Appalachian Adventure Update: Abingdon, Va. June 28

We’re happily in Abingdon,Va. today for our layover day at the southernmost point of the two-week Appalachian Adventure tour. For MG and me, the day off the bike came just in time due to our increasingly tired legs. At about 1,000 feet of climbing every 10-15 miles, with 427 miles in five days,with panniers, we’re bushed. Though, it’s a good tired in a “we made it!” sort of way.

See photos by MG and me at my Flickr page or see the Slideshow.

Eduardo has also posted a Slideshow.

We’ve ridden through some of the most quiet, visually stunning hills and valleys in southern Virginia, all under bright sunny skies.

On Wednesday we rolled from Covington to Blacksburg. We took the shortcut options to cut the 91 mile route down to 74 miles, and we were glad we did. Our “shortcut route” included the infamous Jamison Mountain Road over Potts Mountain. This stairstep climb of about 1.6 miles took every tooth of our 26×34 low gear. We stood some of the way but were able to sit the two easier sections and we didn’t walk — thought it might have been just as fast.

Later that day we enjoyed the Blue Grass Valley along VA 42 with one picturesque pastoral valley after another. This segment included the Great Eastern Divide, where Sinking Creek flows west to the New River and ultimately to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. We worked hard through this 30-mile segment, with many rolling hills. We stopped often take photos and give our legs a break.

In Blacksburg we made a nice stop at East Coasters bicycle shop and bought spare cables and more Chamois Butter and a post ride snack and espresso at Mill Mountain Coffee before hotel, shower, and Italian delivery to our room — too tired to go out to dinner.

On Thursday we knocked the 99-mile route to Wythevlille down to 79 miles. Again, Crista gave us truly remote, absolutey quiet roads through scenic hills and dales. We spent more time on US 42 through the Walkers Valley area. An unexpected surprise came in the appearance of an Amish bulk foods and grocery store just as we were getting very hungry, thirsty and tired.

“It’s With-ville,” we were told by the friendly lady running the store while the Amish owners were at an all-day wedding. She told us about the murderer on the Appalachian Trail who got out of
prison, tried to kill two fishermen on the trail after they fed him, died mysteriously in the county jail, and then how her sister tried to adopt the guy’s dog. I kid you not.

We rejoined Crista’s long route just in time for the major climb over Walkers Mountain, with a stop at the Big Walker Lookout tourist attraction. We didn’t pay the $5 to climb the lookout tower.

Wytheville is home to the Log Cabin 1776 Restaurant and we had a wonderful meal. Highly recommended. Friday we decided to get back on the full-mileage plan and skip the shortcuts on the 92-mile route to Abingdon. Despite leaden legs we braved a major climb over Mount Nebo and an many sawtooth ups and downs through the Rich Valley. The skies finally opened up on us in Saltville and we were delayed a while under shelter before stopping for lunch at a truly Southern diner, Edd’s Drive In, where the specialty was fried apple wedges. Let’s just say they were more fried than apple!

Another downpour stopped us for a half-hour under a carport, and Crista and Eduardo cooked up a shortcut to get us into Abingdon before the evening, and we ended up with 82 miles.

On Sunday we’re off on the return portion, starting with a jaunt to Galax. In the meantime we”ll be tracking the progress of our D.C. and Seattle/Portland friends ridng the Cascade 1200. Go go go!


Tour Update: Covington, June 24

I can’t say enough about what gorgeous weather and routes we enjoyed the last two days on Crista Borras’ Appalachian Adventure tour. We began early yesterday in Woodstock, Va. and traveled over Wolf Gap under bright sunny skies and cool temperatures to Wardonsville, and then joined up with Crista, Chuck and Eduardo in Moorefield, before riding on to Franklin, W.V. last night. The weather was warm in the afternoon, but only in the mid-80s.

I’ve posted photos from yesterday and today at my Flickr page, or see the Slideshow.

MG, Crista and Eduardo in MoorefieldMG, Crista and Eduardo in Moorefield

Today we rode from Franklin through the Bluegrass Valley (including a stop in idyllic Blue Grass) and over Monterey Mountain to Monterey, where we had a long lunch. The temperatures were in the low 60s this morning, rising the upper 70s by mid-day. We had beautiful sunny skies with puffy white clouds and low humidity. Traffic was very light or non-existant.

From there we spent the rest of the day traveling south on US 220 — the Sam Snead Highway, lined with golf courses around Hot Springs — to Covington. We enjoyed sections through the George Washington National Forest and lovely, winding roads. We saw a fair bit of late afternoon traffic between Hot Springs and Covington, but most everyone was polite and we got a couple of friendly waves.

Climbing into the Blue Grass ValleyClimbing into the Blue Grass Valley

We were also much better on the bike today. We haven’t ridden with four panniers since 2005 and the bike felt unweildly yesterday. Today it felt more normal, withhout all the wobbly handling on the slower uphills. We put up a respectable 12.4 m.p.h. moving average over 91 miles today.

Tomorrow we continue cruising south to Blacksburg. C,C & E plan to do the entire 91 miles including another one of those little hidden sparking spots in western Virginia, the community of Paint Bank. MG and I plan to ride a little shorter to give our legs a break and get into Blacksburg in time to look around.

Tour Time!

No, not that other tour, though we have extended a surprise, last-minute invitation to Levi and the boys. But only if Johann hauls our panniers and hands bottles to us. Then again, we don’t suspect they’ll show up due to all the climbing we’re going to enjoy…this is, after all, Crista Borras’ 2008 Appalachian Adventure!

We love riding brevets, but there is something very relaxing (ha!) about just doing a century or less every day on an extended tour. We get enough sleep. We can enjoy our lunches and dinners without looking at the clock. And we can take a detour (read: shortcut) or stop at a coffee shop. Wait, we stop at coffee shops on brevets, too. Hmm. Anyway, I digress.

The 15-day tour actually started yesterday without us. Crista and Chuck joined buddy Eduardo “these are no ordinary tandems” Ruchelli on the first day from Rockville to Harpers Ferry. Rudy, Maile, Jeff, Michael, Bill, and Mike met them for a send-off. See Rudy’s photos Here. Maile has also posted photos: see her Flickr page and Slideshow.

I\'m Ready! I\'m Ready!I’m Ready! I’m Ready! (courtesy Maile Neel)

MG and I could not ride this weekend. We’ll start tomorrow and meet them in Franklin, W.V. after leaving our car in Woodstock, Va.

This year Crista sends us to far southwest Virginia. She, Chuck and Eduardo will stay in Romney, W.V. tonight, then meet us in Franklin. The next stops are Covington, Blacksburg, Wytheville, and Abingdon. We’ll have a rest day on the 28th. As we sip espresso somewhere in Abingdon, we’ll be rooting for Maile, Carol and Lothar, who will start the Cascade 1200 that morning. Maile and Carol are riding the 1000K ride while Lothar is tackling the 1200K. Good luck you guys!

On Sunday the 29th we begin returning via Galax, Christiansburg (via the Blue Ridge Parkway), Buchanan, Waynesboro and Woodstock. There MG and I get back to our car and regretfully leave the tour to come back to D.C. for 4th of July fun.

Chuck, Crista and Eduardo will continue on to Shepherdstown, W.V. and then back to Rockville, completing the entire tour without using a vehicle. Now that’s eco-friendly!

Lest you think we are really hard-cord bike tourers, think again. MG and I will carry panniers but no camping gear. Hotels for us all, thank you very much. MG and I always have extra appreciation for tourers on the road loaded with tents and all; one of these days for us.

I’ll post about our progress every chance we get. For now here are a few shots from the 2005 Crista tour to Niagara Falls.

2005 Tour to Niagara Falls2005 Tour to Niagara Falls, courtesy Steve Ashurst and Lynn Ho

In Ithica, N.Y.In Ithica, N.Y.

That Old Road\'s A CallingThat Old Road’s A Calling

BPB: MG’s Double Middletown 600K Report

You’ll have to read the story to find out the meaning of BPB, though as a hint I will say MG has keenly observed that no long brevet takes place without some gastronomical distress. Hey, anything to set the tandem and mixed tandem record on this brand new route through the Shenandoah Valley.

See MG’s story on our and David Lippke’s Double Middletown 600K Permanent ride this last weekend below.

