DCR Many Rivers 600K Brevet: No two rides are the same

MG and I took a break from the longer brevets last year, but we didn’t think that would make much of a difference when we started the D.C. Randonneurs’ Many Rivers 600K brevet on Saturday in central Virginia.

Early morning over the soft hills toward the Blue Ridge.

Early morning over the soft hills toward the Blue Ridge.

Our approach would be the same as in the past: we’d try to complete the first 241-mile day by 11 p.m. and get back on the road by 3 a.m. for the 136-mile second day. We mostly expected the same results, meaning an early afternoon finish on Sunday.

Well! The good news is that we got around the double-loop course from Warrenton, Va. just fine, with a finish of 36:01. In randonneuring, the only goal that matters is completion within the time limit. For a 600K you get 40 hours, so, all good there.

But, our result is more than two hours slower than in 2012, when we rode the same course in 33:55, in much hotter weather. You’d think we’d maintain the same pace in the perfect springtime weather conditions we experienced on Saturday and Sunday, with moderate temperatures, light winds and dry air.

The difference came down to additional time off the bike, and a little bit slower pace.

In 2012 we rode 24:26 and had a rolling average of 15.5 mph. This year we rode 25:12 and had a rolling average of 15.1 mph.

That’s 46 minutes additional in the saddle and 80 minutes more stopped time — not much over 1 1/2 days. Still, in a pursuit based on time limits, randonneurs tend to think a lot about their time result, and we’re no different.

See all of our data and course tracks at Garmin Connect: Day 1 and Day 2.

I have a full photo set on Flickr as does MG. See mine and hers.

We’re still sorting it out, but we’ve got a couple of theories. In 2012 the ride was on June 9-10, which gave us more time in the spring to get in shape.

As I said, it was much warmer then — I recall Saturday temperatures were in the 90’s that year, compared to the 70’s this year. That made the Sunday predawn hours warmer. This year had a cold start both days in the 40s.

The other factor was second-day fatigue. All of our additional time and slower pace came on Sunday’s 136-mile loop to Fredericksburg and back. We returned to the start/finish hotel for the overnight stop at the same time as in 2012, about 11 p.m., but we spent more time in the hotel, and took more stops around the course. I think we re-started at least 30 minutes later, close to 4 a.m.

There was a mild headwind on the second half of the Sunday loop which also added to our time, though I can’t say how much.

So — enough with the data! The upside in all this was that we enjoyed some excellent companionship along with way, especially on Saturday. We teamed up with Brian Rowe, David Givens (both new to randonneuring) and Rick Rodeghier for the Saturday afternoon and evening run back to Warrenton.

Rick, David, Brian. Good folks.

Rick, David, Brian. Good folks.

All three were in good spirits and we enjoyed the fresh perspective of Brian and David. They and Rick were all on randonneuring bikes with 650b wheels and fenders, and held a good steady pace. We had a satisfying sit down dinner in Louisa, Va. at the Roma Italian restaurant (great service!).

What's missing from this bike? A front derailleur.

What’s missing from this bike? A front derailleur.

The night run to Warrenton was spectacular, despite the steady grinding ascent in the final miles, with a blazing sunset and lots of good conversation. Our new generator hub and lighting system (Schmidt front disk hub, Schmidt Edelux 2 and Secula Plus tail light) lit the way.

Mike Martin and John Mazur were also in the vicinity, and we ate dinner and rode some of the way with the ever-debonair Roger Hillas, whose front derailleur had broken. He calmly rode with the chain on his small ring and laughed it off as no big deal.

Waiting on a train.

Waiting on a train.

We joined up with them earlier at the Howardsville Store at mile 122, after tagging along with the fast folks for the first 70 miles until the bigger rolling hills near the Blue Ridge put us off the back. The Big Cat tandem can only do so much when the profile trends upwards.

Away in the distance, the front group rides off.

Away in the distance, the front group rides off.

The event organizer Bill Beck was there at Howardsville, taking photos, and we had fun joking around. Barry Benson, MG’s co-worker, arrived with her cycling gloves, which had fallen out of our rear bag. Barry gets a gold star.

