George Winkert’s Leesburg 400K

Follow George as he, Nick Bull and rando compadre Stan weather the rain, battle the rushing river, and catch a few Z’s at various fine convenience store sidewalks during the ROMA 400K last weekend.

Stan and NickStan and Nick

Leesburg 400K, April 26, 2008
by George Winkert

See George’s photos at his photo page.

What a beautiful morning we had leaving Leesburg at 0500, cruising the rollers thru Waterford up to the Potomac. The morning mist rising in the meadows as early dawn approached. Another brevet was underway! I kept thinking how much nicer this section was at the beginning of a ride vs. the tail end of our fleche route last month. Fresher now, the rollers seemed like ant hills instead of towering cliffs. Mark Vinette, our fleche captain agreed.

Not usually being with the lead group at 20 miles, I decided to set one of those meaningless goals: get to the river first! So, just after Lovettsville I took off on a rise before the final descent. Despite a nice gap, the peloton caught me on the downhill. I settled in behind a couple riders and then pushed it at the end. Voila! I’ve got the sprint points and the green jersey is mine for now! It’s amazing what you can accomplish when others are unaware of the stakes! Such is fantasy randonneuring at times. Only Nick knew my game, coz he’s seen it before, only he thought my goal was farther up, like across the bridge or up the hill past Brunswick.

Nope, it was Maryland, and since Maryland owns the river, the goal was the start of the bridge. Welcome to Maryland. Nick past me there and kept going to be first across the bridge. Congrats on that, Nick.

I then settled into the gee-what-a-beautiful-day-and-whats-my-hurry mode. Or, at least that ‘s what I’m thinking as the group heads up the hill as I catch my breath. After Brunswick, I caught Stan Vester, who ended up riding with Nick and me to the end. Stan rides a Surly Long Haul Trucker with about 400 lbs. of gear, including a stove. He says he likes hot food at night.

The miles on US 15 were not very pleasant with the roar of traffic and road debris. But at least we made good time working together in a paceline. The day was getting pretty warm after Gettysburg, especially on the slopes of Jacks Mountain Road. We came down into Smithsburg a bit famished, so we decided to take a longer lunch break there instead of Battleview Market some 20 miles later. Stan’s
somewhat of a character (what randonneur isn’t?!?). He often was found asking, “What time is your mom coming to get us?”. I told him my mom lives in Florida and today is her 75th birthday … oh my goodness, I better call to wish her! Thankfully, I had cell reception there.

We did the first 100k in 4.5 hours and the second 100K in 5.5 hours so things were looking
decent. Nick was even reminding me to eat more often so I didn’t hit my usual long bonk-out until later in the night (when I forgot to remind him to remind me — what a viscous circle!).

Coming through West Virginia, there were thick storms on either side of us, with the remains on the road of downpours, but here we were threading the needle as we escaped the unpleasant busyness of roads out of Shepherdstown.

At Winchester, we rested and chowed at Arbys. Stayed long enough for the eye-of-the-needle to clog up. A quarter-mile out of town, around 7 p.m, it started to rain. I put on all my rain gear, every last item: the jacket, foreign legion hat, seal skinz, calf-high gaiters, and rainlegs. At first I was
thinking optimistic and considered leaving some items in the Carradice grocery bag. But I remembered how I had done that early on at PBP and regretted it for 400km. Never again. And it paid off, since we pretty much had rain for the next 12 hours.

At Matt’s house, Q. Vos was leaving to a hotel, out with a medical. Nick insisted I try to nap for 15 minutes as he had done at Arbys for refreshment, but I couldn’t. Stan spent more time feeding the cats then himself.

Sometime before midnight we approached the Shenandoah River. Nick remembered that we will be crossing on a low water bridge and that it might be trouble. It had been raining hard for hours. We descended to it and stopped. Where’s the bridge? Why under the river of course! With our
headlamps, you could see the concrete slab underneath, like looking at the bottom of a shallow swimming pool. The current was swift and debris piled along the upstream edge.

A car turned around at the other end, not wanting to risk the crossing. What to do? Is it safe? Where else could we cross, backtrack to Front Royal? What did the other riders do ahead of us?
Was the water rising? This is not good!

See the link here for a nice sunny low-water day view of the bridge:

Without any discussion, Stan heads off pedaling into the water. What!?! Stan, wait, let’s think about this. He either can’t hear me or is ignoring me. Certainly he can’t hear the screaming discussion in my head. Stan, the human rando-paddleboat, is now halfway across. If he is swept away, his
bike (and his stove) will sink like bricks. What if the debris breaks loose and takes him out? What if you hit a pothole and flip into the drink? I didn’t want to think of a rescue attempt. If I fall in, will I be able to walk across holding my Bilenky above my head? Maybe my rando bike is too heavy for that!

As the brave pioneer reached the other side, Nick and I ventured after him. How deep was the water? Well, some will say 6 inches, others will swear it was up to their knees. We found out later that some riders walked the distance. When we crossed riding, the water didn’t reach our hubs, but this
I know, with each revolution of the crank, my feet were fully submerged. Wool socks were oozing beneath my gaiters. Steady, George, steady. Look out for potholes, get across before the tsunami hits. Done. Don’t look back, I don’t want to see if the bridge was washed away behind us.

Afterwards, Stan told me he has crossed flash-flooded creeks on bike with water to his hips. Oh, so this was no big deal. Why didn’t you tell me before, it would have been a no-brainer! Ha, ha.

Following the great river crossing, the gradual grade up Dismal Hollow was actually enjoyable. It was good to be alive, and on the East side of the Shenandoah. It was still raining. We stopped at the Exxon convenience store in Linden for awhile. In the back were tables where we rested a bit
and swapped out our soggy socks for nice dry ones. We used our share of napkins to dry the feet.

From this point to the end we agreed that finishing time was of no consequence, so we proceeded to take several 15-40 minute naps here and there. Concrete mattresses were widely available, at 7-11s and at a school in Middleburg.

Coming into Purcellville, we experienced our second sunrise of the ride. Hmm, that wasn’t my original plan.

At 0719, we arrived at the Days Inn, the last official finishers. The 12 hours thru the night rain was very reminiscent of PBP. The associated sores and wet feet confirm it. The smell now coming from my Seal Skinz originated in France. My very supportive wife was not comforted by the river crossing
tale, nor to hear of our slumbering on the 7-11 sidewalks. “What if you get caught in the middle of a holdup?” I told her, not to worry, no one will bother pathetic looking folks like us.

All in all, another fine day of randonneuring. Thanks to Nick and Stan for the camaraderie. It was like a fleche ride, a small team riding with no time goal in mind except finishing within the limit.


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