30 a.m.David, MG and Me, Before

30 p.m.After

Double Middletown 600K Permanent
(a.k.a. BPB-Big Pukin’ Bike ride)

June 14-15,2008
By Mary Gersema

2008 proved to be a patchwork quilt of brevet events for Ed and me. We were able to complete 200K, 300K, and 400K ACP-sanctioned brevets, but our schedules did not mesh with any of the scheduled ACP 600K brevets in our area. However, thanks to some creative thinking by Ed, and some amazing routing by Lynn Kristianson, my lifelong dream of doing a 600K permanent came to fruition this past weekend.

Ed asked Lynn about a 600K permanent route, and she wiled away many hours putting together a great journey for us, eventually submitting it for RUSA’s final approval. At first it looked as though the permanent would not be accepted by the weekend we had planned to ride it. Darn it, I thought. How disappointing- . Thankfully, though, Permanents Coordinator Edward Robinson added the Double Middletown 600K Permanent to the RUSA database in the nick of time, and we were ready to roll. Great!

Ed sent out a note inviting others on our adventure. I was sure that we’d have no takers on our fine opportunity, but surprisingly, David Lippke responded that he would be interested in riding with us. Lynn K. provided us cue sheets, brevet cards, maps, and brownies. Now I am not sure if brownies are standard fare when you ride a Lynn K. permanent, but if so, I highly recommend you all sign up for one of her rides immediately.

Day One

Ed and I drove off from my place Saturday morning at 3:15a.m., and as we made our way along the Waterfront in Southwest DC, we saw that the nightclubs were just closing, and there were lots of people in their clubwear chatting and walking to their cars. Off we were to ride our bikes after four hours of sleeping, and these people had not even been to bed yet. It felt so surreal.

We gathered at the Sheetz in Haymarket, Va. to begin our little 375-mile tour. After bike prep and pre-ride chat we entered the Sheetz to control in. The young woman who signed our control cards thought it was so cool that we were doing this ride and that she got to sign our cards. Her excitement was shocking. We were not prepared for so much enthusiasm at 4:30 a.m. She signed all of our cards with a smiley face, and even added a heart to mine. David said he hoped all the controls would be like this. Tina, David’s wife, memorialized our start with a few pics of us outside the Sheetz in front of the windshield wiper fluid and the three of us rolled out into the dark morning together.

The morning ride was uneventful. The sun rose, we put a few miles on the odometer, and I thought about how much we had to ride the first day. 266 miles. That seemed far to me. Really far. “Mary, don’t freak out. You can do it,” I told myself. Then the Talking Heads song “Road to Nowhere” started looping in my mind.

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside.
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride.

I told myself to stop singing that song. That only made the song louder in my mind. Unfortunately, that little bit was the only part of the song I could remember. I started thinking about the song. Did they mean that a road to nowhere was bad or that a road to nowhere was OK? The Talking Heads seemed to think a road to nowhere might not be a bad thing. How can that be? What was the rest of the song? I don’t know! ARGH! This song was pedaling me into psychological ruin. Ed seemed completely unaware of all that was going on back in the stoker zone.

We passed through a couple of controls (the Middletown 7-11 and the Newstar Market, miles 45 and 53, respectively), and then slogged our way down the ever-popular Back Road. The controls took longer than usual for us because, for one, we could not seem to get into a 600K permanent groove. Secondly, we had to make sure to get receipts as well as signatures at each control.

“Road to Nowhere” continued to chorus in and out of my mind, the sun rose, and I began to feel drowsier. This was unusual, as my lethargy tends to fade with the daylight. I wondered if Ed could sense my drowsiness, and a few miles later Ed said he needed to pull over for coffee at Larkin’s Store. Guess Ed was having drowsiness issues of his own.

After that coffee stop, the drowsiness of the day seemed to fade somewhat, and David, Ed, and I happily talked and rode our way up and down the next 50 miles to Singers Glen. As we arrived the sky began to darken. That made for a perfect time to stop and have lunch. Good thing we did because ten minutes later thunder rumbled, the wind kicked up, and the rain POURED down! I looked out the window. The rain was streaming sideways, and the sides of the streets were gushing with water. Yep, we chose a good time to stop.

Fortunately, the rain showers powered through, and around an hour later we started off again. There was still rain, but we were not getting doused. Not that it really mattered, though, because a few miles up the road a car passed us and made sure to completely drench us with the rooster tails rising up from his car wheels. Yucko! I did not even want to venture a guess as to what was in that water. David was sure the person had soaked us on purpose, and I had my own thoughts about the matter, but I tried to believe it had been an accident.

Oddly enough, the Singers Glen stop marked my transition point. It may have been storming outside, but finally I was feeling alert and in synch with the ride. No more “Road to Nowhere” for me. Good thing we were doing a 600K permanent so that I could take full advantage of the 100-mile warm-up, ha ha!

The day cleared again and we enjoyed some mellow, yet toasty miles to the Stokesville Market control at mile127. Another friendly person signed our cards, and we hung out and rested a little bit as some guys came by and washed up the fish they had caught.

Soon after the Stokesville Market we meandered onto Bunker Hill Road and Jennings Gap Road. These were lovely roads, but the few cars that passed us seemed to have some anger management issues, yelling out their windows, and not giving us much room when passing. Dude, we’re just out for a bike ride; we’re not staging a bicycling revolution out here.

The skies began to darken, the wind began talking to us rather urgently as we hit US250, and Ed decided to ponder our next steps at a closed restaurant that had a nice overhang. David pondered with us a bit, and then ventured out into the drizzle. He gave us his wife’s cell phone number as he pedaled off. How reassuring! We waited a bit more, the drizzle turned to steady rain, we decided there would be no lightning or immediate danger, and continued on our way. It rained for a few miles, and then ebbed.

We caught David at the Deerfield store at mile 150 and went in to buy a treat and get our cards signed. The woman inside told us that we would have some nice downhill ahead. She then added that we’d have some uphill, too. Um… ok. We laughed about that as we started riding again. Ed said, “Yes, it will be downhill except for the parts that are uphill.” And David kept saying whenever there was a rise in the road, “It’s downhill… mostly. Mostly.”

Knowing we had a little over a century left for the day simultaneously buoyed my spirits and depressed me. We’ve come so far, I thought. We have so far to go, I responded to myself. Focus on the former, I thought again.

After the Deerfield store, we were treated to some pretty quiet downhill stretches (except for the uphills, of course), and I felt better. However, I noticed David making intermittent remarks about how ORF-less this stretch of road was. (ORF is one of the many little cue sheet acronynms that have become part of our vocabulary. It stands for outdoor restroom facility).

I started keeping my eyes peeled for some ORF relief. Finally, I spied this old-fashioned outhouse that was painted a pretty russet brown with a black crescent moon and star on the front. “Look there, David!” I shouted. “There’s the perfect ORF for you, but I don’t know how you will get there.” It looked way off in the weeds. David said, “See you later, I’m going back.” Later he reported that was the loveliest outhouse he’d ever visited, with toilet paper and everything. He was disappointed Ed had not taken a picture of it.

Ed and I rode on alone through this beautiful stretch to the midpoint of the ride, Clifton Forge, Va. at mile 193. David caught us, and we all entered the control together. The women working there asked us about our ride and when we told them, one of them remarked on how great our journey was. Wow! I have never experienced so much support from people on a long ride. Most people have just looked at us like we are a little crazy. Not this ride; all the people at the controls thought we were doing something special. That gave me a really good feeling!

Soon after our Clifton Forge stop, night fell, and we began climbing North Mountain toward Goshen. The climb was about five miles, I think, but the grade was quite manageable. Nonetheless the canopied road and darkness of the evening started fooling with my brain. I looked ahead and all I could see was Ed’s Camelbak; I looked to my side and all I could see were trees and leaves.

David’s lights came from behind the tandem and started casting crazy shadows. Images of Ed and me were huge and cast onto the trees. I could not tell if one of the shadows was my head or Ed’s so I decided to wag my head vigorously from side to side to check it out. I’m sure Ed really appreciated that, but I was in another zone. Then I decided that since I could not see anything anyway I would just close my eyes for a bit. A second later I woke up. (Ed told me later he noticed there was one point on the climb where he felt my legs go totally dead. I imagine it was this moment.)

As we came closer to the top of the climb, I was able to see one thing… arrow signs. Lots of them. Arrow sign after arrow sign. I did not find these arrow signs very helpful. They were too yellow and too bright in the darkness. Also, since we were climbing so slowly we had plenty of time to figure out which way the road turned. I thought they were an insult to my intelligence. Duh, we are quite aware the mountain is still going up and that we need to take a right. Thanks. They also seemed interminable. Never had I felt such animosity toward a road sign. I really wished we had been a bit more efficient during the day so that we could have made the climb before nightfall and these arrows would not be reflecting back and mocking my ascent. Oh well. I have to remember to not look back like that on rides. It is not productive and only serves to deflate me.

