Sleepy, hot and hilly: MG’s 2010 DCR Many Rivers 600K

MG’s story about last weekend’s D.C. Randonneurs 600K from Warrenton, Va. is a tale about challenges surmounted, from stubbed toes to mind-numbing heat, and the sublime pleasures of riding in a great group and finishing with a tailwind.

Day 1

Sleep.  I must sleep.  The ride starts in five hours and I have to get some sleep.  Five hours, oh no!  Can’t sleep.  What time is it?  Oh, now the ride starts in four hours.  ARGH!  Must.  Sleep.  Why?  Why is the bathroom light on?  Did Ed leave it on?  He left it on!  GRRR!  So bright in here.  I’m going to turn that light off.  Fine.  Light turned off.  The ride starts in three hours.  Good grief.  Walking walking back to bed, AHHHH!!  Stubbed my toe on the hotel furniture.  Owee!  Couldn’t see that chair leg because it was so dark in this room.  Turn the light off to sleep and then can’t see my way back to the bed and this is what I get.  Is my toe broken?  What if it’s broken?  How many hours now?  Two and a half hours?  That’s terrible!  This ride is killing me and it hasn’t even started!

After more than two hours of stressing, I eventually managed to sleep from 12:15 to 2:45.  Whoopee.  According to eyewitnesses, I was thrashing around and inadvertently hitting a certain someone repeatedly with hotel pillows.  I have never been so relieved for a brevet start to come so that my nervous energy could finally be put into pushing the pedals, rather than fretting about sleeping.

I signed in, grabbed my brevet card and my captain, and Lynn Kristianson (the ride organizer) sent us off on our ride.  I really don’t remember what happened in the first miles.  I pedaled the bike, saw a lot of taillights, and kept an eye on Ed’s backside.  That was pretty much it.  Jealous of my ride yet?

The sun rose, and my energy level rose with it (thank God).  Ed and I found ourselves riding the first miles with Mary Crawley, Kelly Smith, Lane Giardina, and Al Pless.  We chatted about randonneur things and rolled along.  Watching the sun rise and light up the morning almost makes these 4 a.m. starts worth the suffering.  ALMOST!  I loved watching our morning shadows lead us down the road.

I also enjoyed the conversation.  As we talked, Kelly pulled out a sandwich and noted that he was eating his 5:30 sandwich at 6:30.  “I mark all my sandwiches with the time I am supposed to eat them.  I read that on the Anal Randonneur,” he said proudly.  Hilarious!!!

Kelly and Mary

As soon as the sun came up, it became apparent that we were in for toasty riding.  Ed and I both use Camelbaks and, even though I feel like a fashion disaster on every ride that I wear it, I knew that Camelbak was saving me.  There was no way that we could have carried enough fluid for both of us without them.

After watering up again at the first control at Wolftown at mile 52, we headed in earnest toward the Blue Ridge foothills.  It was LOVELY riding, like pedaling through a postcard.  Al, Ed and I stopped again at the Batesville Store at mile 95.5.  We saw that Lynn had labeled it “terrific” Batesville Store so thought we’d check it out.  We did not know we were going to be stepping into randonneur paradise.  Homemade sweets and sandwiches, along with a variety of drinks… this place had everything.  It was also a fun place to stop because not only could we see randonneurs going by, but we also ran into other cyclists.

Bits of heaven from the Batesville Store

Another cycling group came in just after we ordered our food.  We asked how far they were riding.  “50 miles,” they said.  “Oh, that’s great!” we answered.  They did not ask about our ride so, of course, we could not engage in socially unacceptable bragging.  Darn.

As our sandwiches arrived and we started eating, one of the cyclists said to us, “How can you eat like that on a ride?”  We were so excited.  A socially acceptable bragging moment!  “Well,” Ed said casually.  “We still have to ride another 155 miles today.”

“How many miles?” the cyclist asked. “155 miles left to ride today,” Ed said.  (Do you like how he inferred we had already ridden many miles?  So artful.)

“Today?! Well, then, you better eat up,” the rider said.  My sentiments exactly!  We finished our meal and headed out the door.

At the next control (mile 103.7) we saw quite a few riders having lunch.  We controlled in and then rode the next 20 miles pretty much solo.  That was ok, the terrain was pretty undulating so it would have been difficult for us to ride along with other single riders.  We started criss-crossing with Chris Mento, and did that for much of the rest of the first day.  This section of the ride was so beautiful.  We rolled along the Rockfish River and by the James River.  It was incredibly quiet and beautiful.  Oh, and hot, too!  The day was humid and in the 90s.  Ed and I worked diligently to stay hydrated and fueled.  We also checked in with each other to make sure that no one would spontaneously combust.

Scenic back roads en route to Howardsville

Lane G. caught up to us, and we rode together to the Howardsville control.  Ed called this the Shack of Desperation because everyone looked so cooked there. The miles leading to the store required a lot of effort and we were doing them in the heat of the day.  Almost everybody I saw reapplied sunscreen and filled up on ice before heading out again.

