DCR Northern Exposure 400K: Back to the early days

MG and I rode the D.C. Randonneurs 400K brevet last Saturday, May 3 on the new Northern Exposure route from Frederick, Md. into south-central Pennsylvania, returning on the east side of Gettysburg.

The route was certainly new to MG, and most of the club, but for me and some other veterans it was a return to the old, fearsome Doubling Gap 400K from the 1990s. That one was a route to be respected: massive climbs, twisty descents, and lots and lots of short, sharp hills.

It was my first 400K, in 1997. I thought it would never end, but I got back to Frederick with a good group of veterans. Now I’m among the regulars, looking around at all the new folks. It’s always good to see first-timers.

This route would be much the same as the old one, but for the revamp DCR route designer Crista Borras deleted the anxiety-filled climb up Doubling Gap Road and made some other good changes. Doubling Gap was steep, shoulderless and straight with a guardrail, the summit visible the whole way, cars whizzing past. I don’t miss it.

What never gets easier is the middle-of-the-night starts. I’ve done the 4 a.m. start plenty of times, but my work has been particularly stressful this year, and I’ve had little time to think about the brevets. Saturday arrived way too fast and I worried about having a good ride.

Another rando adventure starts at a Waffle House. Courtesy Bill Beck.

Another rando adventure starts at a Waffle House. Courtesy Bill Beck.

Our friend and expert randonneur/photographer Bill Beck got this one of us. We ate at the Waffle House and despite being at once bleary and nervous, I was ready to go. MG was nervous too. That’s the way of the 400K, for most of us it’s the longest one-day ride of the year.

Our goal, generally, is to finish our 400K rides in 20 hours or less, by midnight if not sooner. That gets us off the road before the bars close and I start getting drowsy in the wee hours. To make that goal we have to start strong and keep moving. An honest challenge, as MG likes to say.

We almost beat the midnight hour, getting in at 12:07 am. Our riding time was 16:53, with 3:14 off the bike. That’s about 45 minutes more than our nominal target of an hour of stopping time per century.

See all of our data at my Garmin page. The rest of my photos are at my Flickr page.

The extra stopping time came at a rest stop at McDonald’s near the end of the ride, about 17 miles out in Thurmont, Md., for coffee. Our riding companion Matt H. of Harrisonburg, Va. needed some caffeine to stay awake, and we did too. That stop made for a safe finish, so no regrets there.

I’ll tell the rest of the story in photos.

Gathering at the Days Inn

Gathering at the Days Inn

Here we are, in a parking lot at 4 a.m., with a field of 45 riders. Spectacular weather is expected, but it sure is dark right now.

Leaving Frederick, last time we'd be all together

Leaving Frederick, last time we’d be all together

Rolling through downtown Frederick, Md. A split would quickly form on the way out of town as the faster riders made the most of easy riding until the first big climb at Thurmont, about an hour away.

No brevet is complete in Pennsylvania without a Sheetz stop.

No brevet is complete in Pennsylvania without a Sheetz stop.

We’ve made it over the first two major climbs and most everybody stopped at this Sheetz at mile 62, even though it was not an official control. It was strictly grab-and-go, but I got this photo of Paul D.’s Rivendell Hillborne bike. MG and I had coffee and ate sandwiches, and took a cheese sub with us to eat later in the ride.

Catching up to Mark and Damon

Catching up to Mark and Damon

For most of the day we rode with Matt, who was here without his pal Kurt R. We intersected Mark and Damon but otherwise saw few other participants.

Matt was good riding company and kept us entertained with tales of the bike scene in Harrisonsburg and with some good conversation starters, such “what was your first concert, and your most recent?” Mine were either Olivia Newton-John or the Doobie Brothers (mid-70s) and Kraftwerk (last month).

The grocery store at East Waterford, mile 108. Courtesy MG.

The grocery store at East Waterford, mile 108. Courtesy MG.

Our lunch stop came at mile 108 in East Waterford, Pa. We had a choice of the pizza place or the grocery store. The store had a deli counter, and made wonderful sandwiches on pretzel rolls. They also had free cake samples. Did I mention the free cake?

This little guy wanted to run with us.

This little guy wanted to run with us.

Southern Pennsylvania has fewer unleashed dogs compared to Virginia and West Virginia, but we did get chased hilariously for a few hundred yards.

Later in the afternoon we turned south and started climbing again.

Matt coming down from Sterrets Gap. Courtesy MG.

Matt coming down from Sterrets Gap. Courtesy MG.

This was typical of the day — Sterrets Gap near Carlisle, Pa.

Cameras! Cameras! Cameras! Courtesy MG.

Cameras! Cameras! Cameras! Courtesy MG.

MG got this shot of me and Matt.

Ultimate Obligatory Cow Photo

Ultimate Obligatory Cow Photo

The route was in the heart of dairy country. A few of us on the ride got this same obligatory cow photo shot.

MG was strong and sure all day.

MG was strong and sure all day.

Our teamwork over the years on the tandem has been pretty solid, in large part because MG is a strong finisher and keeps us moving as the day turns toward night. She takes interesting photos too. See her set from the ride at her Flickr page.

Storms blew in late in the afternoon but mostly missed us.

Storms blew in late in the afternoon but mostly missed us.

The predicted showers materialized before sundown. We avoided a soaking, but others did not.

I struggled with concentration, but got down the road in the end.

I struggled with concentration, but got down the road in the end.

Throughout the day I wondered about why we do these rides, especially as my legs and eyelids got heavier. These are typical thoughts during the 400K, which seems so daunting even if you’ve done a few before.

I’m grateful to MG and Matt for making the miles disappear, and by the finish it was all worth it. This is a tough course and I’m proud to say we completed it in good spirits.

My thanks for a successful completion go to MG, Matt and our fellow riders for getting out there with us. An additional and hearty thank-you goes to event organizers (and tandem riders) Cindy and John, and their helpers. They were encouraging, organized and had hot pizza and plenty of snacks at the ready when we arrived.

The 400K is a tough ride to run because of the long hours and overnight duties starting the riders and then waiting for the final finishers. Great job you two!

Next Saturday we cap off the spring randonneur season with the D.C. Randonneurs 600K brevet from Warrenton, Va. a double loop through the central part of the state. See you there?

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D.C. Randonneurs 400K: From One Sunrise to Another

Because Felkerino and I love getting up at 2 a.m. oh so much, we did it again this weekend. Just for fun. Well, it was for fun, but also so that we could actually execute the 400K ride that we’ve been talking about and organizing for the last couple of months.

Having done the checkout ride the week before, we felt confident that the course was ready for a 400K ramble. We had checked and double-checked each turn and control until we were sure that our updated cue sheet would steer riders right.

Our Regional Brevet Administrator, Bill Beck, made our lives easy by bringing various supplies to the ride start: randonneur treats like potato chips, pop, and peanuts; control cards; special brevet pencils; Ziploc bags (a randonneur’s best friend); and copies of cue sheets. All Felkerino and I had to do was unbox everything at the IHOP and prep people for the ride ahead.

The Starting Line. IHOP.

In a nod to the French provenance of randonneuring, we began the 400K at The International House Of Pancakes (IHOP). Despite the odd early morning mix of breakfasting drunks and reflective-vest-wearing randonneurs, the IHOP worked pretty ok for a ride start. The staff had no problem with us registering riders, and if riders arrived in time, they could grab a cup of coffee and a little breakfast.

Jose registers with Felkerino

Starting at the IHOP

Tom Reeder and Leslie Tierstien worked bike inspection (thanks, guys!) while Felkerino and I managed registration. A couple of minutes before four, Felkerino gathered the riders, gave some ride announcements, and sent the 24 riders off into the morning (or night, if you prefer).

