DC Randonneurs 400K: The Rain Man Cometh

Every 400K is hard. The D.C. Randonneurs 400K on May 22nd was hard and, in its own way, wonderfully memorable. There’s nothing like bad weather to bring people together to get through the ride. But that’s only part of the experience. It was a great ride and well presented by organizer Chris Mento and his volunteer helpers.

See the full photo set at my Flickr page, and my story after Bill’s summary. Bill Beck has also posted a neat set of photos, see the link in his ride summary below. Note — the one rider Bill mentions for having a soaked control card was approved after other riders confirmed his passage through a control. Don’t forget those baggies, folks!

Thanks to Chris Mento and volunteers for another great DCR brevet. See you at the 600K!

Well, it started out as a nice day. (You can see where this is leading.) In fact, it was in the upper 60s with calm air at 4AM as the large group of 44 riders headed out from the Frederick Motel 6. The nice conditions continued through the morning and into the mid-afternoon as most riders progressed through the information control in Airmont, and the subsequent controls at the Shepherdstown (WV) Sweet Shop and C&O Bike Shop in Hancock, MD. But at around 4PM, a front moved through and set off intermittent periods of rain that eventually became steady and lasted all night. While the fastest riders avoided most of the rain, the later arrivals endured over 12 hours of the wet stuff – most of it in the dark. In the end, there were 37 official finishers (pending resolution of a control card issue for one rider), 6 DNFs, and one rider who finished over the time limit. Special congratulations to those late finishers who did the ride in the toughest conditions!

Thanks to Chris Mento for organizing the ride and staying up all night checking in riders. Thanks also to Leslie Tiersten who rode her bike out from DC to Frederick and then volunteered during the entire event from Friday pre-registration through the arrival of the last riders. And finally to George Moore, who did bike inspections on both Friday and Saturday morning.

Many people think that the 400K is the biggest hurdle for randonneurs. So special congratulations to Dave Judkins, Charlie Thomas, and Al Pless for completing their first 400Ks!

Preliminary results (except for one rider whose results are pending) are now posted at http://www.dcrand.org dcr/results.php?page=display-results&year=2010. A GPS track of the route is at http://connect.garmin.com/activity/34267334. My photos are posted at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wabeck/sets/72157623996112209/.

Next up is the 600K, starting at the Hampton Inn in Warrenton, VA at 4AM on June 5. This will be the premiere of the new “Many Rivers” route designed by Lynn Kristianson. It is a Double-Loop (or Figure-8) route in which the overnight stop is the same hotel as the start and finish so that riders can sleep in the same room that they stayed in before the ride. I think we are due for some good weather for this one!


The Rain Man Cometh: D.C. Randonneurs 2010 400K
By Ed Felker
May 24, 2010

It would be easy to focus on the last three hours of our 400K ride with the D.C. Randonneurs on Saturday May 22. It rained buckets! We left Gettysburg in light drizzle with light in the western sky, thinking we might get a break over the last 40 miles. NO WAY. We finished in a creek-flooding, can’t see the signs, can’t read the cue sheet, downpour for the ages.

That’s randonneuring, right? Rain or shine; starry moonlight skies or soaking storm fronts; warm breezes or freezing blasts: you take your card, brave the elements, and hope to come home with time to spare.

What’s more important is what happened before the rain, and how we all got through it. Any brevet takes a lot of preparation by all involved. Organizer Chris Mento recruited volunteers, scouted the course and polished up the cue sheet and brevet cards.

All of the riders spent the week tweaking our bikes, packing gear and food, and getting ourselves to Frederick, Md. on Friday night or Saturday morning, or the middle of the night, with the ride scheduled for 4 a.m.

MG and I had a nice dinner Friday evening with Michael Rowny and visited with Clint, Dan and Cliff at Macaroni Grill after inspection by volunteer George Moore. After a few fitful hours of sleep at the Comfort Inn, we walked the bike over to the start at the Motel 6. It was nice to see Bob Casciato back to ride with us after three years away!

Off we went into a humid night. We hammered with the front group until the steep rollers, then settled in by ourselves for the run to the information control at Airmont. There we saw George again and caught up with Linda McAdams, Dan Oldale and Lane Giardina. The climb up Rt. 7 and the many rolling hills to Shepherdstown were rewarded with delicious treats at the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop, where MG and I inhaled double latte coffees, croissants and an apple bar.

Chris met us there with his trusty binder and the day began to get warm, with a little sun peeking through low clouds now and than. We tucked a couple sandwiches into our saddle bag for later and peeled off toward the next control in Hancock.