Finally, finally, we reached the top of North Mountain, and we began to pick up some serious speed on the descent. We had great lights and the descent was smooth and fairly straight. It was AWESOME! You should ride this permanent just to relish this downhill. It was one great payoff that lasted around eight miles. Yahoo! Any cars that passed gave us plenty of space and acted like it was totally normal to have cyclists out on the road at 10:30 at night or whatever time it was.

We eventually reached the end of the delightful descent, and rolled along to an intersection where Ed and David remarked it would be a good place to flip the cue sheet. We stopped, and then Ed started feeling bad. He went over to the side of the road and I told David quietly that Ed was probably going to throw up. “Oh really? Oh!” David replied quietly. What would a RUSA ride be without “occasional vomiting?”

Ed returned to our tandem, reporting that he felt better. David pointed up at the sign that was on the corner. It read “BPB Lumber Corp.” “Hey,” David said. “We didn’t do PBP, we’re doing BPB… a Big Pukin’ Bike ride.” That made me laugh so hard that I could not get on the bike, and then I laughed about it for the next ten miles.

It was a beautiful evening in Goshen, and there was a group on an outside stage at the still-open Cozy Restaurant playing bluegrass music. It sounded great, and if we had not been on a 600K permanent, I would have demanded that we stop to enjoy the music. Alas, we had 50 more miles of riding to go and we pedaled onwards.

Lynn, genius router that she is, put us on VA42 for most of the remaining miles to the control. That was perfect because we did not have to worry about missing a cue, and the road was undulating and pleasant. As we rode we could see fireflies around all the trees. A train passed just to the right of us. Cars gave us plenty of room when passing.

I told Ed that this 600K permanent was one of the weirdest rides I had ever done. There was not the seriousness that I often feel on a brevet, but at the same time the distance was a serious distance. I kept thinking, “Hey I’m just on a permanent,” and the next minute I would freak out and think, “I’m on a 600K permanent! Pedal pedal pedal!!!” Also, we were doing the permanent as a group ride. In this respect, it felt like a fleche… a fleche that never ends. Good thing we were all enjoying each other’s company (at least, as far as I knew!).

We made another climb through the George Washington National Forest, and as we descended to mile 245, Ed noticed David getting very quiet. David asked about taking a little stop in Churchville. Ed and I thought that sounded good. We stopped on a corner of some local store that had a nice overhang and comfy cement steps. David walked across the street to grab a couple pops. Ed and I watched him, both of us feeling a bit drowsy but good. Either my sense of time was really skewed or David was having problems with the pop machine because it seemed to take him forever to get his Coke. I told Ed I thought I should go and help him, but my legs wouldn’t move. So we just watched. Eventually he returned and said the machine wasn’t liking his money. Maybe so, but it is funny how simple things take on a new complexity after you’ve been riding for more than 20 hours.

We drank our pops and then made off to the Village Inn Motel at mile 266 in Harrisonburg. After we turned onto US11, Ed tried to convince David and me that a big farmhouse was the motel. “No, Ed,” I said. “I just don’t think this is it. Are you sure?” Ed said he was going to go up and ask. Fortunately David saved us by calling Tina and getting assurance from her that the motel would be clearly marked. Sure enough, after a couple tenths of a mile, a gigantic and brightly lit Village Inn Motel sign greeted us. We checked in for the evening, picked up the drop bags Tina had so kindly brought forward for us, and arranged to meet at 7 a.m. the following morning.

BPB-Big Pukin’ Bike ride, Day 2

Three hours of sleep later I awoke feeling pretty good. Just 110 miles to go, I thought. I can do this!

Ed and I met up with David, rode four miles together to the day’s first control (mile 270, Bridgewater) and promptly stopped for breakfast and coffee. Our legs were feeling pretty heavy as we left town and Ed and I watched David climb away from us. As we approached the control at mile 288 in Broadway, I decided I was going to have an orange Pushup and Fritos. Yummy! I had seen Nick Bull eating Fritos on a recent brevet, and they looked so tasty I had decided I would have some on my next brevet. Unfortunately, there were no regular Fritos to be had, only barbecue flavor. That was heartbreaking, but at least they had the orange Pushup! I ate my Pushup and watched David ride away again.

Ed and I left Broadway and made our way to Middle Road. This was another one of the gorgeous stretches. The weather was perfect, the terrain rolling, but not killer, and the views of the valley and mountains were spectacular. I could tell Ed and I were feeling awesome about the brevet. “I love you so much, Mary!” “I love you, Ed! It’s amazing we get to do this together!” We are so lucky, I thought! I told Ed that I didn’t care that we wouldn’t be validated by the French on this ride. I felt good just doing the ride! I was a super randonneur in my own mind, ha ha! And I did not even have to sell myself a medal to award the distinction.

We hit Route 11, a.k.a. the Great Fleche Highway, and pedaled into Woodstock for lunch. We saw David hanging out on the sidewalk at the Sheetz, and I told Ed how ridiculous that looked. For some reason, when we sit on the gas station curb it seems completely normal, but when I see someone else do it, it looks funny. We enjoyed our first real sit-down meal of the ride at the Woodstock Café… great coffee, great food. (And fast service, always a plus for the randonneur!)

After lunch, we slogged our way to Middletown. We saw the same cashier who had been there yesterday and Ed commented on it. “I live here,” he replied, and signed our cards. He also told us David had taken off ten minutes prior to our arrival. Outside the 7-11, a couple of locals talked to us quite a bit about our tandem and told us how we should use reflective gear, lights, and a flag so that they could see us bicyclists better. Ed and I were down with the first two, but there is no flag going on our tandem, thank you very much.

Back on the route, Reliance Road took us down toward the low water bridge outside of Front Royal. We spied a tandem with a “For Sale” sign on it, and could not resist stopping. It turned out to be a gorgeous orange 1978 Schwinn Paramount tandem with Phil Wood front and rear hubs and Phil Wood pedals. It was the oddest treasure to find by the roadside during a 600K permanent. Our ride was charmed, I thought! Ed marked the spot on his GPS unit so if anyone wants to go back and purchase it, let us know!

I started feeling the hills and the fatigue in my legs after we left the Schwinn tandem behind, and then I started crying just as we made the turn up onto Dismal Hollow Road. Ed was surprised by this turn of events. I guess the charm and awesomeness had faded for the moment. Actually, I was just tired and feeling out of synch with Ed, which can make things sort of frustrating on a tandem. After a short shade break, though, I recovered and told Ed I was having a pedal stroke. “One pedal stroke after another,” he said. That gave me the giggles and we kept riding.

Things brightened up for us after Dismal Hollow Road, partly because we got to take in some nice tailwind and downhill on Route 55 going into Marshall, and because I knew we were going to be successful in our RUSA 600K permanent endeavor. In Marshall, we ran into David, who had waited for us, and we rode the final miles in together. We spied a mileage sign that indicated Haymarket (our final destination) was three miles away. “Surely you’ve ridden three miles before?” we said to each other, quoting Lynn K. from one of her brevet descriptions.

“I see a Sheetz!” David said a few minutes later. It felt so good to see the finish line. We parked the bikes and went in to make a final convenience store purchase and get our brevet cards signed. We went outside and stood in front of the windshield wiper fluid again so Tina could take a finishing picture of us. (Nothing but glamour shots for the randonneurs.) Woohoo! Complete elation. We had so much fun, I thought! The first 100-mile warm-up and Dismal Hollow crying moment were but distant memories to me now.

I was so proud of us for doing the ride. Even though we took more breaks Saturday morning than I would have liked, it helped us manage our sleep deprivation and we eventually fell into a good riding groove. David was excellent company, had a great sense of humor, and possessed a keen sense of the momentum of the tandem. I was amazed by how well he descended with us! Everybody kept their cool, rode within themselves, and we all looked out for each other.

Also, it felt satisfying to be able to work in a 600K. Last year, competing priorities did not allow for me to do much riding, let alone a 600K. The French may not validate me, but Lynn Kristianson will, and that works for me! And guess what? Lynn K. even gave us 600K finishing brownies when we turned in our brevet cards! I may not be a Super Randonneur, but with rides like this, company like David, and my favorite tandem rider Ed Felker I feel super to be one!

BPB Postscript

After the ride I listened to Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.” I discovered it is a perfect randonneuring song. Check out some of the lyrics below.

