the move to compression in sports clothing and I think Voler has taken it too far in their Black Label line.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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