D.C. Randonneurs 400K: From One Sunrise to Another

Because Felkerino and I love getting up at 2 a.m. oh so much, we did it again this weekend. Just for fun. Well, it was for fun, but also so that we could actually execute the 400K ride that we’ve been talking about and organizing for the last couple of months.

Having done the checkout ride the week before, we felt confident that the course was ready for a 400K ramble. We had checked and double-checked each turn and control until we were sure that our updated cue sheet would steer riders right.

Our Regional Brevet Administrator, Bill Beck, made our lives easy by bringing various supplies to the ride start: randonneur treats like potato chips, pop, and peanuts; control cards; special brevet pencils; Ziploc bags (a randonneur’s best friend); and copies of cue sheets. All Felkerino and I had to do was unbox everything at the IHOP and prep people for the ride ahead.

The Starting Line. IHOP.

In a nod to the French provenance of randonneuring, we began the 400K at The International House Of Pancakes (IHOP). Despite the odd early morning mix of breakfasting drunks and reflective-vest-wearing randonneurs, the IHOP worked pretty ok for a ride start. The staff had no problem with us registering riders, and if riders arrived in time, they could grab a cup of coffee and a little breakfast.

Jose registers with Felkerino
Starting at the IHOP

Tom Reeder and Leslie Tierstien worked bike inspection (thanks, guys!) while Felkerino and I managed registration. A couple of minutes before four, Felkerino gathered the riders, gave some ride announcements, and sent the 24 riders off into the morning (or night, if you prefer).

After exiting the IHOP, riders immediately pedaled onto quiet roads and out into the Maryland countryside. The temperatures for the day were predicted to escalate into the upper 80s and already the day felt humid. We had just had a lively discussion on the DCRand listserv about ways to adequately hydrate and stay cool during hot rides, but even so, the first hot ride of the season is always tough. I think it takes a couple of rides for the body to acclimate to the warm days of summer.

Felkerino and I waited the requisite hour for any stragglers (there were none), gathered up our registration stuff, and headed back to the hotel for a nap.

We then hopped in the car to Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I was a bit bummed that our weekend was so car-centric, but without the car there was little to no way we could have organized and participated in the ride the way we wanted.

Shepherdstown Sweet Shop. Mile 68.

Man, I love visiting Shepherdstown. It’s such a cute place with beautiful old brick buildings, and it always seems like it’s sunny every time we visit. As we parked the car we saw the front riders, Henrik and Alex, departing the Sweet Shop. It would have been nice to snap a couple of shots of them, but I was not giving back one minute of my nap. Fortunately, we saw almost all of the other riders pass through, and we took photos of as many as we could.

Shepherdstown Sweet Shop (and Kelly’s Soma)

People arrived in Shepherdstown in good spirits. The day was heating up, but it was not the uncomfortable heat that midday would bring. Many riders took advantage of the break to apply sunscreen for the upcoming sunny miles. People stopped, grabbed their food, did their randonneur things, and rode away.

Randonneurs doing randonneur stuff

It was nice not to have the pressure to keep going. We just hung out in Shepherdstown taking pictures of people and bikes and chatting until almost all of the riders passed through.

Mike and Bill

Hancock, Maryland. Mile 110.

After Shepherdstown, we pointed the car toward Hancock, Maryland. As we exited the car, I felt the heat of the day rush over me. Phew! It was a hot one. Felkerino and I found a good shady spot and soon riders began to appear. Overall, we saw about five riders here (Dan O., Kelly, Rick R., Jose, and Bill B.). The riders seemed in good shape, although a few commented on the heat.

Rick and Jose arrive in Hancock
Snatching some shade in Hancock, Maryland

It felt a little weird to not be riding. On the one hand, I was glad our pre-ride had offered up milder temperatures and lower humidity, but on the other I wondered how Felkerino and I would fare in this heat. It would have been a good endurance test. Such funny thoughts. I put them aside. Ultimately, riders have to pedal with whatever the weather serves up, and manage it accordingly. Some days you get lucky, and your brevet falls on a perfect day. Other days, the weather presents extra challenges.