After exiting the IHOP, riders immediately pedaled onto quiet roads and out into the Maryland countryside. The temperatures for the day were predicted to escalate into the upper 80s and already the day felt humid. We had just had a lively discussion on the DCRand listserv about ways to adequately hydrate and stay cool during hot rides, but even so, the first hot ride of the season is always tough. I think it takes a couple of rides for the body to acclimate to the warm days of summer.

Felkerino and I waited the requisite hour for any stragglers (there were none), gathered up our registration stuff, and headed back to the hotel for a nap.

We then hopped in the car to Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I was a bit bummed that our weekend was so car-centric, but without the car there was little to no way we could have organized and participated in the ride the way we wanted.

Shepherdstown Sweet Shop. Mile 68.

Man, I love visiting Shepherdstown. It’s such a cute place with beautiful old brick buildings, and it always seems like it’s sunny every time we visit. As we parked the car we saw the front riders, Henrik and Alex, departing the Sweet Shop. It would have been nice to snap a couple of shots of them, but I was not giving back one minute of my nap. Fortunately, we saw almost all of the other riders pass through, and we took photos of as many as we could.

Shepherdstown Sweet Shop (and Kelly’s Soma)

People arrived in Shepherdstown in good spirits. The day was heating up, but it was not the uncomfortable heat that midday would bring. Many riders took advantage of the break to apply sunscreen for the upcoming sunny miles. People stopped, grabbed their food, did their randonneur things, and rode away.

Randonneurs doing randonneur stuff

It was nice not to have the pressure to keep going. We just hung out in Shepherdstown taking pictures of people and bikes and chatting until almost all of the riders passed through.

Mike and Bill

Hancock, Maryland. Mile 110.

After Shepherdstown, we pointed the car toward Hancock, Maryland. As we exited the car, I felt the heat of the day rush over me. Phew! It was a hot one. Felkerino and I found a good shady spot and soon riders began to appear. Overall, we saw about five riders here (Dan O., Kelly, Rick R., Jose, and Bill B.). The riders seemed in good shape, although a few commented on the heat.

Rick and Jose arrive in Hancock

Snatching some shade in Hancock, Maryland

It felt a little weird to not be riding. On the one hand, I was glad our pre-ride had offered up milder temperatures and lower humidity, but on the other I wondered how Felkerino and I would fare in this heat. It would have been a good endurance test. Such funny thoughts. I put them aside. Ultimately, riders have to pedal with whatever the weather serves up, and manage it accordingly. Some days you get lucky, and your brevet falls on a perfect day. Other days, the weather presents extra challenges.

Grocery store.

To make sure that we had enough munchies and drink for the end of the ride, we made a grocery store stop after returning to Frederick. Kettle cooked potato chips, pretzels, pop, GatorAde, and cookies. We ended up purchasing more than we needed, but I would rather have that than run out of sustenance.

Note to self: When organizing a ride, and not riding it, don’t eat the randonneur food. Or at least, don’t eat very much of it. I’m pretty sure I gained weight from all the junk food and pizza I consumed waiting for everyone to finish.

The Finish Line. Hilton Garden Inn.

After we arrived back at our weekend home, the Hilton Garden Inn, we received a phone call that two riders were abandoning due to the heat. They were ok, and I was relieved they had stopped as opposed to press on into a more difficult situation.

As a ride organizer, I was concerned about the riders, praying that everybody was ok and would make it back without incident. That’s a feeling I don’t have to the same degree when I’m riding the brevet. Sure, I hope we all fare ok, but my primary concern is how Felkerino and I are doing. Is that selfish? Maybe, but I think we all have to focus our energy to get through a brevet. 250 miles is a long day (and, for most of us, night) in the saddle.

A few hours later, we saw a tweet from Bill Beck saying that the sky had clouded over. He added that he departed Shippensburg to the sound of thunder. First, extreme heat. Now thunder? Great.

A while later, Ed received a call that a third rider was not continuing.

Mike B., who had abandoned earlier in the ride, joined us at the finish. We sat around talking bikes and bike rides and testing the pizza. Around 7:30, Henrik Olsen rolled in. “That was a steamy one!” I liked watching Henrik arrive. It was the first time I’d ever seen him finish a brevet, as he is always so much faster than Felkerino and I are. I learned that Henrik did not any eat real food on the brevet, mostly Perpetuum, and “one Clif bar.” I munched away on potato chips mulling that over. Impressive, I thought. I could not imagine riding 250 miles on that kind of diet.

Henrik finishes the Frederick 400K

Alex, a visiting randonneur from Ohio, was the second rider to finish. He rolled up on his Surly Long Haul Trucker. Alex’s final miles coincided with the end of some sporting event, which meant he had to contend with some additional car traffic near the finish. That was unfortunate, but he successfully navigated the situation and made it to the hotel without incident.

Just before 10 p.m., Chip and Bryan of Severna Park finished. Highlights from their ride included the hot section from Hancock to Cove Gap. I was not surprised as so much of the riding in this section is not shaded. They also commented that the day mercifully clouded over later in the afternoon, and that temperatures dropped with the cloud cover.

Chip and Bryan, happy to be done

Ed received a call that two other riders were abandoning. The abandon numbers were now at five.

Around midnight, Kelly and Dan O. showed up, looking good and happy to be done.

Dangerous Dan finishes

In between randonneur finishers, two wedding parties arrived at our hotel after a night of tying the knot and, so it seemed, drinking. It was pretty hilarious watching well-dressed boozey wedding guests talk loudly and weave past our humble pizza and pretzel setup while we waited for randonneurs in sweaty cycling clothes, reflective gear, helmets, and headlamps.

I thought we seemed pretty inconspicuous until someone in a suit punched his fist into the air and shouted, “Pizza!”

“Protect the pizza!” I said to myself. Fortunately, his exclamation was merely that, and not a demand for actual pizza.

Phew! For the remainder of the night, none of the other wedding guests took any notice of us, probably because they had their own issues to deal with, such as a bride who could not seem to stand up on her own two feet. If you ever have the chance to organize a 400K, I highly recommend combining it with a hotel that is hosting wedding parties. It’s an almost-surreal convergence that I won’t soon forget.

Some time passed (the exact amount started to get fuzzy) and Bill Beck finished, having ridden the last 140 miles by himself. That takes some perseverance.

Bill and Kelly went off to nap, and Felkerino and I stayed downstairs to continue our late-night rider vigil. Another call came in, letting us know that two more riders were done. Seven total abandons for the ride.

By now, it was past 2 a.m. Jose, Bill Smith, and Rick R. arrived, followed a while later by George M., George W., Christian, and David Judkins. Lots of rider napping ensued. Bill S., a Frederick resident, hopped on his bike for a five-mile ride home.

I was taking lots of catnaps in the hotel lobby, waiting for the final three riders on the course. Even though a ride like the 400K really spreads out the riders, I still found myself looking anxiously down the street for the gleam of bike headlights. Are they there now? How about now? And now?

Around 4, I started to hear birds chirping, beginning their wakeup for the day. I conked out a little more, and just before six a.m., I groggily awoke to the sight of Mike W., Barry B., and Nick Bull parking their bikes outside the hotel. They all arrived with smiles on their faces, even after riding for nearly 26 hours. Mike said something about how they had 27 hours to finish the ride, they were going to take advantage of them.

Ultimately, 17 riders finished the ride, with the first rider arriving at 7:35 p.m. and the final finisher coming in at 5:50 a.m. That’s a span of more than ten hours. No wonder I felt a little tired.