By the time we got there it was early afternoon, getting hotter, and our legs were feeling the sharp little climbs that dotted the route. Jeff Magnuson was at the C&O Bicycles control trying to recover from a bout of queasiness, Andrea Matney and Greg Conderacci were supping at Sheetz, and George Moore rolled by, looking cool in his black and yellow cycling togs. A Boy Scout troop took a break from a bike outing at the C&O Bicycles control and we all hung out for awhile, just folks with their bikes out for a nice Saturday ride.

MG and I lit out and talked to Greg and Andrea at the end of the rail trail path, and saw them riding up ahead for awhile until they disappeared from view. We were sure they put on the jets and were gone…little did we know what really happened. Anyway, it was all solo sailing for us under darkening skies up to the Saunderosa Campground, where we pulled over to eat our sandwiches under the camp store awning. The first rain of the day started to lightly fall.

Dan and Linda showed up, and then Jeff pulled in, looking for the exit door from the ride. With full stomachs and replenished water supplies, MG and I started the long, cruel slog east to Newville. This part of the ride always seems so slow — open country fields, wind from one direction or another (today from the south), and the feeling of slightly climbing the whole way.

We rolled into Newville under a slight rain with Dan and Linda, just as Chuck Wood, Crista Borras and Bill Beck were leaving town. The new control at the Kane’s Subs was a welcome addition to this route compared to the pizza joint we used to patronize. Fast, friendly service and good food put us back in the pink. Dan asked us what time we’d probably finished, and I said cheerily, “Eleven o’clock!” To which Dan wearily replied, “Eleven o’clock!” I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

Tim Zak preceded us to the control and left after putting on his rain suit in a steady rain. We waited a few minutes and the rain let up, so off we went. The climb over South Mountain was not bad (after a wistful look over at the 18th Century Inn lodge) with only a little light rain — we were lucky to make the run down to Arendtsville in daylight with no rain, though we still took it easy on the descent because of the slick roads.

MG and I put on the gas and led Linda and Dan at a brisk pace to Gettysburg. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of entering the Gettysburg battlefield monument at sundown on a rainy evening. The silver lining to the crummy weather was that car traffic remained light all day, though the tourists were out and about on foot in downtown Gettysburg.

You probably have guessed the rest. It got dark and started raining harder. By the time our group — Dan, Linda, Tim and us — approached Thurmont, just 17 miles from the finish, the rain was coming down hard enough to flood the roads and make navigation a guessing game. MG and I were at the front and I knew the roads well, so all was well until we crossed the intersection of Rocky Ridge and Old Frederick.

My eye caught the road sign and my head snapped around to confirm what I realized was a big mistake. Oh no!!! In my haste to turn left on Old Kiln, I had turned us early onto Old Frederick and never checked the GPS to confirm the road.

MG joked, “It’s OK, we have until 7 a.m.!” Crickets.

Chastened, I got us turned around after three miles back onto Motter Station Road and made the turn on Old Kiln. At Thurmont we got our traditional heckling by some drunk kids and then stopped at the Highs to use the restrooms and contemplate the final dash back to Frederick. It was 10:30 by the time we left and our 11 o’clock target was blown by the detour. Dan was gutting it out at this point from sleep deprivation. Tim had ridden on, and we were all counting the miles.

An hour of splashing through the rain later we rolled into Frederick and arrived at the hotel at 11:39. A few minutes later Greg and Andrea rolled in — they had gone off course after Hancock and had been behind us all day. We stayed until 2, talking and eating and cheering the riders as they rolled in under nonstop rain.

While the lasting memory might be of the wet finish, the real story here was how well everything went on this ride in spite of a little precipitation. We had good weather most of the day. We were treated so nicely at the controls. We had a good group coming home. Thanks to everybody who made this ride a success and to our fellow riders for their good nature at a tough moment and courage in rough conditions.

One thought on “DC Randonneurs 400K: The Rain Man Cometh

  1. Thanks for the congrats, but oh, how I envy your fast legs. For a good sized group of us, the rain began in Hancock – not Newville. Man, oh man, what a wet ride that was. As we pulled into the campground, my eyes were burning with the washing of salt into them. So nice to be able to wipe it all clean in the restroom there. Later on, I htink we all got the shivers in Newville, Gettysburg, and Thurmont. Why do those places run the AC so hard in conditions like that? The descent off of South Mountain was a real thrill in the rain and dark. That Stan is a madman in the descents! My shoes are still not dry.

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