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride

I’m feelin’ okay this mornin’
And you know,
We’re on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go

We’re on a ride to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride

Maybe you wonder where you are
I don’t care
Here is where time is on our side
Take you there…take you there

We’re on a road to nowhere
We’re on a road to nowhere
We’re on a road to nowhere

There’s a city in my mind
Come along and take that ride
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right

And it’s very far away
But it’s growing day by day
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right

Double Middletown 600K Permanent

We did it! MG and I, with David Lippke, were the first riders to complete Lynn Kristianson’s brand new Double Middletown 600K permanent from Haymarket, Va. this weekend. Watch this space for a more complete report, with data from our GPS units. We have a photoset at my Flickr page and a Slideshow.

UPDATED: David has merged our two GPS tracks together (we both lost some tracking, but not at the same points) and has uploaded the data to MotionBased. See it Here.

Riding North on VA42, Sunday MorningRiding North on VA42, Sunday Morning

We started at 4:30 a.m. with David meeting us with his wife Tina, who thoughtfully provided bag drop service for us to the overnight control in Harrisonburg, Va. at mile 265. We all agreed we had not had enough sleep and were drowsy. But, a plan is a plan and off we went into the night.

Tina and David at the StartTina and David at the Start

The route took us south through the Shenandoah Valley, ascending most of the morning to VA42 to Singer’s Glen, where we stopped for lunch under heavy clouds. The skies opened up and poured as we sat inside. The storm moved past within 20 minutes or so, and despite forecasts of scattered showers, we had only one more light rainfall for the rest of the day. Since this was a permanent we needed receipts at each control, which meant we had the opportunity to buy lots of caffeine drinks trying to stay alert.

As an aside, when two drowsy people ride a tandem it makes for some interesting handling. Luckily neither of us fell asleep in the warm, humid afternoon!

We made the turnaround in Clifton Forge around 9 p.m. and began a slow five mile climb up North Mountain, followed by a tremendously fun descent to Goshen. Each turn on the way up had an arrow sign and near the top Mary said if she saw one more arrow we were going to stop so she could chop it down.

Few cars were out on VA42 to Harrisonburg and we rode under mostly clear skies with light, warm winds. We felt like we were crawling due to the sleep cravings, but we made pretty good time and got to the hotel at 2:30 a.m. I delayed our arrival by a few minutes when I became convinced a large farmhouse with a few trucks might be our hotel, but David got on his cell phone and confirmed we had a little ways further to go…about an eighth of a mile. MG and David were very gracious about my little snafu.

Up and out again at 7:30 a.m., we encountered a sparkling clear morning. With 110 miles to go and lots of time, we stopped as we felt. MG and I had our first decent meal of the ride in Woodstock, and later talked with a homeowner along the route who was selling an excellent condition custom Schwinn Paramount tandem, which he said was built in 1978. It had kind of a crazy geometry, as if it was built for a child stoker. With vintage Phil Wood hubs, Phil’s CHP pedals and Suntour components, it was tempting.

Schwinn Custom along the routeSchwinn Tandem along the Route

David had gone ahead but we found him at a 7-11 cooling off 13 miles from the finish at Marshall, Va., and we rode to the end together.

David and MGDavid and MG

David, MG and Me at the finishDavid, MG and Me at the finish

We found this ride to be challenging, but the climbing was rewarded every time with broad views of the Shenandoah Valley and fast downhills. Services were limited at night but we managed with our Camelbaks and food on board. Thanks Lynn for this ride!

And Now, We’re Going to Ride

What a week. With all of you hardy randonneurs riding far and wide, MG and I have been itching to get out and get our own brevet card inked up. Luckily for us, RUSA has approved a new 608K permanent for us to ride: Lynn Kristianson’s Double Middletown 600K from Haymarket, Va.

We think it’s a little crazy –riding an unsupported 600K — but we’re on familiar roads through the Shenandoah Valley and want to complete a brevet series. We won’t get Super Randonneur credit, but our schedule did not allow us to get an ACP 600K before going on tour later this month. The route will be spectacular, following some of the same roads as the Shenandoah 1200K last weekend.

A big thank you from TDR to all the riders, especially Kelly Smith and Nick Bull, whose stories inspire us to get out and ride. Thank you also to TDR readers — the blog had a record day Thursday, topping 1,000 views for the first time. Here at TDR central, this is an exciting time to be a randonneur!

Nick Bull’s SIR Four Passes 600K 6.7.08

D.C. Randonneur Nick Bull rode the Seattle International Randonneurs Four Passes 600K on June 7-8, 2008. Here is his story with pictures, all by Nick. Unlike the blazing heat we experienced out here in the East, Nick had to pull on his winter gear to keep warm over the chilly passes in southern Washington.

2008 SIR 600 Four Passes,
How the Weather Gods Smiled (or at Least Smirked)

by Nick Bull


I had a tremendously fun ride (except when I didn’t) on this awesome brevet through some of the most beautiful country in the world. Many thanks to the volunteers. They may not have made this an “easy ride” but they sure made it easier! For a quick glance at the terrain and map, see my MotionBased page.

Nick at the StartNick at the Start

My mother asked me to fly out to Seattle for my dad’s 80th birthday, thereby providing me with an easy excuse to not have to make myself ride the Shenandoah 1200 (which I really didn’t feel I was in good enough shape for). So I thought I’d check to see if Seattle International Randonneurs (SIR) had a brevet going on while I was out there. Hah! Indeed they are, something called the Four Passes 600K, described on their website as one of their most challenging 600’s. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

After some correspondence with Mark Thomas and after GPS’ing up the preliminary cue sheet, I contemplated the ride profile. This was without doubt the most intimidating ride profile I’ve ever seen. Four major climbs, averaging 3160 feet of climbing apiece (Steven’s Pass, Blewett Pass, White’s Pass, and Cayuse Pass). Plus some smaller stuff thrown in for good measure, adding another couple thousand feet total of “significant” climbs (those more than 400 feet, which is about where I start thinking “will this climb never end?”).

Without doubt, this was the most intimidating brevet I’ve contemplated, except for BMB and my first 600. (To see the profiles of this ride and BMB, click Here.)

Mark says that unlike the east coast terrain I’m used to, there isn’t as much climbing of small stuff in between the significant climbs, so the total climbing won’t be like what I’m used to on the east coast. Plus the climbs never get really steep. OK, Mark, I’ll have to trust you. But I’m still intimidated.

During the month before the ride, I amp up my training schedule, including a ride up Skyline Drive with a “big climb” of 2800 feet that about blows out my knees. Then finally I arrived in Seattle and am making my final ride plans. I decide I’d better get estimates of when I should expect to make it to the controls so I can keep tabs on whether I’m doing alright. So I re-examine the ride profile, putting estimated climbing and descending by 20-mile segments into my econometric analysis. I get a total of 15,000 feet of climbing, which I know will understate the actual total. How much? I guess maybe the total will be 25,000 feet. I scale up all the climbing/descending estimates by that much, plug it in to SAS, and it says my total time to completion will be 42 hours (assuming I sleep for an hour and 45 minutes). Not good.

I change my assumed total climbing to 20,000 feet. Now it says that I’ll finish in just under 40 hours. But I’ll arrive at the Greenwater control eight minutes after it closes. I write “Focus Focus Focus” on the cue sheet in the miles before the Greenwater Control. I hope the total climbing is around 20,000 feet, not 25,000. I write down on the cue sheet the expected times of arrival at each control. I hope I’m not leading an active fantasy life.

The weather forecast is for 60 percent chance of rain at the ride start, declining gradually through the day. Winds are forecast to be a modest tailwind early in the day and then a very stiff tailwind coming from Blewett Pass to Yakima. But at Yakima, we turn in the direction of what is forecast to be a modest headwind for the remainder of the ride. Jan Heine posts a report that the tailwinds out in the desert are forecast with gusts to 37, and that temperatures in the passes are expected to be freezing with a possibility of snow. I beg the SIR listserve for the loan of a pair of tights, which Mark Thomas kindly offers.

I take the ferry over from Bainbridge Island to Seattle, and then ride from the ferry to Issaquah (getting lost several times on the way: why do they spend millions on bike paths but then not signpost them?) I get a nice, solid six hours of sleep, the most ever before a 600K. I ride to the Tilden’s house and line up with 50 other intrepid randonneurs.

Gathering at the StartGathering at the Start

We take off, and I’m about in the middle of the pack, hoping not to get quickly dropped, but repeating the mantra “ride your ride”. Despite the weather forecast, it is nice at the ride start. Then a little down the road we are riding through mist. Then the mist becomes light drizzle. No problem, wool is warm when wet. But then I start thinking about wet wool under a Goretex jacket, descending at 40mph in freezing temperatures from a mountain pass. I pull over and watch as the group I was with pulls away, and as another big group passes. But at least now I’m wearing rain stuff from head to toe.