We cleaned up the lobby, packed the remaining food and beverages that would keep for the next brevet, handed off the control cards and results to Bill, and went upstairs to nap for a couple of hours.

The Wrap-Up

Felkerino and I had done it. We’d organized our ride and 17 people had finished it. And in some tough conditions, I might add. Heat, sun, rain, and even a thunderstorm or two. Good job, riders.

It was anticlimactic to celebrate by falling asleep, but I had a good feeling. While there are always things to improve upon with these rides, I believe everything, from our perspective, went well.

We found new starting and end points for the ride, changed the route to accommodate the new start and finish, routed around some construction, and altered the course so that riders could stop for dinner in Shippensburg. We made Shippensburg an open control, which gave riders multiple food/stop choices. The open control seemed to work well, and all riders showed up with a receipt verifying their passage.

The staff at the IHOP and the Hilton Garden Inn had no issues with us setting up in their space, and I even got to take some rather nice, albeit brief, snoozes on the hotel lobby couch.

All of the riders managed the brevet well. The finishing times show that riders respected the heat of the day and slowed their pace accordingly. Those who experienced overheating or other concerns about stopped and made it back safely. Exhausted riders took naps in the club’s hotel room before heading back home.

Thanks to everybody who came out for the ride, and to the volunteers. And special thanks to Mike B. for helping us out at the finish after not continuing the ride. It made the setup at the end much easier.

More Photos!

Want to see more of the adventure?

  • My photos here.
  • Felkerino’s shots here.
  • Click here for Bill’s pics.
  • And here for Christian’s set.

Felkerino and I enjoyed organizing the brevet, and we hope the riders had a good time doing it. Also, if you have any suggestions for improvements in the future, we’d like to hear them.

D.C. Randonneurs 400K Checkout Ride

This past Saturday, Felkerino and I hauled ourselves out the door over to Frederick, Md., to begin the more uncivilized half of the randonneur series– the rides that start at 4 a.m. half. This year, we agreed to organize the club’s 400K so we have the pleasure of getting up at this hour two weekends in a row. Awesome!

Fellow randonneur and volunteer Lane G. met us at the ride start, an International House of Pancakes (IHOP). Why IHOP is international is beyond me unless it’s because of the French toast and Belgian waffles. We dallied a little over breakfast and did not end up making it out the door right at four. Even though checkout rides are the real deal, it was hard for our little group of three to have the same sense of urgency of purpose that brevet day offers.

Because our start has been re-routed from previous years, we spent the early morning miles checking cues and testing my abilities to pedal and write at the same time… in the dark, even! As we moved along and the first light of morning peeked over the horizon, I noted one of the benefits of being on a checkout ride. Because we were not with a group, we had the freedom to look around and really soak up the view around us, rather than mind all the bikes and bodies flanking us. It was nice.

Sunrise on the 400K checkout

The absence of a pack of riders also meant that we could not enjoy the momentum a group offers. We noticed this throughout the ride, as we never wondered who might be ahead or behind us. There was no pressure to push and see if you could catch anyone. There was no one to catch. By the same token, there was no need to play any Jedi mind games about the people behind us, as they weren’t there either. Just Lane, Ed, and me pedaling the day away on our own terms.

Fortunately for us, the weather for this ride could not have been better. Low humidity, a full day of sun, and light breezes. The temperatures started in the forties on Saturday morning, reached the eighties in the heat of the day, and drifted back into the fifties for the evening hours. It was a perfect day (and night) for bike riding.

I find this 400K so enjoyable because it’s really a course that makes you feel like you went somewhere. Several somewheres, even. We pass through Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania on this ride. Pretty cool, no?

Starting in Frederick, we rolled to the Potomac River, and climbed away from it into rolling Virginia horse country until we reached Snickers Gap, at around mile 42. Snickers Gap is a short stabby climb followed by a longer less steep climb that is made challenging by taking place on the trafficky VA7.

Descending Snickers Gap. How sweet it is.

This part of the ride always makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something good for the day and the mighty descent off of Snickers Gap down to the Shenandoah feels like a worthy reward.

The following section of the route, miles 46 through 73, covered lush green rural roads that wound us through West Virginia to the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop.

From there, we left the gentler farm roads behind and started entering choppy tree-lined territory. Up down up down, bump bump bump. Some of these roads could use patching! They were beautiful nonetheless. Just when I thought the steep rollers were getting to me and I was going to need a break, we re-entered Maryland and reached the town of Hancock, which abuts the C&O Canal. It’s also the home of C&O Bikes, where the owner has been SUPER nice about welcoming randonneurs and signing control cards over the past few years.

Annual control card signing at C&O Bikes

After following the C&O for four miles, we exited and headed back to the roads. The terrain was now less tree-lined and more exposed. After a few miles on this stretch we were in Pennsylvania, and the big rollers were back to prove it. I didn’t lose heart, though, the valley views were quite pretty. And there are a lot of beautiful old barns on this segment. It’s nice to check in on them every year, see how they’re holding up to the elements.

Big rollers ahead. And some pretty barns. You’ve been warned.

After a while the rollers gave way to a long (by East Coast standards) steady climb up Cove Gap at around mile 128. The effort of the ascent was totally worth it. After reaching the top, we began the sweetest and fastest downhill of the ride, where Felkerino and I hit a sustained 52 miles per hour.

The rollers didn’t totally dissipate after Cove Gap, but they did become a little less big as we pedaled through Pennsylvania farm country. (The cows still looked the same as they did in Maryland, though.)

Pennsylvania cows on the 400K

As we rode toward Shippensburg at mile 163, the rollers mellowed out. After eating dinner at the Shippensburg Diner and leaving the town behind, Amish country emerged. We reached this segment of the ride in late afternoon. It was stunning. Some people were winding down for the day, others were trying to fit in that last bit of farm work before the sun disappeared. No cars passed us; the only traffic we encountered was horse-drawn buggy and bicycle.

Fieldwork in Amish country on the 400K

The climb up Pine Grove Furnace at around mile 183 was the last big effort of the day. In previous years, Felkerino and I ascended this climb in daylight, but because our group was not that swift, we managed it in the dark. That’s ok, we just dialed in and climbed away, trying not to recall all the moments where we could have moved more efficiently through the course. The stars shone and I looked up occasionally to try and guess where Leo and Orion might be hanging out.

Another zippy descent followed the big effort through Pine Grove Furnace. We rolled through orchard country and descending rollers over to Gettysburg at mile 206. Gettysburg at night is mysterious and a pinch solemn. Always beautiful to ride through.

At mile 208 or so, we controlled at the Gettysburg 7-11 with the knowledge that the hard stuff was behind us. Yeah, there were still over 40 miles to go, but we were close, and we had nothing but mellow roads in our future.

Oh yeah, we can do this.

As we departed Gettysburg on our checkout ride, we were treated to a fireworks display in a nearby town. Then gentle rural roads twisted and turned us pleasantly back to Thurmont and Frederick.

The path back to Frederick had minimal car traffic, no wind to speak of, and a sky replete with constellations. If my butt hadn’t been hurting so much and my body hadn’t been so stinky from the day’s effort, I might have found this part of the ride romantic. As it was, I appreciated everything the night had to offer.

The new route back to the finish at the Hilton Garden Inn worked well. Little traffic, and simple cues. Mile 251 and we were in. I’d managed to be up for just over 24 hours. Eek.

We’ve enjoyed planning this ride, though I am just now starting to see how much work goes into the brevets. There are just so many things to do. Organize volunteers for the various ride duties. Check cue sheets. Prep the controls for riders. Make sure that construction or other changes that might have occurred can be worked around. Arrange for pre- and post-ride food. Thanks to everybody who regularly takes on these tasks, particularly on the longer rides when the windows for rider arrivals gets so large.

