Practically Perfection: MG’s N.C. 400K

MG has written up our North Carolina 400K this last weekend in her own sparkling style.

MG and Mike DaytonMG and Mike Dayton


May 17, 2008 – North Carolina 400K – Practically Perfection
By Mary Gersema

After completing the North Carolina 300K on April 26, tandem partner Ed and I looked forward to returning for more riding with the North Carolina Randonneurs on their 400K brevet.

Saturday morning, Ed and I arrive, fill up the Carradice with food and supplies, grab our cue sheets and brevet cards, and ready to ride. It’s a 6 a.m. start time, which I find quite civil, and my stomach feels happy.

Alan Johnson, the NC RBA, makes a few remarks and the brevet begins. The riders roll out into the morning and I hear people exchanging hellos and chatter about family, work, and lighting. (What conversation between randonneurs would be complete without some reference to lighting?) This feels cozy. Staying together as a group at the beginning of the brevets seems to be their tradition, and the NC Randonneur fellowship envelops me for the first 15 or so miles.

After the first big rise, Ed and I fall back. Ed remarks, “Our strategy is working!” I’m not sure what strategy that is. Then Ed decides he needs a 20-mile pit stop. Ed loves the 20-mile stop! We say goodbye to the group, and I ponder what additional strategy Ed may have up his sleeve.

We hop on the bike again, and make some forward progress. We catch a few riders, including Lynn Kristianson, who is styling with her dark blue Bike Friday, and front Gilles Berthoud panniers. While Lynn looks good, she does not feel good, and I can hear she is congested and has a deep chest cough. Nevertheless, we enjoy some miles of riding and talking together, and then Ed and I move on to the 63-mile control in Siler City.

There is a slight breeze in our faces as we ride, and the smell of honeysuckle permeates the route. The air is crystal clear and the sun is so bright my eyes sting. John on the Surly says it is a perfect day for riding and who can disagree… sunny, temps in the mid-60’s to the low-70’s, no humidity, and a tailwind on the second half of the ride.

Ed keeps mentioning how green everything is here. Trees are all around us, and we pass through lush meadows. Roads are quiet. We cross over a couple of rivers. As we roll along, I see lots of people mowing their lawns. I don’t recall seeing this as much on the DC brevets. Maybe North Carolina requires more mowing. Or maybe people love their lawnmowers more.

Dogs are also prevalent along our route. A few are chained up or restricted by an electric fence, but many run out to the road to say hello, run a few yards with us… or try to take our legs off. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. These dogs keep our reflexes as well as our vocal chords sharp. Some receive a “Hi there!” Others get a stern “Back! Go home!” Not always sure which approach to employ with these canines, I have to do my best in the moment. I notice one sweet looking guy crouching in the grass; s/he suddenly leaps out at us. Woof woof! Ahh! Not as sweet as I thought! Bad dog! “Back!” I have never seen so many unleashed dogs on a ride before. And since it’s an out and back course I get to see them twice! I hope we tire them out sufficiently on the way out so they will be too lazy to chase us on the return.

We make our way to the Uwharrie National Forest, the terrain undulates more steeply, and we are flanked by even more trees. The serene roads and allow me to sink into the ride. The rare passing car gives us tons of room as it goes by. Up and down we go, in and out of the shade of the trees. We reach the halfway point of the brevet, and see the bulk of the riders just leaving the control together. We meet volunteer Dan, who is helping sag if needed. (Even though Dan is working on his Ph D, he still found time to dedicate his Saturday to us.) Thanks, Dan!

We also talk some with John, an NC Randonneur who is riding a 1980 Schwinn Voyageur that he snagged for free off Craig’s List. We admire his homemade rear bag with homemade bag attachment and learn that he bought a sewing machine (also off Craig’s List), and taught himself to sew. As a former 4-H’er with little sewing talent, his resourcefulness and skill impresses me. I tell Ed how impressed I am for the next five miles.

On the way back through the forest we ride a bit with a recumbent rider from Georgia, and then catch Schwinn John. We chat about the smooth North Carolina roads and find out that John works for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Then, for some reason, I go off about bike racks. We ride into the 155-mile control together, and see the main group has just rolled in as well.

I sit down to eat a sandwich, and chit chat with the riders. Ed keeps the camera clicking, and I notice that every time he takes a picture of me, I have food in my mouth. I’ll love seeing that on the slideshow, I think to myself. Mary with mouthful of power bar, Mary chewing on a sandwich, Mary with another sandwich, you get the idea.