This usually means it’s about time to stop raining, but not this time, and I ride through the rain for hour after hour. Every single ride I’ve done for the last month and a half has had rain. What’s up with that?!? Good training for this ride, I guess :-)

Coming toward Skykomish, it seems like I’ve been doing a lot more up and down than expected. I check my altimiter — 2000 or so feet, so far. That seems high. Is that about right, or not? I spend awhile trying to estimate how much climbing I expected in this section, but end up still in the dark. Just hope it’s not an indication of more-than-expected climbing. Steven’s Pass is a long, hard, grinding climb in the drizzle. But I’m riding faster than I expected, and the descent is gradual enough that I don’t have to keep braking on the wet road. It stops raining, and I arrive at Leavenworth an hour earlier than expected, control fairly quickly while listening to oompah music, and scoot down the road ahead of some who had arrived before me.

Atop Stevens PassAtop Stevens Pass

I have the road to myself, and I ride up Blewett Pass with plenty of time to look at the beautiful scenery. I think about how beastly humans are to each other, but how beautiful our planet is. It makes your heart break and be full all at once. I think about how lucky I am to have been born at a time and in circumstances that let me ride these brevets. I think about how gracious it is of my wife and family to let me ride them, and not even complain too much about the yard full of shrubbery that needs trimming.

Pretty quickly, I’ve ridden half of the 21 mile climb up Blewett Pass, without much of a strain. But I’ve only done a third of the climb, so it’s pretty clear that things will have to steepen up, soon. A rider comes up and passes me, but he’s not one of us and he looks at my saddlebag and bar bag with evident disdain. Soon enough, some SIR riders pass me, as well. I focus on eating enough to maintain the climb. Eventually, I notice I’m catching up with SIR riders and then pass the non-SIR racer dude, who seems to have hit a wall. I pass the SIR riders and am feeling good as I come to the top, where there is a refreshment control. I refresh myself for as long as I can justify, before concluding that I really must move along.

SIR food controlSIR food control

The long descent is gradual, and again it’s easy to modulate my speed by alternating between sitting up or “becoming one with my top tube.” This is so much nicer (in many respects) than descents like Wolf Gap where you have to focus very hard on your speed and make sure not to hit gravelly corners too fast and wipe out, as someone did a couple of years ago.

Every so often I find myself calculating when I might be able to get in to Rimrock and finally to Issaquah. Maybe I’ll break my all-time-best 600K pace? I have to keep reminding myself to just focus on the moment and not count any chickens. After 14 miles of descent, we turn left toward Bettas and climb a little 500-foot speed bump. The tailwind is so strong, that while I’m trying to get my camera out a gust of wind blows me uphill at 12 m.p.h. without pedaling. Wow!

At Ellensburg, I arrived in town 1h 45m early, and hoped to control quickly and extend my lead. I decide to see if there’s an Arby’s, remembering how good the Arby’s tasted on the 400K last month. It turns out to be at the far end of town, and apparently many locals think that Arby’s is a good place to eat lunch. My time gets frittered away waiting in line, and I leave 1h 45m ahead of where I expected. The ride through Yakima Canyon starts soon after. It’s a sort of a perfect, fantasy of a canyon, with a river and traintracks in the bottom, and pastoral rangeland going way high to the serpentine ridges on either side.

Spectacular viewsSpectacular views

I stop to put on the night stuff and a rider passes. But with tailwinds and the gradual descent, I soon catch up, and though I contemplate slowing down so I’ll have someone to ride with at night, I decide that I can’t afford to slow down and will be fine riding by myself in the dark. I’m really making good time down the Canyon and pass several other riders in the dark. But I notice a pair of headlamps in the distance behind me, and they seem to be gaining on me, so I figure it’s just a matter of time before I get passed. I remind myself to just ride my ride and not worry about it.

Coming into Selah we change directions and now have a headwind. Riding up to Selah Ridge, the headlamps really seem to be gaining on me, and after a quick visit to the roadside bushes they’re only about a hundred yards back. I ride hard up to the Ridge and then descend fast and they recede into the distance. Why does this stuff matter? You tell me. I hit US12 and now the wind is just blasting down the road. I’m down to one bottle of water, and a bit worried about whether places will be open — it’s just a little before midnight. A Chevron station is closed, and then there is a nightclub — should I stop in? No, there’s a Shell station down the road. It’s open, and I water up and when I come out I have a brief conversation with a rider who complains about the wind and the rumble strips and how could anyone design a route that goes down such an awful road. I decide to continue on by myself.

As I get to the road, who should come up but the pair of headlamps. I ask if I can join them and we ride on, taking turns in the lead. Though I expect a gradual climb, about 50 miles with 3,000 feet of climbing to Silver Beach, the climb we’re actually on seems much steeper. Is it really steeper, or is it just the wind? After a dozen miles or so, we turn left and the wind dies down a little and there is a secret control where I get the chance to fuel up with soup, sandwich, and cafe mocha. Fabulous!

We continue on, climbing harder now, and for awhile the wind is less of a factor but then as we get higher up the forest diminishes and the wind picks up and howls away. The climb just goes on interminably, and I alternate between looking at the odometer and the altimiter, neither of which seem to be moving at all, and the time, which seems to tick away unbelievably fast. So much for our early projections that we’d arrive at 2 am, which would be 2-3/4 hours ahead of schedule. Now I’m just hoping not to lose the 1-3/4 hour lead I had at Ellensburg.

As we get within five miles of the control, Chris-with-the-Raleigh-International comments that it must get flat, soon. I remind him that Mark Thomas told us at the secret control that the last seven miles in to the control were flat. Hmmm. Finally, the interminable ends and the impossible happens and we come up to the control and eat soup and go to bed. I put my earplugs in and while I’m wondering if I’ll ever fall asleep and listening to my breathing and pulse and telling myself it’s OK to let myself fall asleep, I finally do. I wake up a couple of times and roll over and then someone’s calling out that it’s time for the 5:30 a.m. crowd to get up and roll.

I get everything together in the dark and am ready to go when I decide to fill up my water bottles and discover that there are pancakes and sausages. So I eat some and make a number of trips back and forth between my bike and the drop bag in the cafeteria, before finally getting stuff together enough to go. I worry about the fact that I’m almost out of Lantiseptic, and my butt is very sore.

Pretty soon I’m climbing up White’s Pass by myself. After a long time, a fast randonneur passes me, and then I pass someone. I’m thinking about the beautiful and strange audacity of our tiny, puny selves going out into this absolutely gigantic piece of nature and riding distances that are way further than I would ever want to drive a car. We arrive at the top pretty close together and I put on everything I have, even Mark’s tights which I’d hoped not to have to use in the end. I put on my winter shoe covers. I put on my SealSkinz gloves, which are somewhat warm. I put on my winter heat-exchanger facemask which saved me on PBP.

After a mile of descending, I stop to put on my Windsilk gloves as well. I’d have stopped another mile later to put on more clothes, if only I’d have had them. Shortly after, I passed the fast randonneur, who was now going slowly and visibly shaking. Another couple of miles, and now my legs were shaking and the deep, deep cold is moving up and through me. I’m just starting to shake all over when I get to the bottom where there is a control. They pour hot mocha into me while I sit in a warm car and eat a muffin. Paul Johnson introduces himself and it takes a minute to figure out why the name seems slightly familiar–Dr. Codfish, I presume. They hypothermic fast randonneur joins me and the car gets switched on and blows hot, hot air. I’m scared to get sweaty so I get out and let someone in. Soon I move along, having been joined by Chris from the Saturday night ride. I’m pretty happy, because my time at that point is good, and it looks like I might get to Greenwater a couple of hours before the control closes, instead of the eight minutes late that I’d predicted.

We start climbing up Cayuse Pass and it is a pretty stiff climb. Chris is climbing faster, so I’m alone again, soon. I finish off all of my HammerGel, but seem to have zero energy. I stop at a waterfall and eat an energy bar. Still zero energy. After interminable climbing, I’ve finished half the distance but only a third of the ascent, which suggests a dim future will soon be at hand. I continue to eat energy bars that seem to have had the calories drained out of them. At 4.44 miles from the summit, I decide to celebrate by walking. I decide to walk until the rider who I can see in my mirror catches up, but he isn’t gaining on me. I duck off to the other side of a snow bank for a visit to the bushes that would horrify the leave-no-trace crowd. Sorry. I come out and don’t have the heart to get back on my bike, so decide I’ll walk out the full mile. I keep looking to the left hoping to see Mount Rainier, but all I see is clouds and the occasional bit of mountain covered with pines and scree.