Grocery store.

To make sure that we had enough munchies and drink for the end of the ride, we made a grocery store stop after returning to Frederick. Kettle cooked potato chips, pretzels, pop, GatorAde, and cookies. We ended up purchasing more than we needed, but I would rather have that than run out of sustenance.

Note to self: When organizing a ride, and not riding it, don’t eat the randonneur food. Or at least, don’t eat very much of it. I’m pretty sure I gained weight from all the junk food and pizza I consumed waiting for everyone to finish.

The Finish Line. Hilton Garden Inn.

After we arrived back at our weekend home, the Hilton Garden Inn, we received a phone call that two riders were abandoning due to the heat. They were ok, and I was relieved they had stopped as opposed to press on into a more difficult situation.

As a ride organizer, I was concerned about the riders, praying that everybody was ok and would make it back without incident. That’s a feeling I don’t have to the same degree when I’m riding the brevet. Sure, I hope we all fare ok, but my primary concern is how Felkerino and I are doing. Is that selfish? Maybe, but I think we all have to focus our energy to get through a brevet. 250 miles is a long day (and, for most of us, night) in the saddle.

A few hours later, we saw a tweet from Bill Beck saying that the sky had clouded over. He added that he departed Shippensburg to the sound of thunder. First, extreme heat. Now thunder? Great.

A while later, Ed received a call that a third rider was not continuing.

Mike B., who had abandoned earlier in the ride, joined us at the finish. We sat around talking bikes and bike rides and testing the pizza. Around 7:30, Henrik Olsen rolled in. “That was a steamy one!” I liked watching Henrik arrive. It was the first time I’d ever seen him finish a brevet, as he is always so much faster than Felkerino and I are. I learned that Henrik did not any eat real food on the brevet, mostly Perpetuum, and “one Clif bar.” I munched away on potato chips mulling that over. Impressive, I thought. I could not imagine riding 250 miles on that kind of diet.

Henrik finishes the Frederick 400K

Alex, a visiting randonneur from Ohio, was the second rider to finish. He rolled up on his Surly Long Haul Trucker. Alex’s final miles coincided with the end of some sporting event, which meant he had to contend with some additional car traffic near the finish. That was unfortunate, but he successfully navigated the situation and made it to the hotel without incident.

Just before 10 p.m., Chip and Bryan of Severna Park finished. Highlights from their ride included the hot section from Hancock to Cove Gap. I was not surprised as so much of the riding in this section is not shaded. They also commented that the day mercifully clouded over later in the afternoon, and that temperatures dropped with the cloud cover.

Chip and Bryan, happy to be done

Ed received a call that two other riders were abandoning. The abandon numbers were now at five.

Around midnight, Kelly and Dan O. showed up, looking good and happy to be done.

Dangerous Dan finishes

In between randonneur finishers, two wedding parties arrived at our hotel after a night of tying the knot and, so it seemed, drinking. It was pretty hilarious watching well-dressed boozey wedding guests talk loudly and weave past our humble pizza and pretzel setup while we waited for randonneurs in sweaty cycling clothes, reflective gear, helmets, and headlamps.

I thought we seemed pretty inconspicuous until someone in a suit punched his fist into the air and shouted, “Pizza!”

“Protect the pizza!” I said to myself. Fortunately, his exclamation was merely that, and not a demand for actual pizza.

Phew! For the remainder of the night, none of the other wedding guests took any notice of us, probably because they had their own issues to deal with, such as a bride who could not seem to stand up on her own two feet. If you ever have the chance to organize a 400K, I highly recommend combining it with a hotel that is hosting wedding parties. It’s an almost-surreal convergence that I won’t soon forget.

Some time passed (the exact amount started to get fuzzy) and Bill Beck finished, having ridden the last 140 miles by himself. That takes some perseverance.