Mike Lutz, leaving the Shack of Desperation

Dan Blumenfeld, Lane G., Chris M., Ed, and I headed out for the next section.  We rode to the information control at mile 135.4.  It was the hottest information control ever.  Not one tree near it.  I saw Mike Lutz (a Pennsylvania randonneur) had parked his bike up a bit from the control in the shade and had walked over to the control to take down the relevant information.  Smart guy!  That was a tough information control…so many numbers to pick from on that sign, and I’m not at my smartest on three hours of sleep in the heat of the day with the sun blazing down on my brain!

We moved along, rode a little with Carol Bell and said hi to Roger Hillas as we passed him taking a shade break.  Ed and I decided to take a shade break of our own at Palmyra at mile 157.  We stopped for a few minutes and I ate some potato chips (pretty exciting, I know!).  We hopped back on the bike and rode along Bybee Church Road (miles 163-167) and took another break when a storm ripped through.  We heard thunder, and felt the first raindrops.

Ed said, “I think we should stop.”  I said ok, and we got off and stood under a tree.  Such idiots.  Ed said, “We shouldn’t probably stand under this tree.”  I said, “Ok,” and we kept standing under the tree.  Such idiots.  There was a porch just behind us that looked inviting and vacant and we finally put our brains together to move ourselves and the bike under the porch. That was very pleasant. Ed drank some coffee from his little travel canister, the rain passed after ten minutes, and we remounted the Co-Motion and headed off to control in at Louisa at mile 182.

As we entered Louisa, we saw Bill Beck leaving. Lane rode by and Bill said he thought Lane might go eat at Roma, an italian restaurant in town.  That sounded good to us so off we went to chase Lane down and eat Italian. Roger Hillas soon joined us and we all enjoyed a nice meal before setting off into the final daylight hours and the last 66 miles of the day.

Lane, Ed, and I took off together and a few miles up the road we caught up to Dan B. and Joe Brown.  I loved intersecting with the other riders on this ride. Seeing and riding along with others made the adventure much more fun. As darkness started to fall, Joe and Dan pulled over to put on their “don’t hit me stuff,” as Joe called it.  Ed’s GPS switched into night mode and he proudly announced, “It’s night now.” Yes, if the gadget says it’s true, then it must be true.

Joe and Dan caught back up to us and we all rode the remaining miles together. We made our final stop of the day at Brandy Station, where Joe said he was eating the best doughnuts ever. He was sure they were made in New Jersey, they were so good.

After our stop, we caught up to Chris, Carol, Scott Gater, and Charlie for a little bit.  On one of the back roads, we passed a place that smelled very strange and we all giggled. “Hee hee!  What was that?!  Hee hee!”  Of course, I have no idea what the group thought the smell was.

We crossed US15/29 about 1,000 times and Lane, Dan, Joe, Ed, and I finally controlled back into the Warrenton Hampton Inn at 11:03 p.m. Lane, Ed, and I arranged to meet at the Sheetz for breakfast and roll out together at 3:00a.m. the next day. Day 1 over!

Day 2

Ed and I rushed into the hotel room to shower and prep for the day.  I asked Ed about getting up at 1:50 a.m.  “No.  Too early,” he said.  “2:10.”  Yes, that’s a big difference, Ed. Fine. I set the alarm and scurried off to sleep. No thrashing this evening! I was awakened at 1:50 a.m. by Ed frantically rearranging the rechargeable batteries. “Shall we get up?” I said. “No, too early.” Fine. Back to bed for three more minutes and then we were up for the day. Three minutes?  What a joke.  Only on a brevet.

Lane was already at the Sheetz fueling up for the day. We ordered our morning coffee and breakfast sandwiches and Dan B. joined us for his morning Starbucks. We gave him a hard time about his Super Randonneur jersey and set off for the day at 3:15. They are nice jerseys, but RUSA should really give members the option of short-sleeve, long-sleeve, and detachable cape.

Day 2!

Joe Brown ended up leaving the hotel the same time we were leaving the Sheetz so if his grand plan was to escape from our group, his plan failed. We all rode the final 135 miles together. Several miles later we picked up Chris Mento and he was also trapped in our group for the rest of the day.

The morning was humid, but pleasant. And very dark. I could feel a little breeze blowing over my skin and I thought, “You know, I can’t see anything.  It’s dark, it feels so good to close my eyes and relish the breeze, and I don’t have to steer the bike or anything so I think I’ll close my eyes and pedal for a while.”  My eyelids dropped for a little bit and then I had a vision of me falling off the bike, taking Ed and the tandem down with me. Bummer. I suppose I should just keep the eyes open while pedaling, even if I really can’t see much.

As we rode toward The Plains at mile 260, we saw a rider coming the other way. “Holy cow!”  I thought. “Who else on this earth would be out riding a bike at this hour of the morning?” Duh! Of course it was a someone on our ride! We learned later that it was Jeff Erickson, who had ridden straight through and was booking it for the finish. This was also when I realized that there was some out and back on the second day. There’s no fooling me for long on these rides.