Shrouded Mountain ViewsShrouded Mountain Views

Climbing Cayuse PassClimbing Cayuse Pass

I walk and eat, walk and eat, walk and eat. At 3.44 miles from the summit I still have no energy, but decide it’s time to ride again. Now I’m riding at 4.5mph instead of walking at 2.9mph. The tenths of a mile roll by like a snail crawling on flypaper. I decide it’ll be OK to walk when I get to 2.44 miles from the summit, but when I get there I decide to keep riding.

I get to the summit, which is all mist and clouds and freshly fallen snow, and I go through the clothing-up-procedure. At first the descent is just as cold and fast as from White’s Pass, but then as I get lower and it warms up a bit, a wind picks up and now I’m pedalling hard to keep my pace up to 12mph. So much for the reward for all that climbing. I’m bonking again, as I couldn’t eat on the descent. I’m starting to think that randonneuring is the stupidest sport ever invented, and I’m never going to do it again. And to top it off, I’m getting drowsy and a little worried that I’ll nod off on the descent like I did at PBP. Then I notice a little ranger station with a sign for free coffee, so I pull over.

After a cup of coffee, I check the time on my GPS and go lie down in a sunbeam on a picnic table. Very comfortable. I fall asleep, have a vivid dream, wake up to notice more randonneurs have arrived, fall asleep again and dream, wake up again, fall asleep and dream and wake up. It seems like I’ve been here forever and I worry that I’ve been here too long so I call out to ask what time it is. Noon, someone says. I’ve been asleep for nine minutes. I roll on out, still pedalling hard into the wind. I try to eat, but everything tastes like petrified porcupine turds.

What with the long climb up Cayuse, and fighting the wind on the way down, my lead time to Greenwater is gradually disappearing. I’m thinking that if the wind holds like this, I may not be able to get to the end in time. I’m thinking my shoulders hurt, my butt hurts, my hands hurt. I’m thinking this is a stupid sport. Well, I’m thinking that a 200K seems like a nice distance, but a 600K is just ridiculous. Eventually I get to Greenwater, about 45 minutes before the control closes.

What I really want is a cup of soup, but the cafe doesn’t have any, so I roll toward a sign for another cafe, which says “Opening Soon”. Big help. I go to the Greenwater General Store, which also doesn’t have soup. I buy a ham and cheese sub that is mostly made of chewy, thick, and tasteless bread. I get to talking with someone (Dan, I think) about how tough this wind has been. He asks if I’m riding alone. I say that I am, and ask if I can ride with him, though I tell him I don’t expect I’ll be any help. He is very kind and offers to let me draft him. After a quick visit to the bathroom to slather on my pitiful dregs of Lantiseptic and a pouch of Chamois Butter that I’ve discovered, we hit the road. I realize I’ve got to eat if I’m to have any hope of finishing the ride.

So we roll on out and I sit behind Dan and I try to force down energy bars. I eat a couple of bars and feel a little sick. Dan starts to pull away and I consider just letting him go, but decide I’d better dig in. I catch up. A few minutes later he eases over to the left to let me take the lead and I figure I’m just going to embarrass myself, but am surprised to find I have a little energy. I lead for a bit and then we switch and he leads for a long time, and then at the next switch I realize he’s letting me lead on the steeper downhills. Still, I take it and am proud of what an accomplishment it is to ride at 15mph downhill! I keep eating, and eventually I actually feel somewhat recharged and energetic. I’m probably not quite doing my fair share of leading, but I’m doing better.

At the turn onto Farman Street, with fifty miles to finish the ride, we stop to make a cellphone call and see some of Dan’s friends coming up (Corey and Ian). But we move out before they get there, and now we’re riding at a hearty clip on rolling terrain, until we stop to water up. The riders come up and we join them and all ride together to the outskirts of Issaquah, where we stop for some reason. While I’m calling my mom, who is coming to pick me up from the ride finish, I wave the other three on and I’m by myself for ten miles to the Redmond Control, riding on the “quiet country roads”. I’m really focusing on eating as I ride along, having bonked in the last ten miles of a 600K before, and knowing how unpleasant it is to get sucked into the mire.

Towards the FinishTowards the Finish

At the Redmond Shell, I’m glad to see my friends are still there. I wolf down another energy bar, washing it down with a Pepsi, and then we all leave together. I know it’s only 11 miles to the end, which is the distance I commute every day to work, but that doesn’t make it seem any the less. I focus on pedaling and force down another half of a peanut butter and jam sandwich, and think about titles of movies I’ve seen, and as so often happens in randonneuring, the impossible happens and we are soon sprinting back up to the Tilden’s house.

We finish in 38:02, which is right around average for me. Nonetheless, I set a new world record in my class: DC Randonneurs riding the 2008 SIR Four Passes 600K!

Nick Bull

Kelly Smith’s “Idiot’s Guide to the Shenandoah 1200”

First I laughed. Then I cried. Then I laughed so hard I started crying. Kelly Smith has written a stellar account of his Shenandoah 1200K. It was his first long randonnee in three years of randonneuring that was to culminate in PBP until pesky circumstances got in the way.

Judith Longley and KellyJudith Longley and Kelly, courtesy Bill Beck

The Idiot’s Guide to the Shenandoah 1200
by Kelly Smith

Monday June 9, 2008

Executive Summary:
-The best weapon in the arsenal of heat defense is a tubesock full of ice.
-Ask more questions and look at the cuesheet more carefully (of course if I had I would not
have started).
-Though it seems impossible at lunch time, you can climb mountains until midnight.
-Volunteers are the greatest people in the world!
-It is better to be lucky than good.


Here I sit in my bed trying to sort out impressions from the Shenandoah 1200 brevet, while simultaneously resting my seat, feet, hands, neck, and knees. I have never done a grand randonnee so have no direct frame of reference, but can only say it was the hardest, hottest, and in some ways scariest experience of my life.

First, some background. I began riding brevets in 2006 intending to do PBP. Riding with Mary Crawley on the tandem worked out so well I would have liked to have done BMB with her that year but a conflict stopped me. Come 2007 I missed PBP as well. When the idea of a local 1200 was mentioned I was all over that idea, even recruiting my wife to help. As time went by and the controversy grew I had my doubts, but starting a 1200 within 23 miles from my house was too ‘easy’, I had to do it.

Naturally (for me) as time went by my doubts grew and grew, peaking during the Middletown 600. That Saturday night I was 100% decided that I would not do the 1200. If I could get any money back, great. If not, consider it a donation. You could say it was Carol Bell who is responsible for my starting the 1200. She came blasting by on Back Road as I was recovering from a bonk. The fun I had chasing Andrea and Greg with her and Paul helped me forget how miserable I’d been. As it was the 600 probably saved my 1200 by finally teaching me to eat and drink enough.

I was a nervous wreck as the event approached. I debated all kinds of last minute changes, even considered building up a new bike before I came to my senses (or just ran out of time). I switched my saddle, but a test ride the weekend before convinced me to switch back. In the end I bought new tires (Conti Gatorskins) after a rash of flats (none on the 1200) and a new light (Black Diamond Icon – great light) the week of the event. Of course these last minute panic buys were at full price!

I knew it was important to be well rested, but my fretting led to much lying awake when I should have been sleeping. A final evening of packing meant I only had four hous of sleep before I got up at 2:15. Amazingly, from there on every thing went fantastically well for me, four truly lucky days.

Day One

The start was cool. There were so many people I didn’t know from all over the country, every one seeming confident and ready. Matt was his usual low-key self, finally launching us with a dramatic “well go ahead” or some other casual send off. The morning was comfortable, but intensely humid, my glasses fogged as we simply rode the easy initial bits of the route. We had to climb over and around downed trees and power lines in Waterford, but you could see stars in the sky and threatened storms never appeared.

The first 68 miles were like a regular club ride (other than being half in the dark). A good group stayed together chatting, and held a high but not unreasonable pace. The first shock was Spruce Run, a narrow and extremely steep climb I’d never ridden before. A school bus squeezed by adding to the thrill. We arrived at the Gettysburg control in great time and I put on sunscreen while eating a PBJ on bagel and grabbing snacks (eat, eat!). The group broke up here and I left alone, meeting Tom from Connecticut (I believe, apologies if that’s wrong) on the road. We chatted about the Gettysburg battlefield until we came upon the ‘group Andrea’ on the roadside. I didn’t know that her pedal had failed causing a fall till later, but they indicated things were under control and we moved on expecting to be overtaken soon.

