Hot and Hilly: Our 2012 DC Randonneurs 600K

As MG and I await the start of the Colorado High Country 1200K here in Boulder, I’m happy to finally post our story from the D.C. Randonneurs Warrenton 600K. It was a good idea to revisit the ride last month, and what we did to have a successful finish.

Our D.C. Randonneurs 2012 Warrenton, Va. 600K
by Ed Felker

Every year the Super Randonneur series takes on a unique character, and this year it was influenced by the fact that we were very busy in the weeks leading up to it.

MG and I had focused a lot on the 400K, which took place two weeks prior, because we agreed to organize it. We also rode the 200K and 300K brevets without a specific plan or time goal. The 400K we rode as a checkout ride, thinking as much about cues and road conditions as the clock, and came in a good two hours later than in past attempts.

That led us to the D.C. Randonndeurs 600K on June 9-10 with the feeling that we needed to really focus on having a solid ride without a lot of wasted time. We have entered the Colorado High Country 1200K in July and this was to be our last shakedown ride before the big show!

MG and I could not replicate the long western mountain climbs we’ll encounter in the Rockies, but we still approached the 600K with the idea of doing what we need to do in July. In short,  stay hydrated, stay fed, and stay in the saddle.

The big idea was to put in our first 100 miles without much stopping, to give us a time cushion for the heat of the day. We also had an overall time goal to finish in around 33 hours. How did we fare? Stay with us, fellow traveler — a 600K is always an adventure and this one did not disappoint!

Day One

Barry, ready to go, with Dave, esteemed volunteer, at the start.

See all of photos from the ride here and MG’shere.

After the usual fitful four hours of trying-to-sleep in the Hampton in Warrenton, Va., we commenced our regular quiet routine for another dreadful 4 a.m. start. As a married couple we know when not to bug the other person, and the wee hours before a brevet is one of those times.

We checked the weather forecast — low 90s, light winds, low humidity — got dressed and got out the door without anybody going back to bed. Yay.

Lynn K. and Tom Reeder were registering riders in the lobby and Dave Sweeney conducted inspection. A field of 34 gathered under the outdoor awning, lights twinkling and vests reflecting. After signing in we rode to the nearby Sheetz for their faux-espresso drinks and to get a cheese sub and chips to stow on the bike.

MG seemed to be in the bathroom for the longest time at Sheetz and I worried that she was not feeling well. She emerged with a different problem — a gel pack had burst in the outer pocket of her Camelbak and dripped down the lower back of her jersey. For someone whose choice of jersey is a form of Mood Ring-like statement about the day, this sartorial malady was a little upsetting to her.

Fortunately we had time for MG to go back to the room (this year’s ride was a double loop, so our bags were there) and put on a spare jersey. Whew. Sometimes bringing the kitchen sink pays off.

Back at the start in front of the hotel, we gathered ourselves and took a deep breath. The appointed hour arrived and Lynn sent us off into the cool night.

I hoped we would complete the first century by 11 a.m., which meant pushing on the flats and downhills and trying to carry as much speed as possible on the uphills.

Knowing that every road out of Warrenton descends, we got ahead of the pack leaving town for the swooping run down Springs Road, then collected the fast riders on our wheel for the run to the first control at Wolftown, on the edge of the Blue Ridge.

The terrain was in our favor and we managed to stay in contact under slowly brightening skies with the lead group for about 45 miles through Madison. Spike-y rollers sent us off the back around then, just after the sun rose behind us.

Getting to ride with Henrik, Clint, Kelly and the others in the front group was a rare treat for us, and we gave it some extra effort on the uphills to get on the back of the group on the descents.

The front group, still in sight at daybreak.

The front guys were wrapping up business at the Wolftown Mercantile store as we rolled up. They took off as we controlled through the store and took some photos. I also updated our Twitter feed about our progress. RBA Bill Beck had encouraged riders to use Twitter to keep other riders and organizers in the know about their whereabouts.