I’m looking forward to the weekend, and to seeing some of you off on this beautiful course!

The Other Side of Randonneuring — Organizing a Brevet

This year, MG and I volunteered to run the D.C. Randonneurs 400K brevet on May 26-27, our first stint as ride organizers in awhile. Our last event was the club’s Old Rag 200K from Warrenton, Va. back in 2008, the first one under RBA Bill Beck.

The big day is still some weeks away, but we’ve kind of been riding it in our minds. It’s been a cool challenge to plan for all the details it takes to put together one of the club’s longer brevets.

The first order of business was making sure to secure hotel rooms at the start. We had booked a room for ourselves at the Hampton Inn in Frederick, for Friday and Saturday night of the ride, before we took the job.

That room will now be used as a club room for us the evening before the start and then for the riders overnight Saturday for showers and naps.

We got another room the weekend before to use before riding the checkout with our Volunteer No. 1, Lane G., who is assisting us with routing and other tasks.

With the hotel rooms out of the way, we have turned our attention to the route. There has been one looming problem — a key control at the northernmost point, mile 178, closed. It had been the sub shop in tiny Newville, Pa. where the owner agreed to stay open until the 11:12 p.m. control closing.

We heard that it re-opened as a coffee shop, and with that in mind, MG and I rode there on Saturday to see whether the new owner could accommodate us. We also went to check out a minor re-route through nearby Shippensburg, the big town in the area, that would allow riders to get food and drink at a number of places. The issue there is that it can be busy on Saturday and we’d have to make it a control as well.

On our way north to Chambersburg, Pa.

MG wrote about our ride and posted her photos of the day at Chasing Mailboxes. You can also see all my photos here.

We rode from Emmittsburg, Md. on a crystal clear spring day to join the 400K course near Chambersburg, Pa., then scouted the new section into Shippensburg. Along the main drag in town we noted possible stops for riders and counted two gas station/convenience stores and four possible food stops.

MG on the road toward Shippensburg under cloudless Pennsylvania skies.

Our intention right now is to make Shippensburg an open control, so that the grab-and-go crowd can rush through town, while anyone who wants to stop and eat will have a number of options.

If we adopt this revision, folks have to ride 52 miles from the last town with hot food, instead of 66 miles all the way to Newville. The segment has always been a long one, with just a campground store and convenience store along the way.

One of the food options in Shippensburg, Pa.

After Shippensburg, we took familiar roads out of town to rejoin the standing 400K route, and found we would shave just 1.5 miles off the 252-mile total distance — good news on that front. We were afraid of either adding miles, or cutting off too many.

After a pleasant 11-mile run to Newville, we spoke with the friendly owner of the coffee shop, but it was not clear that she could feed really hungry people, or very quickly. Having been open only a week, she is set up to make cold sandwiches and pastries, but she is not offering meals. That could be a problem for anyone who is famished. We’re leaning toward an information control in town, while letting riders know the shop is there until 9 p.m. if they want some light fare.

We made some notes about possible information controls, and then continued on the 400K course to Pine Grove Furnace, before joining yet another route — a ride our pals Crista and Chuck were riding that day, also from Emmittsburg.

See Bennett’s post about their ride, Three Babes in the Woods, here.

The namesake for Crista’s ride through the hills around Big Flat Ridge

We didn’t meet up with them until the finish, however, which was probably as well. Their pace through the orchard hills would have been faster anyway. As it was, they were about 45 minutes behind us; we thought they were ahead. We went to hoppin’ downtown Frederick, Md. for dinner afterwards and enjoyed tasty Thai food while comparing our rides.

Through the orchards back towards Emmittsburg

Our next task for this ride will be to finalize the cue sheet, send it to friends for proofing, and make contact with the other controls to remind them we’ll be coming through. More to come on those details.

The Long Second Day after the 400K Brevet

Today was Monday and you’d think after an easy day on Sunday after the D.C. Randonneurs 400K, with a two-hour nap, I’d feel better. And (in case my employer is reading this) I really did feel OK, and got a lot done.

Still, I can’t wait to get another night’s sleep. Today was all about drinking and eating regularly, doing things at a deliberate pace and remembering that the fatigue goes away and leaves the good memories behind.

Here’s what I looked like after work today:

400K eyes. You should have seen them yesterday.

Maybe it’s the 400K — that it’s the tough test of randonneuring, even moreso for me and MG than the fleche. Unlike the fleche, the 400K is always hilly for us here in the Mid-Atlantic and we ride it at brevet pace, meaning short stops and a push over the last few hours to get it done. We completed the ride in 19 hours on Saturday, which is about our average, but that’s still five hours faster than a fleche and about 10 miles farther.

Fortunately, we have no lingering injuries. I had some stomach issues on Saturday, mostly a strong reaction to Clif Shot Blocks which I normally enjoy without any problems. Luckily I was was able to eat and drink mild food with the help of our old friend Pepcid. I drank a lot of coffee last week and think that has something to do with it, and am dialing back the joe to give my stomach a rest.

How do you cope with the post-brevet recovery? Do you still feel the ride on the second day?

Here’s MG. She looks a lot better than me, as you’d expect!

MG on the Monday commute, looking pretty fresh.

D.C. Randonneurs 400K: Sparkling Day into Starry Night

The D.C. Randonneurs held their ACP 400K on Saturday, with 48 starters from the Hampton Inn in Frederick, Md. They were rewarded with a perfect warm spring day with light northwest winds and not a drop rain all day.

MG and I had the ride we wanted — about three hours off the bike and a finish around our normal time of 19 hours overall — 18:59 to be exact — after our group charged the last couple of miles to get in before 11 p.m.

After a very cold winter and so-so weather on some of the spring rides, it was a real treat to start in warm, dry pre-dawn conditions and enjoy the day without a threat of rain. The course is a clockwise loop that heads over rollers to Brunswick, Md. and to an information control at the crossroads community of Airmont, Va. We were able to hang on to the lead group until then, but let them go while we shed layers, put on our daytime sunglass shades and got out snacks.

From there we got over Snickers Gap and then headed toward the second control at Shepherdstown, W.V. with a stop at a nice, quiet Sheetz store along the way for morning coffee and sub sandwiches. We packed the subs to take with us to the third control at Hancock, Md. at mile 112, because we arrive there right at noon and it can be a wait at the stores to get food.

This route is something of a two-edge sword. The 75 miles to Shepherdstown are rolling, but fresh legs and some mellow sections make the section pass quickly. But the next segment consists of one steep, short roller after another with few long run-outs, and by the time we get to Hancock we’re feeling the ride in our legs. Fortunately the terrain is lush and relatively quiet. After Hancock we continue climbing another 20 miles away from the Potomac east into Pennsylvania until we get out on the valley roads near Mercersburg.

All the climbing makes for a slog over more gently rolling roads across south-central Pennsylvania to the dinner stop at Newvill at mile 178. We stopped at a church pavilion around mile 152 and bought sodas from a vending machine — and they were good and cold, a nice treat as temperatures had climbed into the 80s under bright skies. The machine did not exactly give us what we were expecting, but we managed to get root beer, ginger ale and iced tea. Hey, sometimes it’s enough just to get a cold drink at the right time.

Our group for the day had formed around Hancock and we had great company from Alec Burney, Lane Giardina, Bill Beck, Mike Martin and Jeff Magnuson. After a filling control stop at the helpful Kane’s Subs in Newville, the long climb over South Mountain stretched things out, but we all regrouped in Gettysburg for the 37-mile night run to Frederick under a bright moon.

