MG has written up our tale of Saturday’s wet & windy 300K brevet from Frederick, Md. She recounts the crazy day with aplomb, graciously (of course) leaving out the rough spots caused by yours truly.
Having ridden the Frederick, Md., 300K twice before, I feel qualified to tell you that it is a really nice ride. Nice! It features a pleasant, rolling, mostly downhill start, a mighty climb up the infamous Big Flat accompanied by an equally mighty descent into the first control at 68 miles, some more climbing, 60 miles of gentle rollers, and the end. Sounds nice, right?
Really, though, who needs a nice ride when they can have an epic one? This year, our nice Frederick 300K brevet on May 8 morphed from a pleasant jaunt through the countryside to an unforgettable journey that wrung me out, shook me to and fro, and left me feeling like a cranky rag doll at the end. This was the year of the epic Frederick 300K.
It didn’t begin epically. Temperatures were pleasant at the start, winds were fairly calm, and the group rode happily out into the dawn. As always seems to happen, Ed and I fell back as the roads began to go up more than down. Ed likes to say, “Downhills are our speciality,” which also means that the uphills are not so much. That was OK, though. We slid into our tandem touring pace and, at mile 16, began slithering up MD77 through Catoctin Mountain State Park. Our legs felt good and I was happy to be on the bike.
While we ascended the sky kept getting darker. I told Ed that this was one of the first brevets where the ride was brighter at 6 a.m. than at 7 a.m. We ran into Al Pless and as we topped the climb together some little droplets fell, but no rain manifested. So far, so good.
Volunteers George Moore and Tyler Bronder helped us through the secret control on Foxville-Deerfield Road, I grabbed a banana, and we hit the road. Al said he would catch up with us in a bit, as he was going to pull out his rain jacket. Rain jacket? “Hope we don’t need that!” I thought. Silly me!
We descended Foxville-Deerfield Road (a fun downhill, you should definitely try it if you haven’t had the chance) and I kept an eye on the darkening sky. I sent the sky telepathic messages. “Please do not rain on us. Please do not rain on us.” Note to self. These telepathic messages do not work well, if at all. Al’s approach works much better. Just get your rain jacket out.
Over to Jacks Mountain Road we went (mile 34), and the skies opened. Drizzle, drizzle, POURING RAIN!!! The rain pelted down, making it difficult to see. Ed said, “I’m looking for shelter.” Yay! One minute later we rolled into a covered bridge, Ed slammed on the brakes, I grabbed my jacket, and we hung out for 10 minutes or so. Perfect timing! I never thought I’d be so happy to kill time under a bridge. It was lovely!
After a few minutes Kelly Smith and Mary Crawley came blasting through, unfazed and unstoppable. Apparently the rain wasn’t bothering them! “Ride on, randonneur warriors. I don’t share your courage,” I thought. We waited a little longer in our cozy spot, the rain let up, and we made our way out from the bridge into the dissipating shower. We did keep our jackets handy, however.
Next stop: Big Flat. As many D.C. Randonneurs know, Big Flat is an oxymoron. Here is Crista Borras’s description of the Big Flat adventure:
From Arendtsville, the route turns north-west and begins a long, stair-step climb with many steep sections, ascending the false summit before Big Flat, altitude 1,650 ft., before a rapid descent to a stop sign, followed by the real climb to the summit of Big Flat at 2,040 ft.
Ed and I rolled our way to the Big Flat climb. Three weeks ago we had ridden Big Flat in the opposite direction as part of our fleche. In addition, since I was experienced with this route I was totally confident that I knew what the climb would be like. As we ground along up a steep section toward Big Flat, I asked Ed, “Is this Big Flat?” I asked him this twice, until he responded, “No, Mary. We aren’t even to Shippensburg Road yet.” Oh, right. Sure. I remember that. Right.
We turned onto Shippensburg Road toward the real Big Flat and caught up to Chris Mento. Another incline. Another couple “Is this Big Flat?” questions coming from my direction. Chris dropped back. I told Ed that Chris slowed down because I kept bothering everyone with my “Are we there yet?” approach to Big Flat. Later, we learned Chris had gotten a flat– on Big Flat. No kidding!
At long last, the real Big Flat was upon us, and it was unnecessary to ask “Is this Big Flat” anymore. In fact, I don’t think I could have asked if I wanted to because we were putting all of our energy into the climb. We slipped into the granny, topped Big Flat, and began the sublime descent to the first control at mile 68 in Shippensburg, Pa. WOO HOO! We controlled in at the Unimart and zipped off to the Sheetz for breakfast and a latte.
The rain passed, the sky cleared, and the winds the forecast promised began. I don’t remember much about this section, actually. Oh wait, yes I do. We had a tailwind of epic proportions. You could see the grain waving in the fields. You could hear the wind from every direction, racing across the trees and the ground, pushing us along. I don’t know how to describe it. It was like the wind was the biggest presence in the space around us, eclipsing the trees, the sky, the farmhouses. It was alive. ALIVE! We passed a girl going the opposite direction. She was riding her bike straight into the headwind, stoic and determined, a visual trailer of what was to come for us.