Twitter forces one to keep it short and can be tied into Facebook, which makes it perfect for ride updates. Great idea Bill! I noted that we were there and attached a photo as evidence.

Kelly at the first control.

Other riders streamed up while we prepared to leave — Bill with a group of four or five, and a few solo riders. It was clear others were also intent on packing in the miles before the heat of the day.

One scenic vista and fast downhill after another greeted us as we rode into the teeth of the Blue Ridge foothills outside of Charlottesville. We exchanged waves with riders streaming toward us on a local MS ride. They looked so light on their racing bikes, while we must have looked like we were on a tour.

MS event riders near Charlottesville. Where are your bags?

The information control gave MG and me a chance to pull off our warmers and assess the heat of the day — and we knew it would be a hot one. Already temperatures were in the 80s. The sky was a lovely soft blue with puffy white clouds, lovely to look upon but offering little shade. Summer is in full force when one feels hot and it’s still only 10 am.

At the Batesville control, mile 96, we found the front guys prepping for departure — a reassuring sign that we had maintained a solid pace through a series of tough hills. It was just before 11, so our plan had worked so far! Soon the Bill Beck group rolled in.

After getting drinks and treats inside the upscale Plank Road Exchange cafe/market, MG and I sat outside and ate our Sheetz cheese subs and drank Cokes, trying to keep alert. We also packed ice into our Camelbaks. Some hot hills were ahead.

I thought about our last visit here in 2010, when we ate with Al Pless. He’s had some health issues that have kept him off the bike the last year or so. I thought about how lucky we are to be healthy and active and hoped Al would be out with us again someday.

The next section was not long, just 28 miles, but it was rather hilly. Still, it offered beautiful quiet back roads, many of them with overhead tree limbs. The shade disappeared as we made the long climb up to the Howardsville Store control, though. We drank heavily from our Camelbaks as the sun beat down on us, crawling up the last couple of miles to the store. The tandem is a good friend, but at that moment I felt like we were riding a turtle.

I call the control store the Star Wars Cantina because the last time we were here, in 2010, the temperatures were in the upper 90s and everyone looked like they were coming in from a haunting desert trek.

Bill, our friend, Rick and Rick can laugh at Howardsville, despite the heat.

One of the riders this year talked about how our departed pal Stan Miller climbed into the outdoor ice freezer to cool off in 2010. That was Stan.

We paused before leaving to try to help Rick Rodigher, whose rear fender bracket had snapped. None of our tools would get under the fender to turn a little nut, and he had to resort to the randonneur fix-it, the zip tie. (I bet you thought duct tape!) It wasn’t perfect, but it got the fender off the tire.

Off we went toward Louisa in the heat of the afternoon. We had spent just an hour off the bike through the first century, but had taken another half-hour off at Howardsville and it looked like slow going until the cooler evening. We stopped on the climb away from Howardsville to fix our own rear fender, which had its own loose bolt, but we had the right tool and off we went again.

After the Information Control at mile 131, it was all hot roads and little hills until we saw a car on the side of the road with a hand-made DCR sign. As we rolled past I saw it was Dave Sweeney!

I thought he was out there to take photos, but he had gone ahead and set up a roadside oasis stocked with soda, ice and snacks. Bonus — there was shade! Oh boy, we forgot about the clock, executed a U-turn and came right back.

Shade break at the Dave Sweeney Oasis. You rock, Dave!

The Bill Beck group joined us at the Dave Sweeney Oasis in a few moments and we all savored a cold drink and the nearby shade. This stop had a great psychological effect, in that it broke up the 50-mile run to the next control stop, in Louisa, on top of letting us cool down in the hot afternoon.

After leaving the stop by ourselves, I noticed Bill Beck in my rearview mirror. He rode up and asked us about our dinner plans. We said we planned to sit down at the Roma Garden restaurant in Louisa for a meal. Bill thought that was a great idea and rode with us the rest of the way into town, which was hot and bustling with Saturday night activity.