Bill executed a perfect power slide to get the shot.

Bill executed a perfect power slide to get the shot.

It was always nice to see Bill. He makes us feel like rando-celebrities with his flattering shots and all-around good cheer.

Barry found MG's gloves on the course. Thanks Barry!

Barry found MG’s gloves on the course. Thanks Barry!

The other highlight of the morning was the espresso and gourmet sandwiches at the Green House Coffee in little Crozet, Va. where a group of us gathered (the speedy crowd chose other, more expedient establishments).

A welcome stop in Crozet.

A welcome stop in Crozet.

Randonneur yard sale in Crozet.

Randonneur yard sale in Crozet.

Mitch Potter told us a little about his tricked-out flat-bar Pivot 29er bike that he was riding in anticipation of installing big tires and riding the Tour Divide offroad race in the Rockies. It was quite the rig, with the snazzy 1×11 SRAM system, with a single chainring crank and a huge 42-tooth large rear cog.

Mitch on his Pivot.

Mitch on his Pivot.

A better shot of Mitch's bike. By MG.

A better shot of Mitch’s bike. By MG.

Sunday was another story, still a good one, but I was pretty shelled from Saturday and had the hardest time getting up. I finally arose at 2:45 a.m. after three hours sleep. Consequently our planned 3 a.m. departure ended up at 3:55 am, and we arrived in Fredericksburg, mile 288, after 8 a.m. — about four hours to cover 46 miles. I was dragging, and so was MG. We were consuming everything we had to get some energy going.

These espresso beans may have saved our ride.

These espresso beans may have saved our ride.

Mike Martin was again in our orbit. We got caught up at the first control of the day around dawn and talked about how tired our legs felt. After another stop at the second control on the outskirts of Fredericksburg (after something of a struggle to maintain momentum), we rolled into downtown in bright sun and immediately saw the Marine Corps Historic Half marathon taking place.

Historic Half Marathon underway in Fredericksburg, Va.

Historic Half Marathon underway in Fredericksburg, Va.

After cheering the runners for a few minutes I spied Hyperion Espresso, and so yet another half-hour passed off the bike as we revived ourselves with very fine espresso and muffins. This stop got us whole (despite some misgivings about stopping yet again) and back on the road in much better spirits.

The moment that turned our Sunday ride around.

The moment that turned our Sunday ride around.

At that moment Brian, David and John Mazur rolled through town. We caught up to them for the segment through the Fredericksburg Battlefield. Rick had been spied fixing a cable in the hotel parking lot when they left, so he was somewhere behind on the course. Hey Rick, we missed you!

John in the Frederickburg Battleground. Not on tandem this time.

John in the Frederickburg Battleground. Not on tandem this time.

MG and I decided we better get moving if we were ever going to finish without falling asleep on the bike. We pulled away after Spotsylvania, mile 317, to ride solo the rest of the day, tackling the pesky headwind. I had periods of saddle soreness and my left knee would hurt if we pushed too hard, and I started counting down the miles.

Randonneuring high life, in Spotsylvania.

Randonneuring high life, in Spotsylvania.

How far to the finish?

How far to the finish?

Almost there. Just 30 miles to go!

Almost there. Just 30 miles to go!

My eyes. My eyes.

My eyes. My eyes.

The route was intensely lovely, however, and we savored the verdant countryside views and forest lands in the final hilly miles near Warrenton. We again intersected with Mike, who was doggedly riding solo. I thought about how this event has us climbing into the town, a high point in the area, not once but twice. I guess it builds character.

Mike Martin leads us toward Warrenton.

Mike Martin leads us toward Warrenton.

After a somewhat serious push to get in to Warrenton by 4 p.m., we had to settle for a minute after the hour. Oh well! Our pal Lane G. was running the finish control at the Hampton Inn and got us checked in and had pizza waiting, with more arriving quickly — the two most important jobs when tired, hungry riders show up. Thanks Lane!

Lane checks us in. MG's got a pound of pollen in that eye.

Lane checks us in. MG’s got a pound of pollen in that eye.

MG is writing a post on our full randonneur series this year, so stay tuned for that at her fine blog, Chasing Mailboxes.

