MG’s Awesome 2010 DCR 400K

MG has captured the essence from within yet again in her story about the D.C. Randonneurs 400k last Saturday. The view from the stoker compartment in many ways is different from that of the rider in front! Apparently, motion sickness is just one of the occupational hazards of riding tandem. Read all about it below.

While the 400K is really a one-day ride, it takes about a week for me to mentally prepare for it.  I obsessively check weather websites, make lists of various outfit combinations for the big day based on the weather websites, pack and repack for the ride, and psyche myself up for the pre-dawn wakeup.

This 400K pre-ride preparation week brought a gradual deterioration of the weekend forecast, and a crescendo of fantastic weekday weather–  warm, sun-filled days of low humidity and light winds.  Both Thursday and Friday, I found myself thinking, “This would be a nice day for a brevet.”  Even though weekend weather predictions continued to show an increase in the likelihood of rain, I kept my fingers crossed and remained optimistic.  That is, until I opened my email and saw this note: “Good luck everybody, hope you all finish before the storms!”  At that moment, I knew we were doomed.

Saturday, I woke up at the uncivilized hour of 2:45 a.m., shrugged on my clothes, and headed over to the ride start with tandem partner Ed Felker.  It was a friendly crowd, and the energy of the group belied the early hour.  Chris Mento, ride organizer, sent us off into the darkness after pre-ride announcements.

Chris Mento, ride organizer, in daylight.

My body went into full-on revolt about the morning activity.  I spent the next 30 miles telling myself to not throw up, just hold on, and think about something to distract me until my “normal” wakeup time.  Then it wouldn’t be so bad to be pedaling a bicycle!  It would be civilized and wonderful.  “Dream about sleeping!” I told myself.  “No, don’t dream about sleeping.  Bad idea!”  I contented myself to dream about 7 a.m. and turned the pedals.

Ed and I caught up to Linda McAdams, Dan Oldale, and Lane Giardina at the information control at mile 38.9.  Control question: On a scale of one to ten, how bad do you feel about 4 a.m. starts?  Answer: 10.  Just kidding, that was not the control question.  We rode along together until the control at mile 73.7 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  This was the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop, one of the best brevet controls ever.

Randonneurs at the Sweet Shop

As we arrived in town, a group of riders going the opposite direction asked us, “Are you coming back or going?”  “Yes,”  I wanted to respond.  Even though we still had 176 miles to go, we now had 73.7 miles less to pedal.  We found out later that there was another group doing a charity ride, and our routes overlapped in a couple of places.

I had been craving a latte for the past 20 miles and the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop did not disappoint.  Ed and I took a little break, chatted with Chris Mento, admired the 400K binder he had prepared especially for the brevet, and grabbed some sandwiches for later in the afternoon (ham and Swiss on some kind of rosemary bread.  One awesome sandwich!).  As we were leaving we noticed George Moore talking with a local painter.  I wasn’t sure if George was taking time out for art class or if he was giving the guy some pointers.  Randonneurs like to give advice so it was hard to tell.  Maybe he will let me know later.

George Moore learns about painting.

Ed and I rode the next 40 miles solo and I started feeling good.  Not because we were riding solo (we enjoy company!), but because it was finally a civilized time to be out on a bike ride.  Then we rode past a water treatment plant and I thought I was going to die.  Wow!  What a stench!  It was one of those smells where you take another little sniff just to confirm that the smell is truly as bad as you thought it was.  YES!  I started gagging.  TERRIBLE!

Fortunately for me (and Ed, as his clean jersey was in jeopardy), the smell soon passed and we headed into some lovely and challenging sawteeth.  I loved the terrain on this section.  The roads were quiet, the landscape lush, and Ed and I were climbing well.

Unfortunately, the roads were a little bumpy and the constant up and down started doing a number on my stomach.  I started concentrating intensely on not throwing up.  I said, “Ed, this section is making me motion sick.”  Always good to give warnings about these things, I decided.  Fortunately, I kept it together, avoiding that unpleasant randonneur side effect of occasional vomiting for the third time that day, and we eventually made our way to milder and smoother pavement.  Phew!

About ten miles outside of Hancock, Md., the sun came out.  Exciting!  I felt so optimistic about seeing the sun that I put my sunglasses on at the C&O Bike Shop Control at mile 110.  Bad move.  The sun disappeared as we left town and we did not see it for the rest of the day.

Felkerino controlling in at C&O Bikes, Hancock, Md.

Around this time, we ran into Greg Conderacci and Andrea Matney.  They rode on a little ahead of us, and as we pedaled behind them we could see them cresting rises and then disappearing as they descended again.  After a few miles, though, they had vanished.  “That was weird,” I told Ed.  “Where did they go?”  Ed and I concluded they must have dropped the randonneur hammer and motored off.  We found out later that they were taking a little sidetrip into Bonusmilelandia.

The riding through miles 115 to 128 was awesome.  I really felt like we were “out there.”  The Little Cove Creek Valley was full of beautiful old barns and scenic vistas of the mountains and the valley.  The awesome factor went down a little bit when the skies started spitting, but it was still a pleasant day and the temperatures were good for riding.

