Mary and I took a break from the longer brevets last year, mostly because of the 4 a.m. starts and being at new jobs that required us to be fully functioning on Mondays. This year we were able to plan ahead and made time for the D.C. Randonneurs 400K in May and the 600K this last weekend.
There is a joke in randonneuring about randonnesia — where you forget the discomfort of the most recent big brevet enough that you sign up for more (I’m sure a version exists in all endurance sports). We had a version of that going into this year’s 400K and 600K, which is a good thing. We approached them with renewed enthusiasm for overcoming the logistical, physical and mental challenges.
We didn’t suffer too much on the Frederick 400K on May 20. It was the hillier version of the two that DCR ran this year, but we prefer hilly over flatter rides. You can see our GPS log from the event here.
We finished in a solid 20:09 overall, falling short of the goal of taking only an hour rest per 100 miles, but there was a lot of climbing in the morning and some headwinds in the afternoon. We’re about an hour slower than our best performance of years past for the distance, which we could approach with less time off the bike. Maybe next year.
After having ridden 600Ks over the years, I’ve concluded our strongest rides come on the shorter brevets. Our legs tend to be heavy after riding the fleche and the 400K in particular. The overnight sleep stop on the 600K also makes a big difference — the better we feel on the first day, the sooner we arrive at the overnight and then get out on the road again.
This year we had a solid if not spectacular 600K. Here’s our recap. You will find our 600K GPS files at Garmin Connect: Day 1 and Day 2 (note: we turned the Garmins off for long stops), and my photos at Flickr.
The weekend forecast called for the lots of sunshine and warm temperatures, possibly hitting the upper 80s. We got home early from work on Friday and had dinner before driving out to Warrenton, Va. to the start hotel, the Hampton. Ride organizers Kelly and Josie Smith greeted us in the lobby just as they were packing up from the advance sign-in, along with Eric Williams and Emily Ranson keeping them company.
We had no drama getting set up, which involves hauling the tandem off the car, getting it into the room and attaching the front fender, little bags and electronics, and stuffing in our rain jackets and other gear. As we have this spring, I had my Garmin Edge 1000 GPS computer up front and Mary had a Garmin Edge 810 on the rear top tube, both with OSM Cycle maps. We also carry USB batteries to recharge on the go; I ran mine off the battery the whole day and recharged Mary’s once along the way.
I made up custom courses in nine segments on RidewithGPS earlier in the week (see them here), and had those loaded on both Garmins. I like to break up the route in case one of the Garmins has a problem and shuts down, so that I don’t have to reload the entire route file. Plus, we get the Garmin fanfare noise and little “You Win” notice when we reach the end of each segment. Every little morale booster counts on these rides, haha!
One bummer was that our fleche team captain and fellow coffee stop afficionado Jerry Seager had to skip the event because of work commitments. We missed his good cheer.
An Early Start
The usual 20 or so of us attending DCR rides these days gathered for the 4 a.m. start. Having a Sheetz store nearby was helpful; Mary and I got a faux-cappucino to share and a breakfast sandwich for me. We also ate some Hippie Crack granola I brought from A Baked Joint bakery in D.C., which went down surprisingly well in middle of the night with soy milk. We both put on arm and leg warmers and light caps, but left our cold weather gear in our bags.
Kelly and Emily were getting folks signed in, with help from David Ripton helping with lights inspection.
Right at 4, Kelly quietly sent us off into a cool, clear night.
Compared to when I first started riding, riders are definitely more visible in the night. The quality of reflective gear and lighting has advanced a lot. It looked like a wall of white and red (some of the battery taillights were actually too bright) coming from the riders ahead of us.
We rode with the front group as long as the rollers allowed, about 20 miles, as we steamed over the green hills and valleys toward the first control at Somerset, Va., mile 60. There were no services until there, but at this stage of the brevet season we can easily ride that far on pocket food and breakfast. We rode a bunch of miles with Bob Counts and Roger Hillas after the sun came up, as one gorgeous Virgina countryside vista after another came into view.
At Somerset the first group was still there, which meant we had kept up a good pace. I got some little country ham sandwiches and bottled ice tea, my go-to rest stop drink.