We made it. Still awake (barely) and still smiling. Photo by Lane G.

We made it. Still awake (barely) and still smiling. Photo by Lane G.

I also want to extend our thanks to DCR brevet administrator Nick Bull for all his work in getting the series organized, to Bill Beck for a well-run 600K, and Mike Binnix for keeping the food going in the overnight control room.

Max Huffman’s Alaska Randonneurs 2012 Solstice 600K

D.C. Randonneurs own Max Huffman last month ventured again to Alaska with brother Sam, where they attempted the Alaska Randonneurs Solstice 600K. Max was successful, though Sam had to stop mid-way because of a sore knee.

Five miles west of Tok, 11:30 pm. Yes, 11:30 p.m.!

Max has written a terrific story of the event. Alaska is pretty far away to go for a brevet, but Max takes us there in great style.

A Pocket Adventure: The 2012 Alaska Randonneurs Solstice 600
by Max Huffman
June 2012

My brother Sam and I returned this summer to join the Alaska Randonneurs for another ride. I needed to erase the memory of my failed attempt at the 2011 Big Wild Ride Grand Randonnee. Sam also abandoned that ride, in his case to get me to a hospital. Blood is thicker than Perpetuum.

Me, bikes, Roger and Joy’s foot in background, in Delta Junction.

I’m a casual randonneur, but I have been at it long enough to have ridden with several different clubs. There is no randonneur I don’t like, and there is no randonneur I like better than those I’ve come to know in Alaska. Kevin, Tom, and Joy put on the friendliest imaginable ride. Roger and Ted were tremendous riding companions. I reported on the Alaska Randonneurs 600K in 2009. After last weekend’s ride, this report updates – and corrects – that one. (Ed. note: see Max’s 2009 story here.)

We met for breakfast and introductions at 5:30 Saturday at the Gakona Lodge. This shows the huge work Kevin has put in upgrading these rides – in 2009, Kevin’s first 600K as RBA, we gathered in a dirt pull-out at the junction between Highways 1 and 4. Don’t get me wrong – that had tremendous charm. I’ve since enjoyed reciting the tale of meeting some random group at a highway pull-out and spending the next 36 hours riding with them. But a breakfast buffet at the lodge, away from the bugs, is a very civilized way to start an adventure.

One thing about the Solstice 600: this route is elegant. If you picked up a map and looked for a natural route, your eyes would gravitate toward this triangle of roads in central Alaska that makes a perfect 600K. But it is a psychological challenge. I like to break my rides up into segments – rather than planning to ride 200 kilometers, I plan to ride 15 miles to the next major highway crossing. 138 miles – the distance between the first and second turns – is a large number to swallow. Kevin, Tom, and Joy made that much easier.

The open road in Alaska.

First, there are intermediate controls – Gakona Lodge, Dot Lake, and Chistochina – that are not technically necessary for routing purposes. One doesn’t cut corners in central Alaska. But the controls gave us manageable intermediate goals. Second, Kevin correctly emphasizes that brevets are self-supported, but he still keeps a close watch. Just when Sam and I worried that in the heat our three bottles would be insufficient to make the 61 miles from Delta Junction to Dot Lake, Kevin appeared road-side with a jug. Apparently that issue has arisen before.

The route is almost entirely unique. It shares about 1/3 of its mileage with the Big Wild Ride 1200K, so if you’ve done that, or are doing that next year, you will know the Richardson Highway. But on the BWR you encounter that road in the semi-dark of night, while on the Solstice 600 you see it in the full glory of day. And you won’t find yourself on the remaining 235 miles – all of it beautiful scenery and great riding – unless you set up your own tour.

By the afternoon we definitely noticed the heat. In 2009 we were thrilled to get any sun at all. I heard last year was quite different. And indeed, on Saturday temperatures reached the low 80s. That’s not hot by D.C. standards, but I’m a guy who joined Pete Dusel’s Western New York 400K for fear of the weather on the D.C. Randonneurs’ ride; Sam comes from predictably cool Oregon; and most Alaska Randonneurs seem to base out of Anchorage, which rarely sees the high 70s.