Little Cove Creek Valley. Final shot of the day.

Ed and I disagree about when the rain actually started on this ride.  I believe the rain started at around mile 128, where we stopped at the little camp store to fuel up and begin our climb up Cove Gap.  At this point, I put my camera away for the rest of the day to protect it from the elements (although you can find my pictures from earlier in the ride here).  Ed believes the rain did not actually begin until the last 40 miles of the ride.  Everything that came before was simply drizzle or light rain.  What?!  I guess when some people finish a ride in a complete drench-fest, everything that came before is just drizzle.  Anyway, I’m sticking with my version.  Rain for more than one hundred miles!

Linda and Dan caught up to us at the camp store and we also ran into Jeff Magnuson.  Jeff was contemplating his 400K future, and we found out later that he returned to Frederick after that point, getting in a “short” ride of of 190 miles instead of finishing the brevet.  Linda, Dan, Ed, and I rode on, and leapfrogged each other for a bit through the drizzle and rain, until we all arrived together at Kane’s subs in Newville, Pa.

We controlled in and talked about when we might finish the ride.  Ed and I thought that if we sustained our pace we would be in by 11 p.m.  I remember Dan saying,  “11 p.m., that late!”  If he had only known what lay in his future!  In retrospect, we should have also clarified our statement to say “if we sustain our pace and stay on the route” we will be in by 11 p.m.

The group set out again.  Ed ventured into the drizzle, and I rode into the rain (ha ha!).  We climbed our way together through Pine Grove Furnace State Park, talking and pedaling.  I love this climb.  It is beautiful, only has one real steep pitch to it, and signifies to me that we are on the way home.  It also signifies “mighty downhill ahead!”  The descent on Shippensburg Road is so much fun!  It wasn’t as much of a party in the drizzle/rain, but it was still a good downhill, nonetheless.

I felt like we made quick work of this section and before you knew it, we were bumping our way through Gettysburg, Pa., at mile 213.  Apparently, they were making some “improvements” to the main road that made for a challenging entrance into town.  We all controlled in, and Ed and I lingered a couple of minutes after the group took off to do I don’t know what.  Futz with our stuff, I guess.  We then left and caught up to Dan, Linda, and Tim Zak, a Pennsylvania randonneur recently returned from living in Australia.

The night was peaceful and really dark.  Frogs were out talking to each other and there were even some in the middle of the road.  While I prefer to ride on dry starry nights with the moon lighting the way home, I felt good about our progress, and decided not to feel glum about how dark it was.  Plus, it was going to be just awesome to be in by 11 p.m.  I was really looking forward to that.

The rain/drizzle began to pour down a little harder, and I was having problems seeing my cue sheet.  Because Ed had the GPS and we were so familiar with the roads, we put our heads down and went on autopilot.  Thirty miles from the finish?  No problem!

As Ed said after the ride, a GPS only helps you if you actually look at it.  We ended up missing our turn at mile 230 and took the group on a dark three-mile detour down Old Frederick Road.  I just want to let Dan, Linda, and Tim know that this road is much prettier in the daylight.  Realizing we had made a mistake, we stopped and got our bearings.  “It’s ok,” I announced to the group.  “We have until 7 a.m. to finish the ride so we will be ok.”  Ed told me I wasn’t being helpful.

We turned around and headed back to finish off our bonus miles and make the turn at mile 230.  Unfortunately for the group, I got the I’m-tired-blabs and started talking a lot!  I don’t really remember all that I said.  I do remember I was the only one talking.  I told Ed I was sorry for talking so much, and then I would keep talking.  I’m a talkative person anyway, but throw in a little sleep deprivation and some big miles on the bike, and apparently I am quite a chatterbox.

Just before Thurmont, Md., the rain started pouring down.  It was the type of rain where you see people run for shelter.  Not us, though.  We made a final stop at a Thurmont gas station and slogged our way back out into the rain.  I was so glad the roads were quiet because it would have been difficult to navigate through both rain and traffic.  We pushed through the final miles to Frederick, Md., and finished in a complete downpour at 11:39 p.m.  We were 39 minutes off my dream arrival time.  That was ok, though.  It taught me that dreams don’t always come true and that my Gore Tex Paclite jacket is truly an awesome piece of rainwear.

Both the DC Randonneurs 300K and the 400K have been extra special this year.  The 300K was full of gusty winds, and the 400K replete with drizzle, rain, and more rain.  Oddly enough, the additional challenges posed by the elements have made the ride completions all the sweeter.

I am so happy with how Ed and I have done as a team during these challenging rides.  We’ve stayed positive with each other and committed to having a good ride.  We have also been fortunate to have good company that has helped the miles go by.  Thanks to Dan and Linda for riding so many miles with us on the 400K and for being such great company.  You helped make our ride even better!

And thanks most of all to the person (you know who you are) who sent that Friday e-mail: “Good luck everybody, hope you all finish before the storms!”  Of course we didn’t, and that made our finish all the more awesome.

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