Ups and Downs: DC Randonneurs Many Rivers & Trails 600K

Two years since our last one, Mary and I completed a 600K brevet on May 15 on scenic back roads in central Virginia with the D.C. Randonneurs. True fact: These long hauls don’t get any easier.

A rainy start on Saturday. Courtesy Mary

This one was the last event to complete our first super randonneur series before the pandemic. It also wrapped up a compressed schedule of a 300K, 400K and this 600K over just four weekends — more on that to come.

Frankly, that’s a higher volume than we’re used to, and I definitely paid for it. But our fitness, which improved during the pandemic, came through even as the course kept throwing hills at us. Mary in particular is in great shape and made sure we got through to the end.

I chose the title after looking at our ride data. helpfully shows the amount of time spent climbing and descending. Not suprisingly, being on tandem on a hilly course nets more of one and less of the other.

Our overall time of 35:31 included just over 26 hours pedaling. And of that, 16 hours were designated as ascending, compared to about 10 hours descending. You can see our tracks here: Day 1 and Day 2.

That seems about right for a tandem on a hilly ride! It always seems like we’re slower on hills than singles and faster on downhills, and the downhills end much sooner than we’d like.

For an alternate take on this ride, see Mary’s lyrical ode to the bright full moon that made our night ride a thing of wonder.

Up: Ready to ride

We’d had a busy period over the two weeks since the 400K getting the bike in good shape. Our front chainring shifting degraded pretty badly on that ride and our replacement Schmidt hub generator stopped working mid-ride, forcing us to use our battery lights to get in.

Peter White Cycles took care of the wheel under warranty but it took some communications and shipping to get it turned around — it showed up on Thursday before our Saturday start.

The Green Apple in brevet repose. Coutesy Mary

Meanwhile I shuttled the Green Apple Co-Motion tandem to College Park Bicycles to install cranksets and bottom brackets from our Spectrum tandem. We theorized the Spectrum drivetrain, which has been very reliable, would set up well on the Green Apple and it was a success. This move would come in very handy on the 600K where we used our inner chainring a lot. Still, it meant a few trips getting both bikes in and picked up.

Down: Hotel drama and a rainy start

We arrived to Warrenton, Va. on Friday night before the 5 a.m. start to find out I had reserved at the Holiday Inn Express in Warrenton, Mo. That hotel nicely canceled our stay at no penalty, but we couldn’t get two nights at the one we wanted. We got set up at the modest and not-very-quiet Red Roof, formerly the extremely humble Howard Johnson’s, which I had sworn off years ago as too sketchy.

It has improved a bit and we got four hours sleep. The forecast was for occasional showers, and right on cue as we exited to ride back to the Holiday Inn at 4:15 a.m., light rain began falling.

We met the other 11 riders and happy greetings were exchanged. Nobody had much on in the way of rain gear due to the temperatures in the upper 60s. I began the ride in my reflective vest and arm and knee warmers.

The group spooled out into the rain and the intensity gradually ramped up through light into steady and then became torrential downpour as we plowed through the edge of the circular storm sitting over the region. Our small but seasoned group, with just one 600K first-timer, mostly stayed together as we headed over rolling roads south toward the Charlottesville area and we made fast work of the morning.

Up: Dry skies!

Skies cleared by midday, thankfully. The club’s on-road support person who was to meet us at mile 40 with food and water overslept and that meant a long ride of 82 miles to the first store stop, but we had snacks and lots of water and stayed topped up.

We made a brief stop at the lux Maybelle’s Market near Dyke, where we grabbed some leftover bananas that a charity ride support team donated to our group. But with sandwiches, fresh fruit and potato salad (our secret power food) packed on the bike we rode on to Crozet, Va. at mile 102 to eat and get lattes at Mudhouse Coffee. The lure of good coffee after a short night’s sleep was very strong!

There we had a nice time eating outside in the sun with Tim Kelly and Mark North, while the rest of the field rolled through.

Down: Weird back and leg pain

During the morning I had serious pain in my lower right back and right thigh that was frankly taking the fun out of the ride. I was wondering at one point whether we’d need to abandon. Some of the hills were an exercise in wincing pain management.

I had adjusted my saddle nose up to deal with some saddle rash on the previous brevet, so that was a concern. But I’d also experienced mild joint aches since starting a cholesterol statin medicine.