Sam with bikes outside the Black Rapids Lodge.

Even Roger, from Tucson, acknowledged some discomfort. We were slow-roasted from 8 am to 8 pm, minus a brief hail-storm. Long daylight means a longer period of intense sun; low spruce forests and extreme road cuts (which protect drivers from moose, and vice versa) means no shade.

Sam’s troublesome right knee went far south half-way through and he reluctantly abandoned. Roger was well ahead and Ted was sticking to his well-planned itinerary, leaving me alone about 20 miles short of Dot Lake. I hurried to the control, had a nice chat with Tom, Joy, and a group parked next to them who were having much more, er, fun than was I. I left Dot Lake at 9:11 with 47 miles to Tok plus one more to Young’s Motel, hoping to beat the darkness (the sun finally set at 11:49). 200 miles and 15 hours – that’s about when my body and brain usually say “uncle.”

But fortunately they make things for that problem, and you can buy them at any gas station counter. (Does anybody else wonder why TdF pros so frequently get caught doping? Don’t they know WADA hasn’t yet banned 5 Hour Energy?) I embarked on a caffeine and folic acid-fueled rampage east into the twilight.

It was on this stretch that I first noticed the hills. I reported in 2009 something about “trivial” and “climbing.” The terrain on the Solstice 600 is not hard. But there is nothing trivial about the foothills on the north side of the Alaska Range, coming after the Black Rapids Lodge (miles 100-120), with several long climbs in the 5-6% range. The rollers between Dot Lake and Tok (miles 203-250) might be called trivial if they didn’t appear 15 hours or more into the day and if I wasn’t remembering my own prior description of this stretch as being “mostly downhill”.

The hills we encountered on Sunday, south of Mentasta on the Tok Cut-off (miles 300-345), were much more substantial than I had recalled. And that one short steep climb coming right at the very end – but by that point I was numb. Hard, no. But there’s nothing trivial about riding this far in a state with these kinds of mountains. (See video of this section here.)

Mountains over Summit Lake.

Kevin, Tom and Joy had arranged pizza at Young’s Motel in Tok. Roger had arrived and Sam was there; we ate, chatted, and generally unwound. Sam had found us a room just down the road. My one flat came on that short commute! I hit the sack at 12:45 and snapped awake three hours later, just after the 3:30 sunrise.

I hope I never forget the three hours from 5 to 8 Sunday morning on the Tok Cut-off, riding southwest toward the Wrangell Mountains. The temperature had cooled to the low 50s. The sun rose high behind me. The highway stretched ahead bordered by fireweed and white spruce. Mountains rose in front of me. And nobody disturbed me. I saw one massive raptor of an unknown variety low in the trees to my right.

The terrain there is rolling hills and the road surface is the best of the ride. My mind landed on a Dwight Yoakam song: “I’m a thousand miles from nowhere. Time doesn’t matter to me. I’m a thousand miles from nowhere, and there’s no place I’d rather be.” Close, but Yoakam’s lyrics evoke something stark – a desert, high plains, even the black spruce forest I would encounter 75 miles further south. I was a thousand miles from nowhere, but unlike Dwight I was surrounded by incomparable majesty. (See video of this section here).

Let me make one last correction to the 2009 report. I wrote that “no one place has a monopoly on beauty.” I take it back, and with apologies; Alaska may indeed have that market cornered. Sam tells me the Icefields Parkway on the Rocky Mountain 1200 is on par, but until I ride it I won’t believe it. And I’ve seen a lot else, much of it nice, some of it incredible, but nothing to compete with the scenery on this ride when the sky is clear.

Alaska wasn’t done with us yet. The wind! It would be unfair not to mention the tailwind through Fort Greeley early Saturday afternoon (miles 120-140 of the ride), but we paid for it. We first got socked about 20 miles after Delta Junction, a 30-minute-or-so blast that brought with it a brief hailstorm. Things quieted down until that night on the flats leading into Tok when we felt the tail end of a distant storm that had provided a great light-show.