In this area we saw lots more storm damage; in some places all trees were broken to some extent. Cleanup trucks and debris made it impractical to ride fast so things were pretty casual. Along here I met Jim from Ohio and Tim from Charlottesville. They were great road company. Jim reminded me of Jim Carey, and we kept a quick but manageable pace on through West Virginia into Virginia again. The heat began to really kick in now, and my memories get a little fuzzy, but I rode the section from Columbia Furnace to Harrisonburg with Mike Lutz from Pennsylvania at a conservative pace, arriving at 8:30 p.m.

My wife Josie and daughter Maggie were there. It was great to see them, and the facility was very nice. We made such good time and got in so early I had debated pushing on to Deerfield. Once indoors, however, the decision was made and I cleaned up. I chatted with them and also called Mary, who was having a great adventure crewing for Jeff Bauer and Kevin Kaiser on RAAM. I wasn’t very efficient so was up ’til 10; the dreaded seriousness of the event had not fully sunk in!

Day Two

Curtis Palmer, Mike, and I met in the morning for a 4 a.m. start. I felt bad but not awful, and had breakfast of pancakes and OJ. We set off at Curtis’s usual FAST pace and while it felt like I might be sorry it was too much fun to pass up. The other benefit was rolling into Deerfield by 6:30 a.m. Later I realized how important it was to go fast in the dawn coolness; you would not go fast later! There we discovered a fantastic breakfast being served — hash browns, eggs, biscuits, gravy, bacon, and piles of readymade pastries. I immediately requested eggs and home fries, which really hit the spot I hadn’t even known was open.

The next section began to be increasingly hilly and I dropped back, riding solo the last bit into Clifton Forge. I met Paul there and joined him as I ate a grilled ham and cheese and enormous wedge of German chocolate cake. Paul’s big breakfast deal included the baked apples he didn’t want so I cleaned those up too. My feeding plan was certainly on track!

Mike arrived later after fixing a flat so he and I rolled out together. Soon the climbing became severe and I dropped back, beginning the hardest section of the route. Rich Patch, Upper Rich Patch, and Jameson Mountain Road were extreme trials, relieved only by overhead shade. I use a 34×28 low gear and have been climbing a lot recently, but I had to stand for extended pitches just to keep the pedals turning.

I was unwilling to take full advantage of the descents due to grit and gravel so this was a slow section: 76 miles took 7.5 hours!

I rolled into Christiansburg a cooked and broken man. The service sheet just listed snacks at the control so I stopped at a local pizzeria. That turned out to be a good choice. Two big slices of eggplant pizza and iced tea refueled me and I made phone calls to let the family and Mary know I was alive. Still, it was a very low point.

I dodged the rush hour traffic on 11/480 to the control and found a scene from Village of the Damned. Several riders were there who had decided to DNF and were trying to make a plan to get back to Leesburg. Matt greeted me with “Kelly, you’re going on, aren’t you?” Despite the way I was feeling I said yes and fled the vortex of bad vibes with my brevet card.

Christiansburg to Hillsville was rough, although not as hard as the last section, but I was very tired and facing a long solo night ride. On the plus side all along this area of the route, when you weren’t in the mountains, farmers were making hay. It was fascinating to see one after another in the stages of mowing, spreading, drying, raking into rows, and bailing the hay. I know it sounds boring but it was endlessly interesting to me…at the time. And time was freely available as I crawled through the endless rollers.

I stopped at a firehouse to fill my bottles and rig for night. One of the firemen was there and we chatted. It was almost embarrassing to explain what I was doing, but he was interested and friendly.

This was my first extended night riding. Thank goodness I had bought a new light at the last minute. It is a Black Diamond Icon headlamp with a 3 watt LED which completely changed my experience. With it I made time about as well as I could have by day, and the temperatures at last cooled. The terrain was not what I expected though, lots of descents that would be rued tomorrow on the return. There was one long climb that had me panicked for a while – I thought “if this keeps up to Fancy Gap I won’t get in til 4 a.m.!!” Finally I met the first two returning riders, who told me it was about two more hours to the Gap. It took me more like three, but at least I had an idea.

I reached Hillsville about 10 p.m. Thank heaven for Jim and Clare at the control! They were so positive and enthusiastic. Clare handed me sodas and a PBJ, Jim got me lined up with a group leaving to head up to the Gap and I was on my way. At last the day’s end was in sight. I felt much better to be climbing in sight of others, and finally believed I could make it and sleep a while.

When I reached the Parkway it was truly eerie. I’d ridden it before but not at night. It is utterly dark, and I expected deer or bears to step into the road at any minute. Finally I got to the control, which was different because you left your bike at one cabin near the Parkway then were shuttled up the hill to other cabins to eat and sleep.

What a setup the NC Randonneurs had! There was tasty chili, made to order burgers, and lots of side treats. Even better, the atmosphere was really positive and fun. It really boosted my spirits.

Day Three

After a short but comfortable sleep I met Curtis and Mike at 3:30 a.m. for a 4 a.m. rollout. It was a pleasant surprise to see Paul at the lower cabin resting up. Of course the WGR doesn’t actually need to sleep, but he does get off his bike from time to time. He chided me for my silly sleep habits and we wished each other luck.

Leaving Fancy Gap was fairly miserable at first, seat issues began to show up, and the legs were fairly unresponsive. Here were the dreaded downhills from last night. In fact, one of the steepest bits of the route (but short thankfully) was on the ‘descent’ from the BRP! We passed Andrea and Greg who had stopped in Hillsville, I think, and they looked good.

Hillsville was a different story now, no one but the three of us, and the very sleepy team of Clare and Jim. They sprang into action and took care of us for a quick turnaround. Things were jammed up when Curtis discovered a broken spoke nipple on his rear wheel. I had one in my Kevlar spoke kit so he got to work. Of course, then his CO2 gizmo blew up so he used Mike’s pump and we finally rolled about 6 a.m.

Just then Judith and Martin rolled in. They’d had a brevet rider’s nightmare, taking a wrong turn and descending the WRONG SIDE OF THE BLUE RIDGE! On the long climb back up they had to hike around a jackknifed semi that had wrecked after they passed.

Leaving Hillsville we were in a jolly mood and riding well, but soon I tired and fell further and further behind. I rolled into Christiansburg in the rising heat and had a tuna sandwich and Mountain Dew at the control. It was a real disappointment to see the course back-tracked over many miles of yesterday’s route, but at least not the truly horrible climbs near Clifton Forge.

We rolled out together but I was soon solo again and pondering the meaning of life as I broiled on the scary hot white chipseal of Blacksburg Road. I had to drink constantly but didn’t want to run out before I could refill. I soon came upon Curtis and Mike chatting with a friendly farm family who they had begged water from. I joined them and we got a minute’s break in the shade.

A few miles later I saw a lady in her yard and stopped again. By this water leapfrogging I made it to the first store and found Curtis and Mike sitting on the floor surrounded by bottles and ice cream wrappers. I joined them and in a bit Judith and Martin arrived. I loaded my bottles, tube sock, and helmet with ice and we headed out to “cross the Nefud, the sun’s anvil!” to quote Omar Sheriff from Lawrence of Arabia.

From there I rode with Judith and Martin. We formed an amazingly compatible group. We struggled through Fincastle (an old English word meaning stopsign at the bottom of a 20% grade), and met up with Tim and Jim from Florida teaming up for the stretch on US11 into Buchanan. As we rolled up to the control someone noticed the bank thermometer reading 102!! Curtis and Mike were already there, and mentioned they’d seen 103. YAY IT’S COOLING OFF!

Here folks debated pushing on or holing up in Burger King and letting the asphalt firm up again. Judith and I decided to leave and take it very easy until it cooled. This follows the randonneur principle that moving slow is infinitely faster than stopping. Clare and Jim rolled in as we were leaving and told us 15 folks were behind us.

From here we explored how slow one can ride and wove from side to side seeking shade regardless of lane. We finally began to feel some cooling about when we reached US11. This road had been hotly debated before the event, and I was shocked when we first got on it. It is a four lane hwy, usually without shoulder, and when we first hit it traffic was somewhat heavy.

I couldn’t imagine riding it for 50 miles into the night and if I’d actually had a map or known the roads better might have abandoned. I didn’t though, so we pressed on. I thought a lot about the balance between riding and death, but then the traffic disappeared. As it turned out there was almost none for almost all of the way on US11.