On  the way there we spied a wedding party gathering at a church and yelled out “Congratulations!” to them. They waved back heartily. After seeing the drunk bride dragged into the Hilton during the 400K, it was nice to see one upright and alert!

In Louisa we passed a bank sign that said it was 91 degrees. After rolling through town we reached the restaurant. Just in time, I thought, as I was famished and thirsty. After getting settled into our booth and ordering, I could feel my eyes getting very heavy. I put on my sunglasses and did my best to affect an “I’m not sleeping in your restaurant” look and drifted off for a couple of minutes, propped up in the corner.

It’s bad form to sleep in a restaurant but it felt so good to let my eyes close. I managed not to slump over and I felt better after coming to. The service was excellent, which meant our waiter was very kind to me or I got away with it — probably the former.

David Ripton walked in and ate quickly so that he could check out with us. As we departed there were a number of bikes at the nearby McDonalds, but we saw no one else as we started on the 65-mile leg back to Warrenton.

Feeling fueled up, MG and I tried to ride as efficiently as we could, ramping up the pace on the flats and pedaling the downhills. The loose goal was to get back by 11 p.m., though we were on pace for a 10:30 p.m. arrival if we stayed in the saddle.

The roads were familiar and we were making good time, but David needed some more liquids and a snack, so we stopped at the Bakers Store at mile 202 in fading light. MG and I put on our night gear, topped off our Camelbaks and chugged down some Coke.

After what seemed like an interminable time in the parking lot — really just 10 minutes or so —  MG and I saddled up and pulled out.

On the run back to Warrenton with Bill and Dave.

David and Bill tagged on and we rolled through the final 40 miles with quiet determination.  The sunset was soft and lovely and the hills manageable. These were known roads and the miles passed relatively quickly, a welcome stretch after the hot rollers earlier in the day.

Bill was not feeling perfect but still cracked us up with his usual good humor. A calf bolted away from a fence when MG called out to it, which Bill interpreted for us: “You’re dressed like a clown. I’m afraid of clowns!” he said. I’m still chuckling about that one.

Our only sketchy moment came at the right turn on busy Rt. 17/29, mile 237 — just outside Warrenton. These almost-there stretches are always a challenge for me and I have to keep up my focus to avoid making mistakes.

The shoulder on Rt. 29 had been repaved and had a small dropoff to the right. A heavy stream of cars from our left, lights blazing, sent us scurrying onto the shoulder, and I had to correct sharply to avoid dropping into the ditch.

This was jarring to MG to say the least! I muttered a few rando-oaths and tried to crank my head like Linda Blair to my left to look for our opportunity to cross. A gap in the traffic came and we shot across both lanes into the left turn lane for Lovers Lane, and from there got into the hotel just at 11 p.m.

Jose Blanco and Rick Rodigher were in the lobby, eating the last of the pizza Clint Provenza thoughtfully bought and left after heading back out into the night. I had the final slice but there were no other provisions, so I bought a couple of sodas from the vending machine. No matter. The clock was ticking to get that precious sleep!

We ran up to our room to shower and re-set for the second day. No bed feels as good as one during a multi-day randonee, and we were out quickly, alarms set for 2:15 a.m.

Day Two

Another silent getup. We wordlessly dressed and left the room by 2:45 a.m. MG threw our bags into the car and I brought the bike around for some breakfast at Sheetz. The good thing about these middle-of-the-night Sheetz runs is that there is no line at the store. The staff actually seems OK with us giving them something to do. I think.

After getting espressos and supplies, we went outside, saw Greg and Andrea ride past from their hotel back to the Hampton, and realized a group was heading out. MG and I jumped on the bike. We spied Greg, Andrea, Chip Adams and Bryan Nelson ahead of us, and by the time we left town all of us were together under starry skies.

The rolling hills were not so bad for us to stay with them and we took our turns at the front on the downhills and flats. About an hour up the road we noticed a rider stopped. Mike Martin was at wits end about his lovely rear Honjo hammered fender, which was rubbing the top of his tire. He had been fiddling with it the previous day but got in too late to take the time to work on it.

