Mike Martin rounds up his adventures on the Warrenton 300K, learning along the way that the randonneuring lifestyle sometimes means a quick trip into the brush.
Mike Martin’s Warrenton 300K
By Mike Martin
It was a chilly morning. The sun would not be up for at least an hour, and I was standing on the side of the narrow road leading to the HoJo in Warrenton, Va. . What should I wear? My 14 year old daughter never has trouble deciding what to wear. She has excellent taste in clothing, always dressing appropriately. Tasteful. Stylish. Edgy, but not slutty. When I grow up, I want to be like her.
As I debated the weighty issue of wool vs. gortex, a light in the corner of my eye caught my attention. I turned to see not one, but several lights. A giant serpent of white lights slithered down the winding road toward me. Upon closer inspection, I realized the snake was a bicyle peloton, of sorts,. But not like the ones I’ve seen on TV.
These cyclists looked rather odd. The riders wore reflective vests and helmets with headlights attached to them, like coal miners on wheels. And their bikes, unlike the light weight, sleek carbon fiber machines on the pro tour, were loaded down with baskets, racks, fenders, lights,
bags, and the velo version of feed troughs.
The lead cyclist rode by me, and one by one, the lights turned red, as the other randonneurs
followed, and I saw their taillights going away. I hastily jammed my supplies into my Carridice bag and hopped on the the tail of the now red snake.
“It’s not a race,” I told myself. It was appropriate that I start in the back, because experience has taught me I would end up there, anyway.I always manage to finish these brevets long after the other riders have changed their clothes and had their fill of pizza. But this is a polite group. The athletes never fail to interrupt their conversations to give me a sympathetic round of applause. If I finish any later, I sometimes think, maybe I’ll get a special olympics style hug.
Not that I’m a slug or anything. In my circle of friends, I do pretty well. Before I got into cycling, I even won my agegroup in a few road races. I can hold my own in the duathlons, too. But in this crowd, where a century ride is considered a warmup, I am out of my league. I rode comfortably in the predawn chill, moving up slowly through the field, enjoying the sensations of moving under my own power.
Eventually, I caught up with James Houck. James was one of the last riders to pass
me the weekend before in a rainy 200K. He had asked me for directions to the DC Rand occupied room at the HoJos, and I had inadvertaantly sent him in the wrong direction. If he remembered, he didn’t hold it against me. James is built like a bulldog, but as friendly as can be.
I immediately liked him.As we rode together, I learned about his career in
the military and his background in the martial arts. This is a guy I want with me in a bar, I thought. A few years ago, two other riders and I were in the final miles of a 600K when a driver in a pickup truck shouted expletives at us, challenging us to a fight. In our depleted, sleep deprived and dehydrated state, none of us even anknowleged him, much less take up the challenge. He eventuallly drove off. We had, no doubt, confirmed his opinion of men in spandex. James would have given the guy a mouth full of chicklets. I smiled at the mental image.
About thirty miles into the ride, I began to experience some rumblings in my digestive tract. The call of nature, so to speak, began as a whisper but gradually turned up the volume. Within minutes, it was a deafening roar. I informed James of my plight. ” No problem”, he said,
without the slightest hint of impatience. ” We’ll find a gas station”.
I didn’t tell him , but I didn’t think I could wait that long. Earlier in our conversation, James told me how we all fall back on our training in times of stress. In his case, he had made mincemeat of four would be muggers who chose the wrong guy to mug. I was in serious stress, so I
thought back to my training. Unfortunately, I was a goof off in boy scouts, only achieving the rank of second class. My only merit badge, in cooking, was earned by heating up a can of pork and beans over a campfire.That was before cable TV with all those fancy shmancy cooking
shows. The boy scouts of today, I’ll bet, crank out culinary delights that would make Rachel Ray feel inadequate. So, because of my woefully inadequate adolescent study habits, I had never gotten to the crapping in the woods section of the boyscout handbook. But fortunately, as a
veteran of trail running, I always carry a stash of TP for emergencies.
The most important issue to consider in these situations is stealth. No easy task for a brevet rider decked out in reflective gear. Without extremely dense cover, any motorist, cyclist, or flashlight wielding pedestrian would see exactly what I was up to. I shuddered at the
thought of a conversation in an SUV, inspired by my lack of discretion. “Daddy, why is that man pooping behind a bush? And why is he dressed up like a Christmas tree?”. As I scanned the side of the road for a suitable spot, I rejected them one by one, growing more desperate with
each passing minute.