When we went to leave, Mary’s Garmin had shut itself down. It restarted fine, but reset back to zero so she had to add 60 miles to her distance total the rest of the day. The unit saved the lost segment data to internal memory and I was able to join it with the rest of the day’s track when we got home on Sunday.
On the way to the control at Dyke, mile 81, a driver slowed to warn us about a dog that had bitten a rider ahead, and then an ambulance passed. We were worried. It turned out to be a cyclist not on our ride, but we were saddened that somebody got hurt. At the control we learned Roger had talked to the fellow — “he was bleeding all over his Sidi’s,” Roger said, but said he wasn’t in bad shape.
Caleb joined us for the run to Crozet, mile 103, over the high point of the ride in the Appalachian foothills. We got there just after 11 a.m. and went to Green House Coffee by ourselves and had sandwiches, espresso and treats. Everybody else did the rando thing and went to the convenience store. It felt good to sit down and catch our breath in a relaxed setting. The nice staff filled my Camelbak with ice, too.
The air was hot as we departed. The cue sheet did not mention any more stores until mile 178 (there were a number of them, I should have recalled) so we stopped again at Brown’s Store, mile 127, to get more ice for our Camelbaks, fearing we’d run out of water.
Jack Nicholson, Bob Counts and Pat O’Connor rolled up and took our surplus ice, and Gardner and Theresa pedaled past, showing strong time discipline.
The terrain leveled off, we had a hot tailwind and by mile 164 I was overheated. We stopped at the friendly LJ Store, where I got an emergency Snickers ice cream bar and ginger ale.
The Wheels Come Off
At Louisa, mile 178, I was in distress. I was nauseous and grouchy. The new Sheetz had a sitting area and I took a 20-minute nap while Mary fretted about my situation. Normally my stomach never bothers me. Dehydration, I think, was the culprit and nothing was appetizing, even though I had consumed more than 100 ounces of fluids in 60 miles. I didn’t think to get something moist and easy to digest, like a banana.
I finally managed to drink another ice tea and we decided to go to the control at Orange and see if I could recover.
We spent an hour in Louisa, which put a 30-minute dent in our plan to get to the overnight by midnight. Most of the people in our ride orbit were now ahead of us, not to be seen again today. It was definitely a low moment, not knowing if more trouble was ahead.
I Am Focused
The cooler evening temperatures and easy terrain made a huge difference, though. By 20 miles later in Orange, mile 199, my appetite had returned and we ate at McDonalds. I recovered and we rode steadily, though I was fighting drowsiness and saddle soreness at the end and counting down the miles.
About an hour out from the overnight stop, blearily riding along and not paying attention, I said loudly, “I am focused!” Mary was naturally perplexed. I said I was declaring myself focused on getting to the hotel with no missed turns. This exercise seemed to work, though I had to repeat it occasionally, which became a bit of running joke.
We arrived to the hotel at mile 255 at 12:40 a.m., not far off our usual 400K pace.
Kelly and Josie had a nice spread of hot and cold food going in their room. Caleb was there taking a peaceful nap in advance of heading out into the night. After some chicken soup for me and chili for Mary, we got almost three hours sleep.
We arose in the usual randonneur fog after short sleep, ate the last of our granola and got some bananas from Kelly and Josie (yep, still at work!), and checked out of our room. By 5:10 a.m. we were off just before first light, and I felt back to my usual self. I like the exit from Warrenton on this route because it trends downhill, making the initial miles go by without a lot of effort to start. Unsurprisingly, my Garmin advised me that my recovery status from my last ride was “poor.” Gee, thanks for that.
Our ride to Fredericksburg was pleasant though we had no sighting of any riders. I’d see a red light ahead in the dark but it would always be a driveway reflector.
The genial clerk at the 7-11 at mile 279 said some folks had come through about 40 minutes earlier, which we assumed was the first group that had slept. We saw from Instagram later that Caleb and Paul Donaldson had ridden out first.
We stopped to move a turtle off the road. It protested wildly about being picked up, but I got it into the ditch before it clawed me.
At Fredericksburg, around 9 a.m., we stopped at Hyperion Espresso for today’s sit-down meal and coffee. The air conditioning was delicious too. I was hungry enough to eat a cold tofu and cole slaw sandwich, which would be well off my radar, but that was all they had outside of pastries, and it tasted great.