Unlike last year, I managed not to lead our group off course on this section, and we arrived at the finish in high spirits. All in all, we enjoyed the great non-competitive camaradarie of randonneuring. Thanks buddies!

And, many thanks to Chris and his volunteers who ran a flawless event with a few course changes that improved the route nicely.

See my photos here, MG’s here, Bill Beck’s here and Dave Sweeney’s here. Bill’s report is below.

48 riders started the Frederick 400K ACP brevet yesterday, and 46 reached the finish. The final riders finished in daylight, having experienced two sunrises along the journey. The weather for the ride was drop-dead gorgeous, with temps rising from the high 50s into the 80s, and pleasant temperatures during the evening run back to Frederick. Deep blue skies with white clouds and light winds made it just about perfect.

Thanks to Chris Mento for organizing the ride and staying up all night to check riders in at the finish. Also to Ray Skinner who scouted the roads up in PA for a reroute around a missing bridge, Crista for designing the reroute, and Nick for reprogramming the entire GPS file. Thanks also to Calista Phillips, Kelly Smith, and Leslie Tiersten, who helped register riders at the start and inspect bikes.

Chris also wanted to compliment and thank the staff at the Hampton Inn who constantly offered to help in any way they could, Danny Cokinos who let us park in the Pediatric Center lot, Dennis at C&O Bikes who couldn’t do enough for us, and Randy Kane at Kane’s Subs, who added extra staff and stayed open an hour extra just for our riders.

Preliminary results are posted at http://www.dcrand.org/dcr/results.php?page=display-results&year=2011. A GPS track of the route is at http://connect.garmin.com/activity/87378170. My pictures are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wabeck/sets/72157626655771505/. Ed Felker’s pictures are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/8193389@N06/sets/72157626653959115/.

The next ride is the the big one — the Shendandoah 600 on June 4.

Bill

Next Up: The Big 400K

TDR has been pretty quiet during the lull between the D.C. Randonneurs 300K two weeks ago and tomorrow’s hilly 400K, from the same start in Frederick, Md. Work has played havoc with my free time, and it’s been a priority to get as much sleep as possible to keep rando-fatigue at bay. We’ve been keeping our legs loose with short rides around town, but nothing long, and it has felt good.

On our way to the Bike to Work rest stop in Arlington.

Our schedules have allowed us to ride the four spring 200K and 300K club ACP brevets so far, with the 400K and 600K ahead. But the extra rides have also required us not to burn the candle on both ends, which would have us showing up burned out for those long brevets. They are key events in our preparation for PBP, not just to qualify, but also to mentally prepare for the long days that make a 1200K grand randonnee a true endurance challenge.

MG and I have no specific plan for our ride tomorrow other than to stay fed, hydrated, cheerful/caffeinated, and moving. A dedicated FoodQuest on this ride this long is critical.

I was reminded of this fact at the 300K. I tried to get through solely on home-made sandwiches, supplemented with convenience store chips, Gatorade and energy snacks from the Back Pocket Cafe. The result was a spectacular bonk at the end of the ride. I started shivering in the Hampton Hotel lobby afterwards and it took a hot shower, food and a very public nap to get me back on my feet. I tend to push hard to finish brevets and usually need some immediate recovery time, but my post-ride disintegration was worse than usual — a sign I did not eat enough.

Tomorrow I intend to get many more calories through our tried-and-true method of sitting down and eating meals. This route sets up well in that regard, with options to eat at Sheetz convenience stores, the sublime Shepherdstown Sweet Shop in West Virginia, and Kane’s Subs in Newville, Pa. Unlike the 300K, there’s no outrunning a bonk on a 250-mile ride!

We’ll report our results on Sunday. Until then, we wish our fellow randonneurs at least a few hours sleep before we roll at 4 a.m. tomorrow, and a very good ride.

Severn Across 400K …

Chalfont St Peter decked out for the royal wedding

Of all the events on the audax calendar, I fear the 400 kilometer brevet the most. Unlike the shorter 200K and 300K rides, which are long and longer day rides, the 400K is the one you will most likely finish in extended darkness. There is no sleep ‘till the end; you’re on the road until you ride the whole distance, for which you’re allowed 27 hours. You can’t race it – all the discipline in the world forces you back onto the saddle whenever you’re tempted to sprint a hill, or lightens your pedals when you want to press into a headwind. You’re always reminded of how far you have to go.

Plus I’ve never had a good 400K ride.

I’ve had 400Ks in which I finished alone on dark roads in bucketing rain. I’ve had 400Ks where I fought nausea all day long. I’ve had 400Ks where I spent 12 hours pedaling alone, spending the day with my thoughts and finding it strange to speak to another human when my rolling isolation ended. The 400K is the ride that tests my will more than others, and it is the one where the act of handing over my card to be stamped at the start causes me to wonder at my love for this sport.

So it was when I found myself rolling out toward a turn point 200 kilometers away from Chalfont St Peter in London’s Buckinghamshire exurbs, the day after a prince of Wales celebrated his nuptials at Westminster Abbey. As with many of the villages on the way, the streets of Chalfont St Peter were decked out with the Union and England flags as we rolled toward the Chilterns. And as usual with many of these Audax UK events, a few speedy folks rode hard toward the front while a peloton interested in conserving energy formed up. I found myself a few wheels from the front of the peloton, as usually happens, except … I felt unusually flat. The burn of lactic acid rose with even the smallest rises, and I slipped toward the back.

Pasture, sheep, village - pastoral Britain.

On a gradual climb through a Chiltern valley, there was the abrupt call in front of me: “Hole!” followed by the swerve of a bike in front of me. Ka-whump! I felt a water bottle against my calf, my knee, and then underneath my rear wheel. I slowed to a stop, sighed, and picked my bottle up. I took up the chase but … reminded myself of how far I had to go and backed off. Guess it will be another lonely 400K – but I might catch up at the first controle.

Under a rising sun and with a rising wind behind us we passed through a valley west of the Chilterns. We were passing through pastures and fields, green and yellow with rapeseed plants. After a pause for photos in the valley I rolled to the first control in Woodstock, home of Blenheim Palace, homes of the Dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill. Whilst I was thinking coffee and cakes were in order, I was of a mind to do some catching up to the group I had lost, I moved on to the next challenge, the Cotswolds.

I knew from the organisers preview that the Cotswolds would be the toughest section of the day, at an average gradient of 11 meters per kilometer, and it did not disappoint. Plus I was feeling as thought I’d really failed to fuel property. I was rooting through my jersey pockets to keep going, and rising through repeated steep rollers that were putting me on the limit. I was feeling other limitations: my hands and wrists were starting to get sore, much earlier than I expected, and for the first time in wearing the shorts I was using I started to have, er, contact point issues. I was beginning to wonder if the Cotswolds would be my Waterloo, but at last they ended, with a steady 10 kilometers of tailwind into the controle at 145 kilometers in Tewkesbury. I decided that fueling up was a good idea. Coffee and a jacket potato fit the bill.

Finally well fueled and onto flatter roads, we were now in the valleys of the rivers Severn and Wye, two major watercourses that rise on the same mountain in Wales and meander a hundred miles from each other through Wales and the West Country before coming together near Bristol. I began picking up and passing riders along the way, and we began to approach the big challenge of the day, a climb called Yat Rock, a ridiculous 20% climb to throw into a 400K. The entry into it was a silly single track paved road, and in the first 30 seconds of the climb a ridiculous number of cars for such a road came past me. It was steep enough I could feel the yo-yo of my speed with each pedal-stroke, and at last the steep ramp hit. Out of the saddle, squat and unweighting with each pedal stroke – it was just good fortune the steep bit was short, probably less than 200 meters, but it was an effort that left my legs burning and my lungs desperate for breath. It passed, and it was an easy few wind-aided miles into the turn point at a Tesco in Chepstow. I picked up a fellow audaxer, a veteran of PBP, Perth-Albany-Perth, Mille Miglia and countless other rides who the previous weekend had ridden both a flêche and a 400K. Hardcore.