And on Sunday I learned a randonneuring lesson to remember: ride when the riding is good. I started early enough to enjoy six or so hours of beautiful cool sunshine before spending the last three and a half hours feeling like I was playing offensive line. Roger and Ted left Tok later than I and encountered the wind at the same time – i.e., with more miles ahead of them. Had any of us started earlier – perhaps not sleeping at all – the second day might have gone much better.

I learned a few other things. I spent some time talking to Kevin, who is a former mountaineering guide and knows Alaskan geography better than most. He has become an expert in this part of Alaska, and his rides introduce us to what he knows. Gakona Lodge is wonderful, historic and quaint, set on the shores of the Copper River. Paxson Lodge, at the Denali Highway junction, is the real Alaska.

Paxson Lodge, Mile 59 of the route.

Black Rapids Lodge is a marvelous timber-frame building sheathed in slate shingles, situated in an idyllic location looking across the Delta River to the Alaska Range.

The remarkable Black Rapids Lodge.

The service at the lunch counter in Delta Junction is tremendous. Mentasta Lodge has friendly service and makes the best breakfast I’ve had north of Gakona.

Trusty rental steed at the Mentasta Lodge. Best breakfast north of Gakona.

Posty’s Store, the Chistochina control, is a marvelous local grocery with good coffee and a selection of microwave delicacies — I went with pizza – and outdoor seating.

This ride is a pocket adventure. Kevin puts this on for $60. Not wanting pay the airline trolls for safe bike passage, I rented a nicely equipped Trek from Chain Reaction Cycles for $50 per day (brought my own saddle and pedals, of course); the shop even swapped the stem to help me hit my desired measurements.

It takes 48 hours from leaving Anchorage to returning; add another 24 to get to and from your door if you (like Roger, Sam, and I did) fly in from out of state. But I challenge you to name a ride, even a grand randonnee, that is this kind of big. Evidence? This is my first ride carrying bear spray in my jersey pocket. Maybe there’s no t-shirt (though do yourself a favor and check out the whimsically perfect “Moose of Flanders” Alaska Randonneurs jersey), but for a busy randonneur’s summer epic it would be hard to beat.

Hot and Hilly: Our 2012 DC Randonneurs 600K

As MG and I await the start of the Colorado High Country 1200K here in Boulder, I’m happy to finally post our story from the D.C. Randonneurs Warrenton 600K. It was a good idea to revisit the ride last month, and what we did to have a successful finish.

Our D.C. Randonneurs 2012 Warrenton, Va. 600K
by Ed Felker

Every year the Super Randonneur series takes on a unique character, and this year it was influenced by the fact that we were very busy in the weeks leading up to it.

MG and I had focused a lot on the 400K, which took place two weeks prior, because we agreed to organize it. We also rode the 200K and 300K brevets without a specific plan or time goal. The 400K we rode as a checkout ride, thinking as much about cues and road conditions as the clock, and came in a good two hours later than in past attempts.

That led us to the D.C. Randonndeurs 600K on June 9-10 with the feeling that we needed to really focus on having a solid ride without a lot of wasted time. We have entered the Colorado High Country 1200K in July and this was to be our last shakedown ride before the big show!

MG and I could not replicate the long western mountain climbs we’ll encounter in the Rockies, but we still approached the 600K with the idea of doing what we need to do in July. In short,  stay hydrated, stay fed, and stay in the saddle.

The big idea was to put in our first 100 miles without much stopping, to give us a time cushion for the heat of the day. We also had an overall time goal to finish in around 33 hours. How did we fare? Stay with us, fellow traveler — a 600K is always an adventure and this one did not disappoint!

Day One

Barry, ready to go, with Dave, esteemed volunteer, at the start.

See all of photos from the ride here and MG’shere.

After the usual fitful four hours of trying-to-sleep in the Hampton in Warrenton, Va., we commenced our regular quiet routine for another dreadful 4 a.m. start. As a married couple we know when not to bug the other person, and the wee hours before a brevet is one of those times.

We checked the weather forecast — low 90s, light winds, low humidity — got dressed and got out the door without anybody going back to bed. Yay.

Lynn K. and Tom Reeder were registering riders in the lobby and Dave Sweeney conducted inspection. A field of 34 gathered under the outdoor awning, lights twinkling and vests reflecting. After signing in we rode to the nearby Sheetz for their faux-espresso drinks and to get a cheese sub and chips to stow on the bike.