The ride though the Fredericksburg Battlefield is always a highlight and we enjoyed the tree-lined, peaceful Lee Road and the little dirt footpath connector section. No randonneurs were anywhere in sight so we presumed we got passed at breakfast, and that was that.
We learned later that Roger Hillas saw us up ahead at one point before the battlefield but we caught a traffic light and he got stopped.
At Spotsylvania, mile 325, the sun was blazing. Choosing the Fasmart to control just on the edge of town, we bought a big tub of cold potato salad and cold ice and cold drinks. If it was cold, it looked good.
We were cheered up a lot when Roger rode into sight and turned into the parking lot, but then he made a quick U-turn and rode away, apparantly not seeing us at all. Oh well!
The chains were driving me crazy with noise, so I oiled them, but I forgot to reapply sunscreen to myself, so it was a half-victory on the tasks list. I suffered some sun exposure by the end but didn’t burn, but it was an risky mistake.
The Invention of RandoBall
There was a lot of Sunday morning traffic over the next 14 miles to the information control at the church at mile 338, on twisty and hilly roads. Everybody was nice to us, but it was pretty stressful. The traffic let up after that, yay.
At the church, Mary shot a couple of baskets, including a nice layup, and we enjoyed a shade break. Our progress was good and there was no more stops over the next 45 miles. We had plenty of fluids and food, and set our sights on the finish.
Our aches and pains were piling up, though, which made the last miles a challenge. My big pain points were the heel of my left hand, which stays on the bars most of the time while I shift the rear gears, my seat from compression soreness, and my left big toe, which was throbbing for no real reason.
We had some breeze, thankfully, and kept up a decent rolling pace, taking just one shade break.
I liked the routing at the end via Courtney’s Corner, Shipps Store and Elk Run roads. It’s a peaceful stretch with good shade. After the usual turns and hills into Warrenton we arrived at 3:55 p.m. for a total run of 35:55. That’s a fine outcome for us, especially given the ride was 383 miles. For the record, we passed the the 600K distance, 375 miles, at 3:18 p.m.
Kelly texted us earlier and asked that we give him an arrival time so he and Josie could order pizza, and there it was in the room, still hot, along with plenty of cold drinks and other snacks. Nice going team! He also came down to greet us.
This year’s 600K was a return to form for us. As the years go by, keeping up with past performances is the primary goal for me.
It was unusual to not see anyone for all of Sunday other than the random sighting of Roger. The ranks of the regulars have dwindled for DCR rides and it appears there is too much separation on a 600K for groups to form. I hope this trend changes.
Big thanks go to Josie and Kelly, and to Bill Beck and Emily (with Kelly) for riding the checkout over Labor Day weekend. Also big thanks to Nick Bull, our hard-working brevet administrator, for managing another long spring series.
Our next big event is our annual summer trip, this year a 1,000-mile unsupported tandem tour from Albuquerque, N.M. to Boulder, Colo. starting July 1. The brevet and fleche miles should come in handy in getting over the summits out there.
Our Avid BB7 disk brakes were annoying on this ride, with the disk pads tending not to retract fully on the front wheel for awhile after hard braking, skimming the rotor. This is unusual. I hope it’s just time for new cables and housings. We also had our rear shifting start to get clunky at the end. I’m thinking of going from 9-speed to 10-speed shifting, which we have liked on our other tandem for a few rides so far. I’m still sticking with bar end shifters, though. No matter how sore or cold my hands get, I can always shift them.
Our tires, Panaracer
GypsyKing GravelKing 32mm smooth tread, remain a mixed bag. They roll and corner really well and mount easily but are stiffer than our standby, the 32mm Panaracer Pasela PT. I presume they are made that way to ward off sidewall cuts. It was noticable on the rougher roads in central Virginia. Maybe I’ll lower the pressure as they are less likely to pinch flat. (Sorry folks we are not going tubeless).
My new Voler Black Label shorts were a fail on Saturday. I’m between sizes and moved up to large after finding the medium was too tight, but the chamois was too big and caused some chafing. They are going back. I pulled out a pair of my Voler Caliber shorts for Sunday, which were fine. I’m not a big fan of the move to compression in sports clothing and I think Voler has taken it too far in their Black Label line.