“Tree Falling in the Woods 300K” Training Ride

MG and I generally ride every other weekend, which means we try to pack in the miles when we get the chance. Our legs were still less than fresh from the D.C. Randonneurs 600K two weeks ago, but sunny weather begged for a long ride. We decided to dust off the D.C. Randonneurs 2009 300K route, from Warrenton, Va., and ride it for fun on Saturday, and managed to rope in riding pal Lane G.

The three of us plan to ride Tom Rosenbauer’s Pennsylvania Randonneurs Endless Mountains 1000K and the justification was to throw one more long ride onto the end of the brevet season to make our legs that much stronger. But really, we just wanted to get out and ride all day.

I dubbed this ride the “Tree Falling in the Woods 300K” because we did not ride it for credit and our photos are the only evidence of our completion — aside from our memories and the added fatigue in our legs! I was somewhat amazed that over the entire loop route from Warrenton, Va. south to Louisa County and back, we saw not one other road rider. In fact, we saw just one person on a bicycle — a local fellow tooling around near the Syria Mercantile control stop.

Freed from the rules of a brevet or permanent, we casually started at 6:20 a.m. The first payoff of our plan came when we left Warrenton and got to see the first miles in daylight, a stark change from the darkness of the club’s normal 5 a.m. start times for 300K rides.

A decidedly civilized start at 6:20 a.m. Daylight!

[See all my photos at my Flickr page and MG’s set at her Flickr page. MG has also posted about the ride at her Chasing Mailboxes blog. I also posted our GPS track and data at my Garmin page.]

We marveled at the beauty of rolling Blantyre Road and VA 55 on the way to The Plains. The sunrise-lit vistas were clear, the morning air was crisp, and lush summer foliage was at its peak.

So this is what Blantyre Road looks like.

At Flint Hill we spotted Lane’s bike at the 24 Crows coffee and art store. We pulled up and Lane popped out of the front door excitedly. “The owner is making me an espresso! You want some?” Of course — doubles, please, we replied. Already we were throwing time away and didn’t give it a second throught. In due course, owner Vinnie showed us some fresh baked scones and muffins, still warm, and we enjoyed those too.

Espresso + treats at 24 Crows in Flint Hill = smiles.

From there we headed westerly over the spectacular F.T. Valley Road (VA 231) to Etlan Road and the climb over Old Rag. Temperatures began rising steadily and we bought ice and cold drinks at the Syria Mercantile store at mile 64.

Bright, sunny day as we headed toward Old Rag along the Shenandoah Mtns.

The run to Aroda Store at mile 84 featured more rolling hills. We hit a little wall of a climb on VA 609, where an oncoming driver helpfully suggested, “time to downshift!” I took this advice to heart, and we stood up just to make sure we complied fully.

The one-lane, low water bridge on Lillards Ford Road offered another memorable moment. We were screaming down the hill just as a truck arrived at the other side. I grabbed the levers hard enough to briefly lock the rear wheel disk — not easily done on a tandem — and we came to a stop before the bridge. The driver waited for us to come to a halt and signal to him, then came forward, and on we went. It would not be the first time we met a car on a one-lane bridge today.

At the Aroda Store, mile 84, the owner seemed lonely for company and hung out with us under the front canopy, where he gave us a thorough detailing of the things to buy there and assorted other tales. We mostly stopped for a shade break and drank a couple of Cokes to justify lingering. By now the heat was high and the sun even higher.

Horses were loving the weather all day long.

A steady, hot breeze in our faces from the south and more rollers, some of them quite steep, wrung the sweat and calories out of us as we climbed up to Gordonsville at mile 100. We arrived after 2 p.m. and we agreed to eat lunch at a known quantity, Subway. It seemed safer than the chance we might find stores closed later. This turned out to be the right call — we all ate heartily and felt much, much better for it.

Clearly, we had been served an afternoon summons by the Firm of Headwinds, Hills and Heat. However, our time in the dock was at an end. After five more nerve-wracking miles on VA 231 with cars zooming past, we made the turn easterly on Lindsey Road. The cue sheet warned “Really Fast Dog” on this stretch, but R.F.D. was no doubt somewhere in the shade, if not curled up indoors, and we trooped through without incident.

The heat was strong, but the profile flattened and we picked up some tailwinds on the turns to the north. Around 5 p.m. we got into Orange, Va., which was still sweltering in the late afternoon heat, and we made a beeline to the Sheetz. Impulse shopping was in order and we sat out front with all kinds of drinks and snacks whose main ingredients were caffeine, sugar, ice and/or salt. One of the benefits of long rides — I did not worry a minute about whether a medium soy cappucino with an extra shot of espresso would keep me from falling asleep later that evening.

Lane enjoys some quality time at the Sheetz in Orange, Va.

The Sheetz stop put a lot of fresh air in our tires and the shallow rollers to Remington, at mile 170, went quickly and pleasantly — except for meeting a car at the one-lane bridge at mile 163. We got over the bridge just as the driver neared, but they saw us in time and we proceeded with plenty of room to spare. Still — that bridge is worthy of the “caution” on the cue sheet.

By 8 p.m. we pulled into Remington, known to MG and me as the “Crucial Stop,” so named by Russ Morris because it’s close to Warrenton, about 18 miles, but far enough from the last rest that we’re usually hungry and thirsty. MG and I bought ice cream treats, guzzled more Gatorade and got out our night gear. With no finishing control to make, we lingered until all three of us decided it would be a good idea to finish before 10 p.m., and that we better go.

The "Crucial Stop" in Remington, 18 miles to go.

The final miles were full of warm breezes and a brightening moon and lots of bugs rising up from the fields, with the sole intent of flying into my mouth, or at least my jersey. Lane’s headlight kept flicking off, but we had a spare that we put on his bike and all was well.

The return to Warrenton is always slow because of the climb into town, and tonight was no exception. We dragged ourselves up what felt like steep walls and finally rolled on Main Street at 9:45. Just three blocks from the finish, a perturbed young guy in his pickup truck heckled us with a derisive, “get a (beep)-ing car!” Fine advice, actually, and we rode directly to our cars and clipped out after a leisurely 15:25 overall time.

The ride just didn’t feel complete until we went and had a post-ride snack. Where else — Sheetz! It wasn’t a control room at the hotel with pizza and pop and all the cameraderie of the big group, but we felt good about a nice day’s ride over a gem of a course.


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