Audaxers on the Severn River Bridge, England side (shot hurriedly through plastic filter)

At the turn point, a significant group was lunching and preparing for the long leg home. For me? A triple sandwich, two packets of crisps, some pocket food and water for the next 200K. The next leg started off with a crossing of the Severn River Bridge, and with the tailwinds we had been getting I could only imagine what the notoriously windy bridge would hold. It did not disappoint, either: A howling crosswind made conversation all but impossible. Finding that I had a bit of a gap on the group on the England side, I paused for a few moments to take photos, then discovered the group long out of sight. Knowing the value of keeping with a group in winds like that, a brief chase ensued. I caught back on, but then … the stomach felt slightly bad, I caught a bad case of the sleepys, my hands, wrists, neck, back, and bum all were complaining, and the progress was slow, so slow, in the winds. The winds. The winds. Howling in the ears, pressing the chest, jerking the helmet. The next 40 kilometers to Malmesbury seemed an eternity in the winds and the Cotswolds slopes – in the shadow of the Malmesbury abbey, I finally had to pull off and stretch uncooperative muscles and take a naproxen. There goes my good group again – but with the setting sun, I could hope for the winds to slacken and maybe, just maybe, a bit of an easier ride.

The imposing superstructure of the Severn River Bridge.

The bulk of the next 17 kilometers were spent in the self-declared “longest village in England,” a village so long I’d forgotten I was still in it by the time I left. At a petrol station, my group was stopped and fuelling. I quickly grabbed some food and fluid and got ready for night riding. At the back of the group I was happier once again. At dusk, we climbed through a valley with the first artificial lights of a town below flickering on and the final glow of the setting sun reflecting off the yellow of a rapeseed field ahead. Then dark.

There were some miles until what would be our final stop at the Membury Services, off the M4, in which I hovered between strength and weakness. The pain had faded – I could thank either the pain relievers or the stretching – but the sleepiness came and went. But we pulled in through a back entrance and grabbed some food. It was 9:30, and we had close to 100K to go. At Membury, there was a long war council around a table in the petrol station. Some navigational decisions were being contemplated by the group. No slaves to the “route as written” as in other countries, Audax UK riders can take any route between controles, as that’s the reason the controles are put there anyway – to make sure you complete the distance. The danger of following the designated route is it traveled minor lanes: with darkness, poor signposting and blind junctions, the chance of missed turns was high. Not to mention the dips and climbs of the small roads. The group leaned toward A-roads. Late at night, with a large, well-lit group, we were as safe on the big A roads as we were on the less-traveled lanes.

Not much of the last 100K is memorable. We passed through Newbury, Reading and Maidenhead on our way home, briefly losing two members in Reading before reuniting under a bus shelter. I just remember the pain creeping back and the desire for the ride to be over growing. The sleepys came and went. I occasionally took at turn at the front. The veteran I’d met on the road, he of the flêche and 400K the preceding weekend, worked hard to keep us together in a smooth-riding group, conserving as much energy as possible. My turns at the front were ragged. I never felt the right speed, always speeding up and losing the group, then slowing to a snail’s pace and annoying subsequent wheels. I was trying, but my body didn’t have much finesse left. My hardcore buddy admitted weakness at last – nausea was creeping in. “I don’t do well after midnight,” he said. In Henley, two wandering youths shouted in disbelief at the sight of group of cyclists out at that hour and asked if we were Jesus. We climbed into Gerrard’s Cross, then enjoyed the final two kilometers’ descent into Chalfont St. Peter. It was 20 hours since we’d left. In the village hall at the start, those of us who didn’t know each other finally introduced ourselves. I forced some high-fives on some reluctant Britons; my hardcore companion was already on the floor trying to sleep. I shook hands with him; at last, I was back. My warm bed in the nearby hotel awaited. Another difficult 400K was done. One of these days I’ll have a good one.

Dan Oldale’s 2010 DCR 400K

MG and I spent most of the May 22 D.C. Randonneurs’ 400K leapfrogging the course with Linda McAdams and Dan Oldale, a regular with the Severna Park Peloton group — or as we call them, with admiration — “Clint’s Kids.”

Dan had to withdraw from the PA Randonneurs 400K brevet because of dehydration. With his R-12 streak dependent on finishing the DCR 400K, Dan decided to ride steady and stay focused on getting back to the start in good shape. Dan writes a compelling story of one man’s goal to complete his first 400K brevet and hanging tough until the job was done.

Dan and Linda, waiting out the train crossing

DC Randonneurs hosted its 400k brevet last Saturday from Frederick, Md. The course was a 252 mile loop south in to Virginia, west over the Blue Ridge mountains to West Virginia, then north across the Potomac River and the panhandle of Maryland to Pennsylvania. We rode a big arc through Pennsylvania north then east back across the mountains, then south through Gettysburg, to Thurmont, and the finish in Frederick.

We had cool temperatures and overcast skies in the morning, sprinkles and light showers in the afternoon, and heavy rain in the evening and through the night. Two crossings of the Blue Ridge mountains meant lots of climbing. One ascent in Pennsylvania was three miles long, it just kept on going up. The descents were fun, but in the rain we rode the brakes to stay in control.

We had a 4 a.m. start which is early even for us 5:45 guys. There were 44 of us including three tandems. Cheryl and Lowell Grubbs, Chuck Wood and Crista Borras, and Ed Felker and Mary Gersema. Chuck and Crista would do very well finishing with Bill Beck at 18hr 20 min. Cheryl and Lowell would suffer a catastrophic failure of their free hub at around mile 200. Chuck drove out from the finish to get them at midnight after riding 400k.

I rode in the vicinity of Ed and Mary most of the day, and over the last three hours they were the guiding light that would bring our small group home.

I had a lot of support for this ride. Clint Provenza and Clif Derking two of my SPP 5:45 team mates were there, as was Linda McAdams, my riding partner for the PA 300k, and 400k. Several of the DC Rand group who I had ridden my R-1 in January were with us, Bill Beck, Chuck and Crista, Ed and Mary, George Moore, and several other familiar riders.

I had planned to ride this event at a slightly slower pace. My R-12 hopes depended on completing this ride so I couldn’t take any chances. A big group got off the front early, including Clint and Clif. I let them go, content to stick to my strategy. Linda had come to this ride with a similar plan and we rode the whole day together. I think the 400k in PA was the only glitch in her randonneuring career, and together we were determined not let it happen again.

As we rolled in to the first controle at mile 39 the lead group was nowhere in sight. We met Lane Giardina there, I had ridden with Lane for a while at the 400k in PA, he is very fast. Ed and Mary arrived on the tandem. The five of us rode out as a group and shortly after the controle came upon Andrea Matney, and Greg Conderacci. Andrea had dropped her chain, literally. The pin had worked its way out of the master link and the chain ended up laying in the road several yards behind the bike! Greg was making repairs and Lane stopped to help.

Lane would catch back on and ride with us for a while then head home for the day. He had already ridden a 400K this month, and I think hadn’t planned on riding this whole event. It was good to ride with him for a while. We met several other riders at the Sweet Shop in Shepherdstown W.V., our second controle at about mile 74. I had a muffin and filled my water bottles, Linda did the same and was ready to go, so we rode out.