Bill and Kelly went off to nap, and Felkerino and I stayed downstairs to continue our late-night rider vigil. Another call came in, letting us know that two more riders were done. Seven total abandons for the ride.

By now, it was past 2 a.m. Jose, Bill Smith, and Rick R. arrived, followed a while later by George M., George W., Christian, and David Judkins. Lots of rider napping ensued. Bill S., a Frederick resident, hopped on his bike for a five-mile ride home.

I was taking lots of catnaps in the hotel lobby, waiting for the final three riders on the course. Even though a ride like the 400K really spreads out the riders, I still found myself looking anxiously down the street for the gleam of bike headlights. Are they there now? How about now? And now?

Around 4, I started to hear birds chirping, beginning their wakeup for the day. I conked out a little more, and just before six a.m., I groggily awoke to the sight of Mike W., Barry B., and Nick Bull parking their bikes outside the hotel. They all arrived with smiles on their faces, even after riding for nearly 26 hours. Mike said something about how they had 27 hours to finish the ride, they were going to take advantage of them.

Ultimately, 17 riders finished the ride, with the first rider arriving at 7:35 p.m. and the final finisher coming in at 5:50 a.m. That’s a span of more than ten hours. No wonder I felt a little tired.

We cleaned up the lobby, packed the remaining food and beverages that would keep for the next brevet, handed off the control cards and results to Bill, and went upstairs to nap for a couple of hours.

The Wrap-Up

Felkerino and I had done it. We’d organized our ride and 17 people had finished it. And in some tough conditions, I might add. Heat, sun, rain, and even a thunderstorm or two. Good job, riders.

It was anticlimactic to celebrate by falling asleep, but I had a good feeling. While there are always things to improve upon with these rides, I believe everything, from our perspective, went well.

We found new starting and end points for the ride, changed the route to accommodate the new start and finish, routed around some construction, and altered the course so that riders could stop for dinner in Shippensburg. We made Shippensburg an open control, which gave riders multiple food/stop choices. The open control seemed to work well, and all riders showed up with a receipt verifying their passage.

The staff at the IHOP and the Hilton Garden Inn had no issues with us setting up in their space, and I even got to take some rather nice, albeit brief, snoozes on the hotel lobby couch.

All of the riders managed the brevet well. The finishing times show that riders respected the heat of the day and slowed their pace accordingly. Those who experienced overheating or other concerns about stopped and made it back safely. Exhausted riders took naps in the club’s hotel room before heading back home.

Thanks to everybody who came out for the ride, and to the volunteers. And special thanks to Mike B. for helping us out at the finish after not continuing the ride. It made the setup at the end much easier.

More Photos!

Want to see more of the adventure?

  • My photos here.
  • Felkerino’s shots here.
  • Click here for Bill’s pics.
  • And here for Christian’s set.

Felkerino and I enjoyed organizing the brevet, and we hope the riders had a good time doing it. Also, if you have any suggestions for improvements in the future, we’d like to hear them.

6 thoughts on “D.C. Randonneurs 400K: From One Sunrise to Another

  1. Nice report and photos. I think you and Felkerino are heroes, staying up so many hours for us! Why does Bill’s last photo say he went 411 miles? I know he got in a few bonus miles, but…

  2. Great job, Ed and Mary! — On the ride organization and report. I have no idea why my Polar software listed 411 miles in the summary table. The plot itself properly shows 256 miles. (With the 6 bonus miles to retrieve my Camelbak at the start.)

  3. Thanks for doing a great job as ride organizers. It sure gives a different perspective, doesn’t it? You worry a lot more about how the riders are doing than you do when you’re a rider. It’s always a relief when that last rider comes in safely.

    My only potential thought for improvement would be to make Hancock be an open control, too. You pretty much have to go somewhere other than the bike shop to get ice and all the other stuff you need, anyway. On the minus side, then people have to make sure to get two receipts, one in Hancock, one in S’Burg.

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