We controlled in at the Purcellville 7-11 at mile 283.3 and I used the 7-11 gift card one of my coworkers had given me as a wedding gift last year. See what great colleagues I have? 7-11 gift cards — the perfect present for that special randonneur someone.

Ed, Joe, and Lane at the 7-11 in Purcellville

From Purcellville, the group moved up to Middletown, Md. via Brunswick, Md. I don’t remember much about this section except that Ed thought someone’s driveway was Catholic Church Road. Oops. We corrected and went on to Middletown at mile 313 where the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department helpfully signed our control cards.

The terrain around Middletown intimidated me. I could look way out and see the rolling ribbon of road extend in front of me. “Yikes!  We’re riding that?” We rolled and ground along, wound around past Jefferson, Md. on Fry Road (a lovely stretch) and eventually dropped down to the mile 326 control at Point of Rocks. There we met a couple of cyclists who were touring up the C&O Canal. Ed asked where they had ridden, and they said they had gone from D.C. out to Antietam on Saturday and were returning to D.C. that Sunday.

Normally I would have found that interesting and quite an accomplishment, but I was having an I-don’t-care-moment. My body was feeling the miles and I was really craving caffeine. Ed talked with them, though, and from the way he was talking it was clear he was not in the same state I was. It seemed that he was trying to recruit them for a future brevet. “Come out for a ride!  Brevets are the best thing ever!” Perhaps his rear end wasn’t feeling the same pain mine was. I told them, “Ed is always recruiting!”

As we were leaving, I heard myself say to them, “Mostly it’s fun, but it’s really hard right now!” I don’t know where that came from; perhaps from the saddle rivet that was digging into me.

We rode away from Point of Rocks and over to the unforgettable Loyalty Road at mile 331. Not only was it full of lots of short ups and downs, but the road itself was like riding a bucking bronco. Ed finally gave up trying to call out the bumps and we just kept our fingers crossed that nothing would jettison us completely off the tandem.

Next up was the W&OD Trail.  Those couple of miles on the trail were surreal.  Actually, I’d have to say they sucked. First, there was a slight incline so it felt like we were crawling along. Second, here we were, 341 miles into our ride and riding on the trail! Anticlimactic. Third, the trail always consists of such an odd collection of people riding the trail with such varying skill levels. Families, kids with their training wheels just taken off, cyclists who fancy themselves as racers, runners and cyclists who make 180-degree turns without looking to see who is behind them, you get the idea.

The trail kicked us out in Purcellville, and after that we began retracing our steps to the finish.  The road looked much prettier in daylight and when I was more alert. The highlight of this segment was the McMansion we saw with the gigantic RV parked in front of it. Everyone remarked on it. Some people have serious space issues. The other highlight of this section was the 11- and 12-percent grades we enjoyed on multiple occasions. Dan’s enthusiasm for his granny ring was contagious so we happily used ours, too. I love you, granny!

We made our final stop of the ride at a Middleburg gas station at mile 359. We refueled on water, and bought lemonade Pellegrino. It was the best stuff ever! A local policeman was hanging out inside the gas station and asked us where we were coming from and where we were riding to. “We’re riding from Warrenton to Warrenton via Warrenton,” Lane promptly answered, “Sounds like quite a trip,” the officer said.  “Yes,” we agreed. “It is quite a trip!”

Middleburg. Final Stop of the Day

The terrain let up somewhat outside of Middleburg and The Plains. The final 20 miles passed quickly because we were able to gain some momentum on this rolling section.  Further, around ten miles from the finish a front came through and served up a mighty tailwind for us. It was incredible. I convinced myself it was the hand of God giving us a final push. How lucky were we? It was awesome. Lynn also helped us through the final two hills of the day by chalking out some encouraging words on the road about how great we (the randonneurs) were and how we were almost done.

Just before 2:30 in the afternoon, we sailed into the parking lot and two minutes later it started pouring down rain. Waves of awesomeness came over me. Ed and I had enjoyed a superb ride and completed another super randonneur series. I loved the challenge this course presented and many parts of it were scenic (that means hilly) and peaceful. Ed and I rode well together. We managed the heat, took breaks when necessary, and stayed pretty well hydrated and fueled.  I felt well-synchronized the entire ride.

Also, it was great fun riding with Lane, Dan, Joe, Chris, and of course, Ed. The conversation was easy and everybody seemed so relaxed and in control of their rides. I felt lucky to have ridden so many miles with this group.

Lane, Joe, Dan, me, Ed, and Chris at the finish

Finally, this year marks Ed’s achievement of completing 10 Super Randonneur series’.  I loved being a part of his Ultra Randonneur accomplishment, and I look forward to many more great rides together.

After eating our pizza and showering, we stayed to watch other riders finish. Hanging out in the lobby, talking about the ride, and running out to cheer others as they arrived was just the best. Congratulations to all the riders and hope to see you on the road soon.

Bill captures the moment at the finish. (Cheryl, Lothar, Joel, and Lowell)

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