We all gathered and started offering tools and free advice. The end result? We removed the fender altogether so Mike could just get on with it. There was no good place to hide the fender, though, and I feared it would be gone when Mike got back when they left it in the yard of a homeowner.

The sun was just starting to lighten the sky at the first control of the day just past Bristerburg. The scenario was the same — the fast group grabbed some food and drinks and scraped their hooves to get going, while MG and I started taking photos and updating Twitter. True to form, the next group to leave the hotel rolled up just as the speedy kids took off.

Sexy Randonneur Lifestyle: Another pre-dawn store stop, Day 2.

A few miles later the sun was fully up and we tooled to the second 7-11 control, where we switched to day gear. The course took us into downtown Fredericksburg, where I glanced wistfully at the fancy coffee shop that had yet to open. We were now in the last 100 miles of the ride and had the idea of finishing around 34 hours, but MG told me not to think about the clock.

The streets were quiet and we enjoyed a nice little Sunday morning meander through the quaint part of town, before tackling a nasty grinder under bright sun up to the entrance to Fredericksburg Battlefield.

Ah, what a nice diversion! We proceeded on through the battlefield on wide, pebbled roads with towering trees giving us welcome shade. We exchanged waves with the morning walkers and a few folks out on their bikes.

A small dirt path connected our road to the next at mile 295 — our 32mm tires handled the few hundred yards just fine, though MG was not completely sure about his section. We scooted back onto the road and rolled along open roads to the Stonewall Jackson shrine information control.

Still in proximity with the fast folks, for the moment.

We found the Greg & Andrea group again at the Courthouse Cafe in Spotsylvania. I wandered around the parking lot with the tandem looking for a parking spot around the tiny building, and finally figured out where to wedge the beast amongst the single bikes leaning against the shrubs.

Omelettes! Iced tea! Air conditioning! Yes, this was a most welcome stop. The food was fast, if not gourmet, and the staff was efficient at splitting checks and signing cards.

We knew we needed full stomachs and water supplies for the final 45-mile ride in increasingly hot conditions, and the cafe hit the spot.

Again, we rolled out with the group, which now included Chip, Bryan and Rick Carpenter. Some brisk pedaling kept us with them over some busy roads — Plank Road was a pain in this regard — to the next information control at a church at mile 331. We stopped in the bright sun and filled out our cards. It was to be our last meetup for the ride.

The group finally put us behind them on some bigger rollers soon after. It was just as well. We were flying past them on the downhills, only to force them around us on the uphills.

We started watching the clock a little, and figured we could get in on the two bottles on the bike plus our Camelbak reserves, and pointed our noses toward Warrenton.

The heat came on but we kept at it by ourselves, stopping just once around mile 345 for a roadside rest. The new run into Warrenton on Rogues Road was challenging and hot, but very pretty, taking quiet roads that I had never used before.

We were still on pace to arrive before 2 p.m., which would set a new 600K overall low time for us, but the heat was strong and we were starting to think about water. Our supply looked good, though, and we pressed forward, spinning slowly up the rollers and pedaling the downhills to regain our speed.

After slogging our way up into Warrenton under bright sun, it seemed like the final two miles took forever. Intersection. Pedal. Intersection. Pedal. A right turn and finally the Hampton appeared just at 1:55 p.m. — we made it!!

Just to be sure to get that coveted sub-34 hour credit, we parked the tandem immediately and rushed into the lobby. Lynn K. noted our cards and the deed was done.

Epilogue

As you might guess, we were pleased with our overall ride! It felt good to achieve our goal to get around the course with a minimum of fuss, while also enjoying the terrain and the company of our fellow riders.

This event gave us a lot of confidence for the High Country 1200K, and for that we want to thank Lynn and her volunteers, and the D.C. Randonneurs in general. Riding 378 miles in two days is a lot more fun with such a great club and we’ll be back again.

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