DC Randonneurs Urbana 200K: Hilly and Hillier

The D.C. Randonneurs started the brevet season two weeks ago with a ride through the gentle Virgina countryside. The inaugural running of the Wilderness Campaign 200K from Bristow featured fast times, warm sunny skies and lots of easy miles.

By contrast, the Urbana 200K from Urbana, Md. last Saturday was all about hills. With about 8,500 feet of climbing, the course takes a good hour or more longer to complete than the club’s easier 200K rides.

Those hills are mostly bunched at the ends, as riders travel a loop through the hills around Frederick and then more hills after passing north of Hagerstown, Md. and the historic Antietam Battlefield near Sharpsburg.

The course has been run in both directions over the last few years, and this time we took the counter-clockwise orientation. We started north though steep rollers, then turned west into the Catoctins before dropping into southern Pennsylvania before returning to the east. I prefer this direction because the toughest hills come first. The downside, however, can be dead legs over the final 30 miles, when the hills return, though not so many.

MG and Lisa, ready to ride.

The day started out fairly cool and cloudy, in the 50s, but without the threatened rain. MG and I signed in at the Waffle House and were early enough to enjoy 15 minutes of greeting our rando friends, including three of our four Fleche teammates — Lane, Eric and Mike — and Lisa S., who was out for her second brevet ever.

See her report here.

Gathering at the Waffle House under gloomy skies.

See all of my photos here and MG’s here.

And, boy, what a doozy she chose. The field of 54 riders immediately hit fast rollers that dot the first 30 miles to the control at Union Bridge, Md. The tandem’s downhill speed allowed us to ride with the front riders for nearly 15 miles, but one too many hills forced us to drop away in due time for a more sedate pace.

With the fast riders, for a little while longer.

After the control at the 7-11 at Union Bridge, MG and I gathered ourselves for the long climb up MD77 past Thurmont, Md. and on to Smithsburg. We were accompanied by Lowell, Alec B., Scott G. and Duncan, who was on his first brevet, among six rookies out today. Welcome to randonneuring! This stair-step ascent seems so manageable early on, but it gets tougher toward the top with two massive rollers to conquer before the fast drop down to the valley.

At Union Bridge. Still Cloudy.
Up MD77 with Scott, Lowell and Duncan. Courtesy MG.

We pulled over outside Smithsburg to fix something, and MG got a couple of photos of riders. Even though the terrain leveled off to the second control in State Line, Pa., at mile 65, we were very hungry by the time we got there. It was still cloudy and cool — a temperature sign said 54 degrees –and we stood inside the store rather than stand out in the chill.

After Smithsburg, a few more hills before flatter roads. Courtesy MG.

We ate chips and nibbled on sandwiches we brought, and drank Gatorade, but did not have what would be considered a meal. Some of the fast riders were leaving just as we arrived, and we rolled out with the last of them, the Severna Park trio of Clint, Bryan and Cliff. They pulled away when we stopped in less than a mile for me to get out my vest, though we kept them in sight for a long time.

Lane, Scott, Mike, Alec and Eric were still at the store but promised to look for us at the “coffee shop” in 16 miles.

Scott (far left), Alec, Lane and Mike, enjoying the good life. Courtesy MG.

The countryside to the next control at the KOA Campground, mile 78.4, is not very hilly, but the wind was blowing from the north, giving the day a blustery spring feeling. As we arrived the sun had started peeking through, giving us hope for a sunny and warmer afternoon.

Our real goal at that point was the Sheetz store (the so-called coffee shop!) three miles away in Williamsport. We consider this course something of a food challenge because the stops are convenience stores with minimal hot food; at least at Sheetz we can get sandwiches made and coffee drinks. After hustling through the KOA, where we saw the Severna Park guys and I bought a Snickers bar, we pulled into the Sheetz alone.

I ran in while MG stayed outside to get some Zombie photos. Lane, Mike, Scott, Eric, and Alec rolled up and we sat on the curb in true randonneur fashion, eating sandwiches out of wrappers and drinking Sheetz lattes and espresso. Gourmet, no, but Sheetz somehow manages to suffice when there’s no better option.

Zombie and Scott (the human). Courtesy MG.

Riders went by in ones and twos, and we finally got ourselves back on the course toward the information control in Antietam, and then pedaled on to the Battleview Market for the last control at mile 97. The skies were partly cloudy and the temperatures were just cool enough to require arm and knee warmers, but it was pleasant riding overall.

Our annual spring visit to the Battleview Market.

This course can be demoralizing because it just takes longer at the end than you want, with hills between you and the finish. We left the control with 30 miles to go sometime after 3 p.m., knowing it would be close to 6 p.m. by the time we finished. MG and I like to finish our 200Ks in under 10 hours, faster if we can, but that was not going to happen today.

Adding to the challenge was a little noise coming from the front wheel. Every so often we’d get a subtle bonk-bonk-bonk-bonk. A roadside inspection found no obvious problem, but we made a note to take the bike into the shop.

After slogging up Burnside Bridge Road we finally made the turn toward the climb over Gapland. It was here that our minimal calorie intake caught up with us at the base of the hill, where it gets very steep for a few dozen yards.

I muttered, “Ready?” to MG, meaning, “Ready to stand?” She heard “granny,” and said OK. I stood up and the bike went all tippy, then MG stood up as I sat down, and we lurched to the right, toward the dirt berm.

Luckily this was all happened at 5 m.p.h. and uphill. I got a foot out and we managed to stop without falling over. We stood for a few moments to gather ourselves, got it together and started up again, this time making it to the top without a problem. Oh, the joys of tandeming!

Over Gapland Road, past the War Correspondents Memorial. Courtesy MG.

After the run down the other side, the north wind blew us into Jefferson, Md. where we stopped to put on layers. We slogged with Lane, Eric and Mike up and over Marlu Ridge, with a view of many happy cows sunning themselves on the hillside in the cool breeze.

From there the last miles through Adamstown and Buckeystown passed slowly but surely, with entertainment from a passing freight train that appeared ahead of us on all three of the railroad crossings in the segment, but clearing each time before we passed.

Eric and Lane on Fingerboard Road, only a few miles to go.

Fingerboard Road is never fun, but it was done and gone in short order and we were finished at the Ledo Pizza in Urbana with a 10:45 time. Carol Bell checked us in, Bill Beck took our photos, and we were done! Some pizza and soda and stories with our fellow riders capped the day.

Thanks as always to MG for being a very patient and hardworking stoker and randonneur partner, to our fellow riders, and to Bill and his volunteers. Urbana, you’ll always be a big ride, even if only a 200K.

Tomorrow I’ll post a summary of the ride by Bill Beck, with links to results and other photosets.

2 thoughts on “DC Randonneurs Urbana 200K: Hilly and Hillier

  1. So true– the miles between Battleview Market and the finish were so long! I was warned that the hills would be tough at the end, but I really thought my legs (or my bike) stopped working, and I was getting discouraged.

    Thanks for sharing your account of the ride– after reading yours and MG’s, I fully realize how hard this ride is for everyone!

    1. Urbana is a “honest challenge,” MG says — meaning, hard, but not impossible. DCR courses generally head for the hills, but there is something extra about this course — the combination of hills, wind and trying to get enough to eat along the way.

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