On to mile 85. We controlled at Youngs Deli, took a couple of pictures, ate some peanuts, and rode the next several miles with Michael R., Michael O., and Charlie. It was good to have company. The sky was gorgeous, the clouds danced in the sky, and the sun brightly shone. We rode along the delightful Creek Road and I had a randonneur moment of “Wow! There is nothing I’d rather be doing right now!”
Further up the road we caught Carol Bell and Paul Donaldson. We told them we had stopped at the Sheetz after the first control and Carol said, “Yes, you guys do that every year.” I laughed. My husband and I have an annual convenience store tradition?! Sheetz? That is kind of sad! Paul suggested we get Sheetz to sponsor us. I said that would be OK if we got free lattes and sandwiches, but I wasn’t going to wear any polyester jersey with Sheetz plastered on it. Sorry Sheetz!
Carol spied a rider ahead. “Who’s that?” she asked, and then sped up. Randonneurs are funny. We speed up just to satisfy our own curiosity about who is in front of us. We all sped up, and discovered that the unknown randonneurs were Mary Crawley and Kelly Smith. Thank God we figured that out!
By this time, our tailwind days were over, and we entered a stiff cross wind. Ed had lied to me early in the ride (unknowingly, I believe) and said that the winds would not be that bad. Fortunately, Roger Hillas had disagreed vehemently with Ed about his prediction for the conditions of the last 60 miles. I distinctly remembered Roger saying, “You have to save something in the tank for those miles. Headwind!”
Ed and I broke away from Mary, Kelly, Carol, and Paul to stop at (guess?) the Sheetz at mile 107 in Mount Holly Springs, Pa. We enjoyed fine curbside dining of cheese sandwiches, a latte, and a double espresso. And on we went.
We caught up to Paul, Carol, Mary, and Kelly at the next control in East Berlin, Pa. at mile 129. Since we had already eaten, we rolled out with the group. Mary and Kelly seemed unbothered by the winds and we mentioned this to them. Mary said that we obviously did not have a microphone up to their tandem because there were a lot of comments being made about the trying conditions. Carol remarked that riding in the wind was still better than sitting at home on the couch. At this point, I had a randonneur moment of “Wow! There are quite a few I’d rather be doing right now!” And sitting on my couch might be one of them!
Mary directed Kelly to take a left in a mile or so. “No!” Kelly said. “I don’t want to!” It was tough to keep making those turns into the vicious winds. I started to feel disheartened and frustrated about the whole thing. I had been dreaming about the last 60 miles being the payoff section of the ride, since that is how it’s been in the past. I was having acceptance issues about the weather. As we looked at the roadside fields we could see the wind whipping along the grain. The trees were bending and compressing from the force of the winds. Branches and leaves were making their way into the road and dirt and debris were flying around. We could hear the wind howling and howling through the trees and power lines.
Ultimately, I decided that even though I had ridden this brevet two times in the past, this was a different kind of ride than I had ever experienced. It demanded a lot of attention and strength because of the windy conditions. After much animated internal discussion, I determined not to let the headwinds get me down. Every mile we rode was one mile less to cover. “We have ridden in worse,” I thought. And Ed and I are pretty good on the flats. They are not quite as much our “speciality” as the downhills, but they are still something at which we excel as a team. As the stoker, I even got the benefit of a draft! After this little pep talk with myself, I stuck my head down and pedaled. I’d raise it after a while to take some pictures, and then I’d put the camera down and drop my head again to pedal away. “Wind, you will not defeat me!” I repeated to myself. “Not today!”
Ed and Kelly started joking around. Maybe Ed was feeling lonely since I was so engaged with all the voices in my head. Kelly said he would feel better about finishing the ride after he was out of this headwind section (or something like that). Ed responded that he would feel better about their chances of finishing the ride after they reached the hotel room (our final control). Ha ha ha! For some reason, jokes like these become really funny the later into the ride they fall.
After grinding away into the winds for 40 miles straight, Ed and I let the group go at Thurmont, Maryland. With 20 miles remaining, we treated ourselves to some sugary snacks and potato chips to prep us for the final 20 miles. While we were there, Chris Mento stopped too.
We left Chris to make a proper bathroom stop at the High’s convenience store a few blocks up. There, Paul Donaldson rolled in. He said this wind made him irritable and made him think about how much better it is to ride your bike on nice days. I said, “Paul, irritable is not an emergency.” He responded, “If irritable was an emergency, I would have quit long ago!” Ha ha ha!!! Another hilarious moment brought to you by the D.C. Randonneurs.
Ed and I caught up to Chris Mento again, and we rode the final fifteen miles in together. It was lovely. The headwinds were mostly behind us, and the terrain into the final control mellow. Company was good. The sun began to make its way down for the day, but it was still light outside. Chris led the way to the Motel 6 and we all controlled in together, happy to have finished what had gone from an ordinary ride to an epic one. Bill Beck, the king of the randonneur paparazzi and RBA, snapped our frazzled finishing photo (well, Ed looked totally unfrazzled).
We spent some time in the control room discussing our epic ride and recalling our nemesis, the headwind, now happily behind us. I absorbed three pieces of pizza– true decadence! While I may have looked like a rag doll at the finish, I felt awesome for not letting the windy conditions conquer my spirits. My successful showdown with the wind made me a randonneur superhero in my book! If I’d had a cape in my change of clothes, I would have proudly worn it. Instead, I guess I’ll buy myself a medal.