After three weeks of short rides following the D.C. Randonneurs’ 600K, it’s time for Mary and me to start ramping up our mileage to get ready for the Coulee Challenge 1200K randonnee in August. The club completed its first 1200K ride last weekend, the Blue Ridge to Bay, which gave us some good inspiration to get back out there for the big bicycling.
On Saturday we began knocking off a series of rides over the coming six weeks that will let us hit a second peak and still allow a taper of three weeks and a bit. The plan is to build up to another hilly 600K in mid-July and then dial it back to let our legs fully recover.
Shepherdstown, in eastern West Virginia, is one of our favorite regional destinations and happens to be about the right distance, about 80 miles, for a daylong roundtrip from our house in Southwest Washington. The goal for our first ride after the spring brevet series was something longer than a 200K but not quite a 300K. The course (see our track here) has a lot of climbing, but no major ascents, similar to the rolling hills we’ll encounter in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
We also needed to get out on our Co-Motion Java touring tandem, which will be our bike at the 1200K. Though it is the heaviest of our tandems, it has couplers that makes it easy to take to the event in airline cases, and has a sturdy yet comfortable ride character.
We left early, just after 5 a.m., and stayed on the bike to White’s Ferry and then on to Leesburg for our first rest stop at the venerable 7-11 on Dry Mill Road. We hung out with the Saturday morning coffee group of retirees by their pickup trucks.
The climb up the gravel Old Waterford Road was as bucolic as always, and a detour before Waterford, Va. to get around bridge construction added additional climbing to make things interesting.
We were wondering about the condition of the C&O Canal Trail after the recent torrential rains and were glad to find it open at Brunswick after crossing the Potomac River. Still, we had to lift/pass the tandem over/under four downed trees across the trail and walk through a couple patches of exposed rocks where the topsoil had been washed away.
There were a lot of folks using the footbridge to cross the surging Potomac to Harpers Ferry and we had a bit of a slowdown there, joining in with a lot of other folks up the spiral staircase. The river was still running high and the strong current looked quite dangerous! By now the summer heat and humidity were in full force and the cooler temperatures of the early morning were long gone.
By Shepherdstown we were ready for solid food and in the process kind of lost our momentum, taking 90 minutes for a sitdown lunch in the air-conditioned confines of the laid-back Blue Moon Cafe, and then an espresso for me at Lost Dog to make it a coffeeneuring ride. We finally got back out on the road past 2 p.m., wondering if our slow progress would cause us to get caught in forecasted afternoon showers and possible thunderstorms.
We stopped again near Antietam for a loose fender bolt. I forgot the little socket wrench at home I normally carry just for this reason, and had to use a multitool pliers to turn the tiny nut, which actually worked.
From there we managed to stay on the bike over Gapland and Marlu Ridge to Poolesville for one last rest stop. The Accuweather MinuteCast app on our Garmin GPS unit indicated the rain line was following us south, gradually making time on us. We took the hint and sought to keep the pedals turning, though the hot humidity slowed us more than we wanted.
We thought we were home free with plenty of time as we neared Potomac, about 90 minutes from home, until I missed seeing a pothole flying downhill on River Road and hit it hard at 40 m.p.h., immediately pinch flatting the front tire.
One of the brake tracks on our Velocity Chukker 700c rim was well dented inward, but the tire didn’t come off and we were able to stop. After replacing the tube the tire held fine and we rolled on, thankful for disk brakes and the fact that the Chukker, a heavyweight rim, is one tough piece of gear.
Despite slowing for pedestrian traffic in lower Georgetown and along the new Wharf development in our neighborhood, we managed to make it in the door before the rain arrived just after 8 p.m. — much later than we hoped, but in good shape, and dry.
The ride wasn’t hard to complete but had its challenges, mostly in that we fell into touring mode in Shepherdstown instead of moving through faster, especially with rain forecast. We had to push it at the end in hot temperatures to get home by nightfall.
I wonder whether I missed seeing the pothole because of the drive to get home with fading light, late in the afternoon under cloudy skies. Things worked out fine, though we have to get a wheel rebuild. It’s our generator wheel and we’ll need it for night riding to come.
We plan to do something less ambitious this coming weekend, as Mary comes back from travel on Saturday. Then we plan to ride a proper 300K permanent the weekend after, where some focused randonneuring will be in order with time limits and brevet cards.
Thanks for reading!