“There’s a gas station,” James announced. I was relieved beyond words. I dismounted my Waterford and waddled up to the door, my buttocks clamped as tight as a benchtop vice. If I had swallowed a lump of coal for breakfast, I wondered, would I excrete a diamond? The door was locked! I could not believe the owner would be so thoughtless as to not open this gas station in the middle of nowhere at 5AM. I stared in disbelief at the CLOSED sign, mocking me from behind the window. Now I was in full survival mode. A quick scan of the terrain revealed a ditch across the road. There was dense cover, and the ground sloped down, away from the road. I shuffled across the road, right toward an opening in the shrubbery. The opening, it turned out, was obstructed by a natural version of barbed wire. No time for comfort, I
thought, as I plowed through the briar patch, descending into the dense foliage away from the road. This natural facility came equipped with a babbling brook. Being trained in medicine, I don’t need a sign to remind me to wash my hands after using the restroom, so I dutifully used the
No wonder Mother Nature thought fit to guard this place with natural barbed wire, I thought. Otherwise, I may have had to stand in line. Having taken care of business, I ascended onto the road with a look of relief and embarrassment on my face and blood dripping from the wounds on my left leg. An interesting pattern of scratches and embedded thorns complimented the tattoo on my opposite leg. Ed Felker stood across the road. He had stopped, too. I didn’t ask if he was waiting for the restroom, but he provided the commentary appropriate for the
situation, ” You know you’re a randonneur when….”
Back on the road, James and I got into a rhythm, making good time for the next half hour. Then I looked over to see his complexion had come to resemble that of a tomato. The temperature had warmed up and he was still wearing his jacket. I asked if he wanted to take it
off. He stopped immediately and removed it. I think I saw a puff of steam escaping, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Geez, I thought, all he had to do was ask. It’s not like I’m trying to break any land speed records here. I just want to qualify for PBP. I repeated my mantra out loud this
time. It’s not a race”. James agreed.
We arrived at the first control as John and Nancy Guth were leaving. It is called the Syria Mercantile , and I believe their motto is,” Home of the world’s filthiest bathroom.” ( editors note: the opinions expressed by Mike Martin do not necessarily reflect the views of this website. Besides, I once saw a port-a-potty that had been overturned by vandals, and you would not BELIEVE how disgusting it was. I would bet a box of Cliff bars it was filthier).
After a little shopping and a change of clothes, we were on the road again. James commented on how well he felt, and proved it by cruising 20 mph on the flats and hammering the hills. I tried to take my fair share of the pulls, and we cruised by, and pulled, some other riders. One of those riders was Joel, who would ride with us for the next hundred miles or so. Although we were moving at a strong clip, we were passed by Bill Beck, making us the victims of a drive by shooting, photographically speaking.
Somewhere after the second control, my gears began to shift without me making it happen. Was I becoming one with my bike?, I wondered. If I concentrate, could I make the gears shift with the power of my mind? No, that wasn’t it. The darned gears shifted when I didn’t want them to. So I tried ignoring it. That didn’t work, either. Soon the gears were popping in and out so fast I couldn’t make any forward progress. When I looked down at my rear cassette, I was horrified to find it falling off my wheel. Dejected, I pulled over to the side of the
road, believing I had reached the end of the line. “Need a cassette tool?” Joel asked. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A scene from the early 80s sitcom, TAXI , came to mind. Tony was holding a tissue on his face to stop the bleeding from where he had cut himself shaving.”
Anybody have a stiptic pencil?” he asked. Jim, the loveable burnout, produced one. Alex, dumfounded, asked Jim, ” Why would anybody carry around a stiptic pencil?”, to which Jim replied, “Well, Alex, under the circumstances, I should be asking, “Why doesn’t everybody?” So I didn’t ask Joel the question. The answer was apparent. And thanks to Joel, I would be given the opportunity to finish the ride, and would carry a cassette tool for all future brevets.
The rest of the ride went well, except for a missed control that added several miles to our total. My streak remained intact, and so did I. At the conclusion of the ride, I accepted my sympathetic applause graciously. What? Still no hug?