I look over at NC Randonneur Byron, and he is not looking so hot. “Green like the kudzu,” is how Chuck Lathe described him later. I almost feel bad eating my chicken sandwich in front of him. Almost. I offer him a Pepcid and he declines. Ed comes over, sits down, assesses Byron’s condition, and offers him a Pepcid, too. He declines again, and says he may grab some Tums. Ed and I look skeptically at each other. We believe in the power of Pepcid. Byron then digs deep into his satchel of courage to ride out with the main group while Ed and I eat our meal.

A few minutes later we take off, with visions of catching the main group and making it to the next control before sundown. This is a perfect recipe for riding off course, which we make sure to do six miles later. As visions of the next control dance in our head, our feet pedal us into seven bonus miles. Great! We realize our mistake and reverse course.

Grrr… it takes a while to shake this off. I cannot stand how my cyclocomputer mocks me with these extra miles and I disconnect it until I am back on cue. The miles pass slowly and Ed and I are sullen. At least they happened in daylight, we agree. We then try to convince each other that there was some divine reason for these seven extra miles. Perhaps something bad would have happened to us if we hadn’t gone off cue. Maybe the sunset would not have looked so spectacular if we had seen it seven miles further up the road. The bonus miles were actually a blessing in disguise. Another part of Ed’s secret brevet strategy. Ha! Bonus miles suck!

Eventually we shake off our miscue funk and ride into the penultimate control at mile 186. We talk briefly with Chuck and Byron (who is still looking a little green) and they leave together. I engage in some toxic waste fueling, which includes an oatmeal cream pie and potato chips. Ed takes a picture of me. Thanks, Ed. Surly John arrives and we ride out together for the 60-mile night ride to the finish.

Fifteen miles up the road we catch Schwinn John and enjoy a group ride of four people, three bikes, over the next several miles. Except for one stretch on Siler City-Snow Camp Road, there is no traffic. The sky is clear and the moon near full. I can almost read the cue sheet without a light… almost. It’s a great night to be a stoker and a randonneur. Temps must be in the low-sixties. The captain absorbs any chill in the air. A perfect day has transitioned into a perfect night.

Thirty miles from the finish, we stop at a closed store to grab a sandwich out of the Carradice and stretch our legs. A group of riders is just rolling out as we roll in. Schwinn John leaves with the other group so we say goodbye to him. After our break, Surly John decides he needs a couple extra minutes to ready for the final miles so Ed and I take off into the evening alone.

Fifteen miles from the finish we see a group of riders and an NC volunteer outside a gas station. We do not need anything and roll past without stopping.

The finishing miles are capped off with a ride over Lake Jordan. The moonlight shines brightly off the broad expanse of water, and trees are outlined in black along the horizon. Ed and I are quiet, enjoying each other’s company and absorbing the beauty of the evening.

We ride the back roads into Morrisville. Two and a half miles from the finish, Lin Osborne catches us and we ride in together. I am so looking forward to completing the ride that I keep errantly throwing out my arm in a hopeful left-turn signal for the next two miles. Lin must think I have some strange body tick. Branson Kimball drives by with his Serotta on the car roof; he gives a friendly horn toot.

Finally, we roll up to Alan’s house, where he has routed the finish. Very convenient for him, if you ask me. We scrawl down our final time, 1:37 a.m., sign our cards, and put them in the plastic bag hanging from Alan’s door. Ed asks Lin to cover up his reflective sash (in what Ed calls the “randonneur salute) so he can take a finishing photo. I suspect Lin thinks we’re weird, but he plays along. We make the same randonneur salute, and Lin kindly takes our picture. For once, I have no food in my mouth.

Just as we hop on our bikes to backtrack to our car, another group of riders arrives. Byron is among them, and it looks like his satchel of courage held some serious finishing determination. Congratulations, all, and it’s off to the parking lot to load up and head back to our hotel for some post-400K sleep.

Back in the parking lot, I begin to feel like Byron looked earlier. My stomach gets queasy, and I think lying down in the bushes to rest my cheek against the cool ground sounds really great. Instead I sit in the car for a minute and collect myself. Ed packs up the bike and gives me a little space. A few minutes later, I realize that I’m going to make it; there will be no occasional vomiting on this brevet.

As we drive out, we see Surly John on the home stretch. We wave and yell, “Good job!” and are off to the hotel for showers and shut-eye.

The forgiving terrain, quiet roads, clear skies, lovely temperatures, and excellent company have made for a perfect brevet outing. Thanks, North Carolina, for serving up a great route and welcoming Ed and me on your brevets in 2008.

One thought on “Practically Perfection: MG’s N.C. 400K

  1. A great account from Celebrity Cyclist MG!

    As regards the roaming dogs south of Washington, DC (all the way to Key West!): I am simply amazed every time I ride south of DC, whether in Blacksburg, Va; Hunstville, Alabama, Tallahassee, FL or points in between, as the amount of dogs that pursue me on my bicycle….an amazing cultural phenomenon…

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