I’d have to stop and count the number of times I’ve ridden the DC Randonneurs 300K out of Frederick, Md., yet it remains my favorite of that distance.
Why? I have this love of conquering the big monster known as Big Flat Ridge, about a third of the way through the ride. Big Flat is part of the South Mountain extension and rises above the first control in Shippensburg, Pa.
See all of my photos here at Flickr.
A stairstep climb to the top gains more than 1,300 feet over seven miles, starting with a tough grunt up from orchard hills below, then culminating in a grind of about 1.5 miles with sustained grades over 10 percent.
Big Flat isn’t the only tall point on this ride – we also ride over South Mountain from Thurmont up MD 77 at mile 18, about 1,200 feet up over seven miles. The grades are not as bad there, however.
Still, Big Flat caps off about 45 miles of big hills, for a total of about 5,000 feet of elevation gain. If you push too hard to get past Big Flat, it’s hard to recover, especially if the winds pick up.
On the Spectrum tandem we’re way down in our lowest gear often on Big Flat – a 26×34 combination – and standing on the pedals here and there to get off the saddle.
Saturday was a gorgeous day, but the ride was still as tough as ever. We had the benefit of a slight tailwind, but hauling a tandem over those climbs is always a challenge.
Here’s our route on RidewithGPS, but ignore the total climbing, which I think is a fair bit lower. Garmin corrects it to 8,338 feet.
A Fast Start
Organizer Chris Readinger sent us off at 5 a.m. from the Days Inn, 26 riders in all. Mary and I managed to stay close to the front group to Thurmont and got there in just over an hour, but they rapidly disappeared on the climb up to Cascade. Some riders caught us near the top, including Pat O’Connor, another D.C. resident who we had not seen at a DCR ride in a few years.
After Cascade we were among the riders we’d see the rest of the day: Greg Keenan, Gary Rollman and Scott Franzen of Pennsylvania, Paul Donaldson and John Mazur, who was on his single bike today, a lovely Boulder Bicycles 650b randonneur.
Chris Readinger was there with his partner at the turnoff on Shippensburg Road to Big Flat with water and encouragement. We got over Big Flat and flew down into Shippensburg around 10 a.m., not bad for us. The sun was bright and warm and we took off layers.
Headwinds and Bonking
The rest of the day we leapfrogged with the other folks in our riding orbit, which now included Roger Hillas and Mark Mullen. The wind was in our face after the midpoint turn south at Plainfield, and it was warm, well into the 70s.
We made it up Whiskey Springs Road to the final tall spot of the ride, and then rode without much pop in our legs over to East Berlin with that annoying headwind. It was not strong enough to really knock us back, but kept us working. Being on a tandem helps, but only so much.
We thought we were the only ones to stop at Rocco’s for pizza, but Roger came in and sat with us while he ate a sandwich. This spot has been crowded in the past but everybody else went to the Rutters store instead.
Arriving famished, I overate pizza and fries and paid for it with slow digestion. Oh well. The next stop was at Thurmont after 40 miles of slow progress over farmlands and the occasional hill and dip on quiet back roads. Here I had my classic final push treat of a Snickers ice cream bar and bottled ice tea. We joked about how the kid on the BMX bike in the parking lot was going to drop us on the way to Frederick.
Mary and I were, thankfully, invigorated for the final 18 miles – helped by some calories and lighter winds – and we arrived back in Frederick at 7:45 p.m. We came in at our normal mid-pack placing, a fair result for us given the winds.
Chris did a nice job with this ride. He asked riders to text him from Thurmont so that he would have hot pizza on hand, a smart idea. The pull of finishing pizza is strong and there was plenty when we rolled up, along with snacks and treats, including Easter-theme malted milk balls.
With the passing years (for me; Mary is as strong as ever) this ride is getting harder, but it’s still a rewarding challenge, and I hope it stays on the calender.
Our next ride is the DCR Fleche next Saturday, where we will be riding with Team Once In A Blue Moon. Here’s our fleche route. See you!