In the randonneuring world, the 400 kilometer brevet is a unique challenge. At 250 miles, it is too long for most of us to ride hard the entire way. Food stops become more important. And, riders need reliable lights and the right gear to cope with cold nights and warm days, along with possible spring rain.
The ride ends up breaking down into discrete segments.
- The pre-dawn start and the rush to bank the first 100 miles;
- Long afternoon hours with increasingly tired legs to the dinner stop;
- Finally, the push to the finish through sunset and into the night.
The D.C. Randonneurs’ Four States 400K, which the club ran on Saturday (April 28), is one we’ve completed a few times. It’s never an easy event. This year we had our usual share of challenges – and high points too.
The course is a large clockwise loop southwest into Virginia, then northwest into West Virginia to a morning stop at mile 75 in quaint Shepherdstown before turning the northeast. See the club’s Ridewithgps route here.
The work gets harder over the steep rollers through Cove Gap, past Hancock, Maryland, and winds up a long climb into southern Pennsylvania. About 50 miles of farm fields, typically with headwinds, take one east. Finally riders tackle a long climb over South Mountain and then head for the barn through open areas south of Gettysburg.
Our fellow riders made the miles pass by faster.
See all of my photos here.
After navigating through heavy fog around Purcellville, we stayed with the main group to the first control point at Airmont, Virginia, mile 40. They went on and we rode alone over Snickers Gap to Shepherdstown, where everybody paused to eat.
Mary grabbed ham and cheese croissants from the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop while I walked to Lost Dog Espresso for coffee drinks. We sat outside under sparkling skies and Mitch Potter and Gavin Biebuyck joined us. Bill Fischer, who started late, arrived after riding hard to catch up.
So far, so good. We left with Mitch toward Hancock, Maryland. The next regroup point was at the Sheetz there. We began laboring, though, and waved Mitch on.
After Hancock we overlapped with Gavin (on his new Johnny Coast randonneur bike) Bill, Roger Hillas and Paul Donaldson. We’d ride around or with them the rest of the day.
The South Mountain climb was the typical slow affair, save for the fast downhill saddle, still lovely in the fading daylight. We regained momentum on the fast run from Arendtsville to the 7-11 control in Gettysburg, and then made it to the finish, along with Gavin and Bill, without stopping.
Roger and Paul came in just behind and the next group followed quickly.
Here are some highlights:
Stats: We shoot for a 19-hour finish on a 400K, and fell a bit short this year at 19:22. That said, the course was 252.5 miles, so we were sort of close at the 250-mile mark. We stopped 2.5 hours total, just staying inside our 60 minutes-per-100 miles target. Our final rolling average of just under 15 m.p.h. is decent for this course, with four major climbs and some headwinds.
Strava Garmin track has all the details – see it here.
Support: Organizer Georgi Stoychev, aided by Shab Memar, Andrea Matney and other volunteers, ran a tight ship with a fast check-in before the 4 a.m. start. They nicely had pizza and other snacks for us at the end. Seriously, what else hits the spot after riding all day like a hot slice of pizza and some soda?
The 400K is a hard on organizers because riders can finish past dawn on the second day, and you have to stay up all night. Thanks for all the work gang.
Weather: Forecasted afternoon rain passed by with a few misty showers and gusty winds. The start was in the low 40s but after dawn we had warm tailwinds into Shepherdstown and Hancock.
Clouds rolled in as we rode through Cove Gap after Hancock, and then skies were increasingly dark. The wind shifted to the northwest as the cold front passed through, and we battled strong headwinds when pointed west. Temperatures dropped throughout the evening back into the 40s.
Equipment & clothing: The Berthoud Aspin saddle served me well, again. This time I put on a cover to keep from soaking it with sweat and to keep off the rain. I think this is going to be my new randonneuring saddle, replacing the Brooks B-17.
Our shifting was poor, however. The chain jumped around on the lower cogs, likely due to a housing issue; the Microshift 9-speed bar end shifters are relatively new. Adjusting cable tension didn’t solve it. (I bought the Microshift units after giving up on Shimano 9-speed bar ends because they wore out too quickly).
I had to rely increasingly on the front rings combined with larger cogs in the back. The shifting problem was mostly an annoyance on the flats. For once I managed to resist trying to fix it along the way and just kept pedaling.
GPS computer run times become a challenge at these distances. We recharged my Garmin Edge 1000 and Mary’s Edge 810 on the fly with small Anker rechargeable batteries.
I was warm enough (and didn’t overheat) with a combination of a Voler mesh undershirt and a Rapha brevet windblock jersey, a nylon cycling cap and long finger light MTB gloves. For colder miles I wore a Rapha pro team lightweight jacket, Rapha wool arm warmers, headband and Castelli knee warmers.
Ride quality on our Panaracer GravelKing 700×32 smooth tires was much improved at about 85 p.s.i. rear and 80 p.s.i. front. We’ve run them about 5-10 p.s.i. higher and the ride was harsh.
Aches and Pains: Lower back pain flared up under hard uphill efforts, but I finished with no saddle sores and no foot pains. More stretching is in order.
Thanks for reading! Up next for us is the D.C. Randonneurs Shenandoah 600K out of Middletown, Virginia on May 12. This lovely course, with an overnight in Raphine, is one of our favorites.