That “New Randonneur” Feeling: Nick’s Bridge-to-Bridge Story

Our own Nick Bull posted his story on the new Bridge-to-Bridge Permanent, from the Key Bridge in Washington, Union Bridge, Md. and back. He and fellow D.C. randonneur George Winkert rode it on the Martin Luther King holiday, Jan. 21, 2008. Reprinted here from Nick’s post to the Randon email list. Ed

Getting back to that “New Randonneur” Feeling

by Nick Bull

Tired of those ho-hum, easy-peasy 200K’s? Do you want to get back to that “New Randonneur” feeling of riding hard all day, wondering if you’ll make the controls, while enduring harsh conditions? Then the Bridge to Bridge (B2B) permanent is just what you’re looking for (as long as you ride it the “right” way). The permanent starts at Key Bridge in Arlington, Va., crosses the Potomac River and heads up the Capital Crescent Trail, then wends its way through suburban streets before getting out into the country, eventually turning around at Union Bridge, Md.

There’s enough climbing to keep the ride interesting, a total of about 10,000 feet over roughly 125 miles, with some bits that are very “scenic”.

Here’s how to ride it the “right” way and get back to that “New Randonneur” feeling:

First, commit to riding the permanent on a weekend with unusally-warm January weather, then watch as the forecast for the day of your permanent gets colder and colder (ultimately, the forecast was for 13 degrees F).

Second, make sure to load up your rando-steed with plenty of cold-weather gear and food. If it weighs less than 50 pounds, go back and put some fishing weights in your Carradice.

Third, schedule your ride for shortly after the winter holidays so you have a little extra fat to burn and to help keep you warm.

More seriously, my friend George Winkert and I had a really fun, though hard day of randonneuring, on this inaugural ride of B2B. The thermometer on my bike said 5 degrees F at the top of the hill where we parked our cars, while the start-location hotel thermometer said 18 degrees F, as did the thermometer at National Airport; maybe it’s warmer down by the Potomac River.

Four hours later, the temperature had risen to 10 degrees F on my bike thermometer, but by mid-afternoon it had warmed up to freezing. I was able to take off off my heavy mittens and wear only light gloves, and occasionally unzip my jacket a bit on the hard climbs. We had modest headwinds averaging about 7 m.p.h. until the turnaround point; just for a change, the wind direction didn’t switch to create headwinds on the way back.

The intense cold, heavy clothes, and heavy bikes made everything seem like molasses. Our water bottles froze solid in the first half hour. Despite having started with heavy winter clothes, we still had to stop to put more on–in my case, the heaviest-duty winter tights available from Performance supplemented by some Rivendell wool leg-warmers. Fortunately, these resolved the problem that was rapidly developing with cold feet; warm legs may not be a sufficient condition for warm feet, but they seem to be necessary.

Eating on the bike was complicated. The first step was to try to extract a semi-frozen peanut butter and jam sandwich out of its baggie, while wearing slippery, heavy gloves. Next, pull down my pSolar heat-exchanger balaclava, which caused my lips to start freezing up and my ski goggles to start to mist up, then try to chew and swallow the sticky sandwich, with nothing to wash it down, all the while breathing through my stuffy nose.

Then, as the goggles become opaque with mist, pull them out and over the helmet-mirror and let them snap back onto the helmet so that I can see out. Meanwhile my face has become semi-frozen and my eyes are tearing up, so I have to pull the balaclava back up and the goggles back over the mirror, only to knock the mirror off and have to stop to pick it up. Repeat as required.

Fortunately, Gatorade has a lower freezing point than water, so after defrosting my water bottle in a microwave, I was able to have slushy Gatorade after the first control.

It was a long day of making controls with ten minutes to spare, and considerable uncertainty whether we would carry the day. The best surprise of the day was when George’s wife brought us hot soup at the 100-mile control –and a warm car to eat the soup in.

Seven miles from the end, with forty minutes to go, my tire went flat as we turned back onto the Capital Crescent Trail. Since I’d already done my January R-12 ride, while George “needed” this for his January R-12 ride, he went on ahead, and thus holds the course record at 13h20m. I got the flat changed in ten minutes and rode hell-for-leather to the end (fortunately it’s all downhill from there) and came in just under the wire.

The MotionBased trail is posted at:

Note that the control clock, which controlled our start/stop time, was apparently a few minutes slow compared with the GPS clock–total riding time for me was just under 13h29m.


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