This was actually good riding: beautiful views of huge fields (more hay) and the mountains, pretty towns, big rollers but gentle enough to carry momentum up. The miles began to tick away, but there were a lot of them.

After dark we reached Staunton and that was quite an experience. It was about 10 p.m. on Saturday night and US11 is a de facto main street. We were flowing in four-to-six lanes of traffic and changing lanes with the cars. At one light a drunk walked into the intersection and a cop pulled up and grabbed him. I mentioned to Judith that we were crazy! All this excitement made it impossible for me to keep track of my computer error, so I was completely off about how far remained. For the next hour we hoped every exit and glow of lights was Harrisonburg only to be disappointed.

We arrived in town, but could not figure out the last block to the dorm. We asked people on the street and went back and forth, now on the verge of total bonk. Finally Judith found a person who’d heard of the college and we rolled in about midnight.

I was about at the end of my rope and just sat and ate food Jeff and Bob handed to me (thanks!). After considerable debate we decided to get up at 3:45 a.m. (vs 3:30, talk about splitting hairs) and fell out.

Day Four

Seconds later I was awakened and reeled down stairs to be greeted by Steve “Bones” Matney: “what are you doing up?” I looked at the clock, 3:15 a.m., but couldn’t understand what he meant. Turned out Judith had been woken up by another rider’s arrival and made an executive decision to get us up and moving. Once I realized this I was pretty annoyed, but just stumbled on getting ready to leave. Bob fixed me some pancakes which I supplemented with a donut and we wobbled out. Judith said I would thank her, and she was right.

I discovered my light had died (9 hours is the limit) but it was OK because Martin and Judith pulled. We pedaled up an entirely deserted Route 42 and began to feel better. Except for our bottoms.

At one point I shifted my weight and let out a little yelp, a moment later Judith did the same and I mentioned that anyone listening would get entirely the wrong idea. This stretch was mercifully gentle though, and as the sun rose we had more gorgeous views of valley farms and the surrounding mountains. We made a pit stop at the Edinburg Shell where they told us the previous days high had been 106!!

We rolled into Middletown at 8:30 a.m. and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, but Martin announced he had to stop. He’d reinjured his knee and it was too painful to go on. We discussed rescue options and ice bags, then he insisted we push on.

I applied more Chamois Butter and pulled on a second pair of shorts. We went to the gas station market across the street and got tasty breakfast sandwiches, then turned the cuesheets. Imagine my horror when I saw Route 7/Snickers Gap, and realized we’d be there around midday! I told Judith we had to go, now! I explained there was an ugly climb ahead, not terribly steep but long and exposed. For the next 30 miles we had an amusing game of “Is this the climb? NO!”

Along here we met Chuck and Crista. It was so exciting to see them! I really wanted to stop but we had to move so we exchanged a couple words and pressed on. After the low water bridge I mentioned to Judith to thank Matt for not including Blue Mountain Road, LOL! We stopped there for more ice and started the rollers and small climbs along the Shenandoah.

Traffic on Route 50 was heavy and fast, not giving us an inch of room, which really frightened me in my semi-unhinged state. Coming off that road we saw Bill in his safari hat taking photos. Mount Carmel and Frogtown roads seemed just terribly hard now, and then the ride along the river was more scariness as every local roared down it in their truck.

And then we hit Route 7 – DUNH DUNH DUNH DUH! The Virginia DOT has repaved it and the first section has no shoulder at all, just one foot past the fog line then the side of the mountain. I was totally unnerved as steady traffic hammered by, often within a foot of us. The next section has a shoulder, but was freshly and roughly chip sealed. I didn’t care and rode it, bumps and all. Judith, braver than I, stayed on the fog line. Finally we reached the top and coasted down to Snickersville Turnpike.

We were completely cooked and stopped at the Bluemont Store for rootbeer floats. This worked wonders and we rolled on feeling OK. My double shorts strategy worked too and that issue receded.

Unfortunately the mood was ruined just past the Airmont store. I saw a car back and dropped behind Judith to let them pass. Suddenly beer and glass sprayed past me. The passenger in the car had thrown a beer bottle and hit the back of my helmet. By amazing luck not a piece cut me and I didn’t fall. Unfortunately Judith felt a tiny piece get in her eye, but it didn’t cause an injury. By the time I realized what had happened they were so far up the road neither of us could get a tag number or model. I called 911 but they couldn’t do anything with out it. This totally freaked me out and I stayed behind and to the left of Judith the rest of the way and was constantly looking over my shoulder.

Traffic was crazy Sunday afternoon on Business 7, but eventually we made it to Dry Mill and Leesburg. We dodged traffic onto Route 7 and there it was THE COMFORT INN! WE MADE IT!

It was wonderful to see so many friends come to cheer for us, and see our friends who finished. Like I said earlier, once the ride started I had unbroken fantastic luck. The biggest factor in my success was continuously meeting people to ride with who were going just the right pace to move me along without blowing up, and who had fun, positive attitudes. Tim, Jim, Curtis, Mike, Martin, and Judith really saved the brevet for me!


P.S. It shows how deranged I am that just now thoughts of Tom Rosenbauer’s Pennsylvania 1000K in August came to me. Hmm, I wonder if Mary would do that on the tandem?

S1200 Final Results Posted

The Shenandoah 1200 provisional final results — subject to ACP ratification — have been posted. I’ve also copied them below. Of the original field of 56, 30 finished. In a telling statistic about the difficulty the riders faced, just seven broke the 80-hour mark and only one broke the 70-hour mark.

First off, congratulations to all the finishers and consolations to all those who gave it their all in the hot, humid conditions. MG and I have ridden some of the S1200 roads in similar heat, notably a 600K in 2005, where we stopped every hour to cool down. The Shenandoah Valley can be an oven. The volunteers deserve credit for all they did to assist everyone.

Rider stories will tell more about the 46 percent DNF rate. Was it the heat and the relentless Shenandoah rolling hills and hard climbs? Was the event held too early in the year for adequate preparation and pre-ride rest? With the August running of PBP and BMB, there was plenty of time to ride a full series or more, recover, and peak again for the big ride. And, those regions don’t get nearly as hot.

As we now know, early June can be very hot in Virginia, though this was an unusual spell; brevets around this time frame have also been wet and cool. We rode through hours of rain just last weekend at the D.C. Randonneurs 200K.

Here are the results. Again, well done to all.

Rider Number



Finish Time


Michael Anderson



Steve Atkins



Robert Barday



Timothy Bol



Henk Bouhuyzen



Richard Carpenter



Tim Carroll



Wayne Cernak



William Cisek



Dan Clinkinbeard



Greg Conderacci



Phil Creel



Thomas Dembinski



Edward Dodd



Paul Donaldson



Art Fuoco



Dan Fuoco



David Goodwin



Geoffrey Hastings



George Hiscox



John Holmgren



Chuck Howes



Mark Jilka



James Johns



James Koegel



Joe Kratovil



Ted Lapinski



Tim Laseter



Martin Laudie



Jonathan Levitt



Judith Longley



Michael Lutz



Andrea Matney



George Metzler



Christopher Michels



Larry Midura



David Nakai



Marcello Napolitano



William Olsen



Lindley Osborne



Curtis Palmer



Jon Pasch



Guy Quesnel



Paul Rozelle



Henrik Schroeder



Bill Schwarz



Paul Shapiro



Mark Sheehan



John Shelso



Kelly Smith



Jim Solanick



Tim Sullivan



Bruce Taylor



James Tolbert



Alejandro Torres



Shawn Tyrrell


More S1200 and Cirque Photos

Randonneur cameras were hot this weekend, and not just from the soaring temperatures in the D.C. region. The Cirque du Cyclisme show in Leesburg, Va. and the finish of the Shenandoah 1200 were well documented. We’ve already linked to Maile Neel’s Cirque shots, but here’s a new photoset link and the Slideshow link.

MG was busy too at both events and Michael Scholten was also at Cirque. (Hmmm, seems like I was the only person not at Cirque or hanging around the S1200 in some way).

Maile and Charles of College Park BicyclesMaile and Charles P. of College Park Bicycles

MG’s Cirque photos are Here or see the Slideshow. Her S1200 finish photos are Here along with the Slideshow.

Andrea at the FinishAndrea at the Finish

Michael has uploaded a Flickr set from the Cirque, or see the Slideshow.

Richard Sachs and Frame in ProgressRichard Sachs and Frame in Progress, courtesy Michael Scholten