Mary and Ed were sitting at a side walk table on a beautiful Main street, on a pretty morning having coffee, I was slightly jealous, but we had a long way to go and I was anxious to get back at it. About four miles later Linda and I would miss a turn and get some bonus miles in before getting back on the course. In that time Ed and Mary would get by us without our knowing it. Damn, we could have stayed for coffee after all.

After our missed turn Linda and I zeroed out our odometers and began resetting the mileage at each cue. This worked well until Linda’s computer failed, we were down to one computer. Linda read the cue sheet, and I kept the mileage, and together we stayed on the course.

Linda and I rode without seeing another rider for more than 30 miles. It seemed odd to us, we thought the tandem would catch us, or someone would come off the back of the lead group, but for almost two hours we didn’t see another rider. At the third controle, C&O Bikes in Hancock, Md. at mile 110, we ran in to Andrea and Greg, George Moore, and Jeff Magnuson. Andrea and Greg got out before us, Jeff and George needed a rest, so Linda and I rode another 18 miles by ourselves. At mile 128 the cue sheet read “camp store at Saunderosa Campground, LAST FOOD FOR 26 MILES.”

We stopped to fill our water bottles and found Ed and Mary there resting and having lunch. We didn’t know they had gotten by us. It had been sprinkling off and on, but now the rain became persistent and would intensify over the rest of the ride. The big climbs east over the Blue Ridge through PA were ahead of us. Ed, Mary, Linda and I would ride off and on as a group through the next two controles and on to the finish.

Ed and Mary are very experienced randonneurs, and know the DC Rand routes very well, it was good to be in their company. We were only half way.

We rode through the hills of Pennsylvania, through Cove Gap, and the towns of Edenville and Orrstown, and on to the fourth controle at Kane’s Subs in Newville, PA, mile 176. We passed Bill Beck and Chuck and Crista on their way out from the controle as we were riding in to town, they looked fresh and fast. We had a light meal, filled our water bottles, put on our rain gear, and headed on toward Gettysburg.

The course took us over a few more climbs, past Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and Michaux State Forest. We rode through Gettysburg National Battlefield at sunset, the monuments and statues at that time of day were beautiful. The last controle was in Gettysburg at mile 212. I was very tired, it was dark, pouring down rain, and we had 40 miles to go.

Let me say this, I am NOT a wheel sucker, you can ask the guys I ride with, it is just not my thing. I was so afraid of losing Ed and Mary though that for the last 30 miles I attached my self to their rear wheel like a remora on a big shark. I kept telling myself that I would endure anything to not be dropped by our guides. They were kind to us, Linda and I worked hard and we all finished together.

We had picked up another rider at the last controle and he hung with us for twenty miles, I didn’t get his name. He seemed strong and rode well. It was really pouring, very dark, around 10 p.m. It was nearly impossible to read the cue sheet through rain splattered glasses, and the water on the zip lock bag over the page. I looked back and saw that he was off the back, we made a hard left turn by Rt. 15 and he was gone, nowhere in sight. Ed and Mary planned to stop at a convenience store in Thurmont two miles away and figured the rider would catch us there, he didn’t.

Our group finished at 11:38pm, another group of four riders including Andrea and Greg finished at 12:38am. Tim Zak finished alone at 12:18am, I hope he was our guy. I can’t imagine being dropped in the dark and the rain after 18 hours on the bike, with 20 miles to go and having to figure out how to get back by myself. That’s Randonneuring.

And so, We finished 252.7 miles in 19hr 38min at 11:38pm. Because of the weather the finishing controle was in a hotel room. There was a great reception by the riders who had finished before us and the DC Rand volunteers for the event. Checking the results, Henrik Olsen was first to finish in an incredible 15hr 30min! Clint finished in a group of four riders all at 16hr 20min, smokin’ fast. Clif came in by himself at 17hr 20min, an hour after the group ahead of him, and 50 minutes ahead of the group behind him. The last two finishers came in at 25hr 20min, well under the 27hr time limit. We had seven DNF.

What I Learned:

The biggest lesson was that cutting the pace back just a little made a huge difference. I was able to enjoy the ride, take time to navigate, and get to know the riders around me. Just not feeling like I had to stay attached to a fast group relieved all the stress and made the ride a great experience in spite of the weather and hills.

For this ride I tried just plain water, small amounts of food fairly often, and Ecaps from Hammer Nutrition. It worked really well, I wasn’t ill all day. I’ve discovered Clif bars, hard to open while riding, but really good.

Before this event I had a new cassette put on my bike, an 11-32. With my small chain ring at 34 teeth I had huge gears for climbing, they were awesome. I’m not going to say that climbing was effortless, but I could stay in the saddle and grind out the hills all day.

I’m still not great at navigating, but I’m getting better, and gaining confidence with each brevet. I may never be as good as Chip, but I look forward to a day when riding alone late in a ride is not such an intimidating thought.

Many thanks to Chris Mento our ride organizer and the many volunteers from DC Rand for hosting a fine brevet, cant fault them for the weather. Thanks to Clint and Clif, my teammates on the ride. Thanks to Ed and Mary on the tandem who shepherded our group safely through the darkest and wettest hours of the night. And a very special thanks to Linda for riding with me and supporting me the whole way, we really had a great day! I enjoyed it all, and hope to ride with you all again soon, see you on the roads.

Dan

MG’s Awesome 2010 DCR 400K

MG has captured the essence from within yet again in her story about the D.C. Randonneurs 400k last Saturday. The view from the stoker compartment in many ways is different from that of the rider in front! Apparently, motion sickness is just one of the occupational hazards of riding tandem. Read all about it below.

While the 400K is really a one-day ride, it takes about a week for me to mentally prepare for it.  I obsessively check weather websites, make lists of various outfit combinations for the big day based on the weather websites, pack and repack for the ride, and psyche myself up for the pre-dawn wakeup.

This 400K pre-ride preparation week brought a gradual deterioration of the weekend forecast, and a crescendo of fantastic weekday weather–  warm, sun-filled days of low humidity and light winds.  Both Thursday and Friday, I found myself thinking, “This would be a nice day for a brevet.”  Even though weekend weather predictions continued to show an increase in the likelihood of rain, I kept my fingers crossed and remained optimistic.  That is, until I opened my email and saw this note: “Good luck everybody, hope you all finish before the storms!”  At that moment, I knew we were doomed.

Saturday, I woke up at the uncivilized hour of 2:45 a.m., shrugged on my clothes, and headed over to the ride start with tandem partner Ed Felker.  It was a friendly crowd, and the energy of the group belied the early hour.  Chris Mento, ride organizer, sent us off into the darkness after pre-ride announcements.

Chris Mento, ride organizer, in daylight.

My body went into full-on revolt about the morning activity.  I spent the next 30 miles telling myself to not throw up, just hold on, and think about something to distract me until my “normal” wakeup time.  Then it wouldn’t be so bad to be pedaling a bicycle!  It would be civilized and wonderful.  “Dream about sleeping!” I told myself.  “No, don’t dream about sleeping.  Bad idea!”  I contented myself to dream about 7 a.m. and turned the pedals.

Ed and I caught up to Linda McAdams, Dan Oldale, and Lane Giardina at the information control at mile 38.9.  Control question: On a scale of one to ten, how bad do you feel about 4 a.m. starts?  Answer: 10.  Just kidding, that was not the control question.  We rode along together until the control at mile 73.7 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  This was the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop, one of the best brevet controls ever.

Randonneurs at the Sweet Shop

As we arrived in town, a group of riders going the opposite direction asked us, “Are you coming back or going?”  “Yes,”  I wanted to respond.  Even though we still had 176 miles to go, we now had 73.7 miles less to pedal.  We found out later that there was another group doing a charity ride, and our routes overlapped in a couple of places.