At Crozet I moved the saddle nose back down, and took ibuprofen. That and 30 minutes off the bike addressed the aches and they went away, mostly, for the remainder of the day. My doctor subsequently changed my prescription, as people don’t tolerate certain cholesterol treatments.

Down: More rain

We had a good pace going as we pedaled past the 200K mark into James River but the temperatures were into the 80s, humidity was high and the skies were darkening in the distance. Sure enough, we entered a rain cell and got pounded on Ridge Road. The tandem with full fenders is great in the rain and we kept pedaling to keep up our momentum, but the temperatures dropped steadily into the low 60s.

We stopped to put on vests and warmers as the rain tailed off but I should have put on my jacket earlier. I was soaked through and well chilled. By the control in Louisa at mile 178 I was shivering. A hot sandwich and latte at the Sheetz helped warm me up and I belatedly put on my jacket to ride out.

Up: Night ride!

Most everybody showed up in Louisa and we rode out with Jack Nicholson, Gardner Duvall, Roger Hillas and Mimo DeMarco for the run back to Orange, Va. and then Warrenton and our sleep stop.

We had a number of pleasant miles together to Orange as the course profile became less hilly. After some snacks and a water refill Mary and I pedaled by ourselves from Orange and rode alone into the night on familiar roads.

The skies were clear and temperatures in the 60s with a bright full moon made for a pleasant ride. It’s not often we can see our shadow at night!

There was a lunar eclipse that we hoped would start during our ride but we arrived back at Warrenton, mile 254, at 12:30 a.m. — after the usual uphill drag into town — and missed it. A welcome sight was ride organizer Emily Ranson., who met us in the Holiday Inn parking lot with sandwiches and sodas, which we took to our Red Roof room.

We got to to bed by 1:30 a.m. for three hours sleep and I felt pretty well, with some saddle soreness but no return of the bad muscle pain I had earlier in the day. Our rolling average for what was a very hilly day was 15 m.p.h. and that felt like a success.

Up: A solid restart

We left the hotel by 5:30 am and got a quick coffee at the Sheetz before exiting Warrenton for another day of hilly riding.

Me, in Branswick, looking slightly un-vertical. Courtesy Mary

Andrea Matney, Gary Waggoner and Gavin Biebuyck rolled past as we stood on the side of the road shedding layers. I had, as usual, dressed for the day before and not the actual temperatures.

This day was a hot one, and very hilly, but I was pain free save for my rear end, which was manageable with as long as we got out of the saddle regularly.

We ate another lunch-from-home — more potato salad! — at Brunswick, Md. after a pleasant run up the C&O Canal trail from Point of Rocks. Andrea, Gary and Gavin rolled in and found a lunch place, and Mimo stopped to chat.

Mary, looking fresh!

After crossing the Potomac River and the climb up to Lovettsville with Mimo, we again found ourselves on a charity bike ride route, complete with signage and caution warnings, which we had first seen at Purcellville, Va. This was nice that drivers were aware of a ride going on, even if we were not involved.

Down: Heat and hills

The final few hours of this ride were hot and hard. We made our last contact with Andrea, Gary and Gavin at the store in Round Hill, mile 335, and then headed off in the vicinity of Mimo to one of our favorite areas, Airmont, Va. We love the gravel roads around there but there was none of that today, just lots of hilly pavement.

Gathering myself off Carters Run Road

I felt like we were crawling in the heat toward the last on-route store at Marshall but we didn’t need anything and kept going. The turn at mile 360 onto Carters Run Road was one I know well. As we like to say, it’s a very scenic road, meaning quiet and at times ugly steep, not helped by all the miles in our legs. I was not doing well in the power department but low gears and the promise of finishing soon kept us moving. Mary reminded me a few times that “we can do this!”

Up: The finale

We rolled into Warrenton at 4:31 p.m. for a total time of 35:31, with Mimo close behind and then the other three. I can’t remember working that hard for a 600K finish in a long time! Emily met us with snacks and sodas and we stayed awhile to talk and eat.

Local randonneur rides have been small in recent years, this one being another one, but we felt that supportive group ride experience just the same. It was a real treat to be around some of the club’s most experienced riders.

Thanks to D.C. Randonneurs for a well-run series with exceptional routes, and to all the volunteers who made them happen.

2 thoughts on “Ups and Downs: DC Randonneurs Many Rivers & Trails 600K

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