I had been craving a latte for the past 20 miles and the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop did not disappoint.  Ed and I took a little break, chatted with Chris Mento, admired the 400K binder he had prepared especially for the brevet, and grabbed some sandwiches for later in the afternoon (ham and Swiss on some kind of rosemary bread.  One awesome sandwich!).  As we were leaving we noticed George Moore talking with a local painter.  I wasn’t sure if George was taking time out for art class or if he was giving the guy some pointers.  Randonneurs like to give advice so it was hard to tell.  Maybe he will let me know later.

George Moore learns about painting.

Ed and I rode the next 40 miles solo and I started feeling good.  Not because we were riding solo (we enjoy company!), but because it was finally a civilized time to be out on a bike ride.  Then we rode past a water treatment plant and I thought I was going to die.  Wow!  What a stench!  It was one of those smells where you take another little sniff just to confirm that the smell is truly as bad as you thought it was.  YES!  I started gagging.  TERRIBLE!

Fortunately for me (and Ed, as his clean jersey was in jeopardy), the smell soon passed and we headed into some lovely and challenging sawteeth.  I loved the terrain on this section.  The roads were quiet, the landscape lush, and Ed and I were climbing well.

Unfortunately, the roads were a little bumpy and the constant up and down started doing a number on my stomach.  I started concentrating intensely on not throwing up.  I said, “Ed, this section is making me motion sick.”  Always good to give warnings about these things, I decided.  Fortunately, I kept it together, avoiding that unpleasant randonneur side effect of occasional vomiting for the third time that day, and we eventually made our way to milder and smoother pavement.  Phew!

About ten miles outside of Hancock, Md., the sun came out.  Exciting!  I felt so optimistic about seeing the sun that I put my sunglasses on at the C&O Bike Shop Control at mile 110.  Bad move.  The sun disappeared as we left town and we did not see it for the rest of the day.

Felkerino controlling in at C&O Bikes, Hancock, Md.

Around this time, we ran into Greg Conderacci and Andrea Matney.  They rode on a little ahead of us, and as we pedaled behind them we could see them cresting rises and then disappearing as they descended again.  After a few miles, though, they had vanished.  “That was weird,” I told Ed.  “Where did they go?”  Ed and I concluded they must have dropped the randonneur hammer and motored off.  We found out later that they were taking a little sidetrip into Bonusmilelandia.

The riding through miles 115 to 128 was awesome.  I really felt like we were “out there.”  The Little Cove Creek Valley was full of beautiful old barns and scenic vistas of the mountains and the valley.  The awesome factor went down a little bit when the skies started spitting, but it was still a pleasant day and the temperatures were good for riding.

Little Cove Creek Valley. Final shot of the day.

Ed and I disagree about when the rain actually started on this ride.  I believe the rain started at around mile 128, where we stopped at the little camp store to fuel up and begin our climb up Cove Gap.  At this point, I put my camera away for the rest of the day to protect it from the elements (although you can find my pictures from earlier in the ride here).  Ed believes the rain did not actually begin until the last 40 miles of the ride.  Everything that came before was simply drizzle or light rain.  What?!  I guess when some people finish a ride in a complete drench-fest, everything that came before is just drizzle.  Anyway, I’m sticking with my version.  Rain for more than one hundred miles!

Linda and Dan caught up to us at the camp store and we also ran into Jeff Magnuson.  Jeff was contemplating his 400K future, and we found out later that he returned to Frederick after that point, getting in a “short” ride of of 190 miles instead of finishing the brevet.  Linda, Dan, Ed, and I rode on, and leapfrogged each other for a bit through the drizzle and rain, until we all arrived together at Kane’s subs in Newville, Pa.

We controlled in and talked about when we might finish the ride.  Ed and I thought that if we sustained our pace we would be in by 11 p.m.  I remember Dan saying,  “11 p.m., that late!”  If he had only known what lay in his future!  In retrospect, we should have also clarified our statement to say “if we sustain our pace and stay on the route” we will be in by 11 p.m.

The group set out again.  Ed ventured into the drizzle, and I rode into the rain (ha ha!).  We climbed our way together through Pine Grove Furnace State Park, talking and pedaling.  I love this climb.  It is beautiful, only has one real steep pitch to it, and signifies to me that we are on the way home.  It also signifies “mighty downhill ahead!”  The descent on Shippensburg Road is so much fun!  It wasn’t as much of a party in the drizzle/rain, but it was still a good downhill, nonetheless.

I felt like we made quick work of this section and before you knew it, we were bumping our way through Gettysburg, Pa., at mile 213.  Apparently, they were making some “improvements” to the main road that made for a challenging entrance into town.  We all controlled in, and Ed and I lingered a couple of minutes after the group took off to do I don’t know what.  Futz with our stuff, I guess.  We then left and caught up to Dan, Linda, and Tim Zak, a Pennsylvania randonneur recently returned from living in Australia.

The night was peaceful and really dark.  Frogs were out talking to each other and there were even some in the middle of the road.  While I prefer to ride on dry starry nights with the moon lighting the way home, I felt good about our progress, and decided not to feel glum about how dark it was.  Plus, it was going to be just awesome to be in by 11 p.m.  I was really looking forward to that.

The rain/drizzle began to pour down a little harder, and I was having problems seeing my cue sheet.  Because Ed had the GPS and we were so familiar with the roads, we put our heads down and went on autopilot.  Thirty miles from the finish?  No problem!

As Ed said after the ride, a GPS only helps you if you actually look at it.  We ended up missing our turn at mile 230 and took the group on a dark three-mile detour down Old Frederick Road.  I just want to let Dan, Linda, and Tim know that this road is much prettier in the daylight.  Realizing we had made a mistake, we stopped and got our bearings.  “It’s ok,” I announced to the group.  “We have until 7 a.m. to finish the ride so we will be ok.”  Ed told me I wasn’t being helpful.

We turned around and headed back to finish off our bonus miles and make the turn at mile 230.  Unfortunately for the group, I got the I’m-tired-blabs and started talking a lot!  I don’t really remember all that I said.  I do remember I was the only one talking.  I told Ed I was sorry for talking so much, and then I would keep talking.  I’m a talkative person anyway, but throw in a little sleep deprivation and some big miles on the bike, and apparently I am quite a chatterbox.

Just before Thurmont, Md., the rain started pouring down.  It was the type of rain where you see people run for shelter.  Not us, though.  We made a final stop at a Thurmont gas station and slogged our way back out into the rain.  I was so glad the roads were quiet because it would have been difficult to navigate through both rain and traffic.  We pushed through the final miles to Frederick, Md., and finished in a complete downpour at 11:39 p.m.  We were 39 minutes off my dream arrival time.  That was ok, though.  It taught me that dreams don’t always come true and that my Gore Tex Paclite jacket is truly an awesome piece of rainwear.

Both the DC Randonneurs 300K and the 400K have been extra special this year.  The 300K was full of gusty winds, and the 400K replete with drizzle, rain, and more rain.  Oddly enough, the additional challenges posed by the elements have made the ride completions all the sweeter.

I am so happy with how Ed and I have done as a team during these challenging rides.  We’ve stayed positive with each other and committed to having a good ride.  We have also been fortunate to have good company that has helped the miles go by.  Thanks to Dan and Linda for riding so many miles with us on the 400K and for being such great company.  You helped make our ride even better!

And thanks most of all to the person (you know who you are) who sent that Friday e-mail: “Good luck everybody, hope you all finish before the storms!”  Of course we didn’t, and that made our finish all the more awesome.