MG seemed to be in the bathroom for the longest time at Sheetz and I worried that she was not feeling well. She emerged with a different problem — a gel pack had burst in the outer pocket of her Camelbak and dripped down the lower back of her jersey. For someone whose choice of jersey is a form of Mood Ring-like statement about the day, this sartorial malady was a little upsetting to her.

Fortunately we had time for MG to go back to the room (this year’s ride was a double loop, so our bags were there) and put on a spare jersey. Whew. Sometimes bringing the kitchen sink pays off.

Back at the start in front of the hotel, we gathered ourselves and took a deep breath. The appointed hour arrived and Lynn sent us off into the cool night.

I hoped we would complete the first century by 11 a.m., which meant pushing on the flats and downhills and trying to carry as much speed as possible on the uphills.

Knowing that every road out of Warrenton descends, we got ahead of the pack leaving town for the swooping run down Springs Road, then collected the fast riders on our wheel for the run to the first control at Wolftown, on the edge of the Blue Ridge.

The terrain was in our favor and we managed to stay in contact under slowly brightening skies with the lead group for about 45 miles through Madison. Spike-y rollers sent us off the back around then, just after the sun rose behind us.

Getting to ride with Henrik, Clint, Kelly and the others in the front group was a rare treat for us, and we gave it some extra effort on the uphills to get on the back of the group on the descents.

The front group, still in sight at daybreak.

The front guys were wrapping up business at the Wolftown Mercantile store as we rolled up. They took off as we controlled through the store and took some photos. I also updated our Twitter feed about our progress. RBA Bill Beck had encouraged riders to use Twitter to keep other riders and organizers in the know about their whereabouts.

Twitter forces one to keep it short and can be tied into Facebook, which makes it perfect for ride updates. Great idea Bill! I noted that we were there and attached a photo as evidence.

Kelly at the first control.

Other riders streamed up while we prepared to leave — Bill with a group of four or five, and a few solo riders. It was clear others were also intent on packing in the miles before the heat of the day.

One scenic vista and fast downhill after another greeted us as we rode into the teeth of the Blue Ridge foothills outside of Charlottesville. We exchanged waves with riders streaming toward us on a local MS ride. They looked so light on their racing bikes, while we must have looked like we were on a tour.

MS event riders near Charlottesville. Where are your bags?

The information control gave MG and me a chance to pull off our warmers and assess the heat of the day — and we knew it would be a hot one. Already temperatures were in the 80s. The sky was a lovely soft blue with puffy white clouds, lovely to look upon but offering little shade. Summer is in full force when one feels hot and it’s still only 10 am.

At the Batesville control, mile 96, we found the front guys prepping for departure — a reassuring sign that we had maintained a solid pace through a series of tough hills. It was just before 11, so our plan had worked so far! Soon the Bill Beck group rolled in.

After getting drinks and treats inside the upscale Plank Road Exchange cafe/market, MG and I sat outside and ate our Sheetz cheese subs and drank Cokes, trying to keep alert. We also packed ice into our Camelbaks. Some hot hills were ahead.

I thought about our last visit here in 2010, when we ate with Al Pless. He’s had some health issues that have kept him off the bike the last year or so. I thought about how lucky we are to be healthy and active and hoped Al would be out with us again someday.

The next section was not long, just 28 miles, but it was rather hilly. Still, it offered beautiful quiet back roads, many of them with overhead tree limbs. The shade disappeared as we made the long climb up to the Howardsville Store control, though. We drank heavily from our Camelbaks as the sun beat down on us, crawling up the last couple of miles to the store. The tandem is a good friend, but at that moment I felt like we were riding a turtle.

I call the control store the Star Wars Cantina because the last time we were here, in 2010, the temperatures were in the upper 90s and everyone looked like they were coming in from a haunting desert trek.

Bill, our friend, Rick and Rick can laugh at Howardsville, despite the heat.

One of the riders this year talked about how our departed pal Stan Miller climbed into the outdoor ice freezer to cool off in 2010. That was Stan.

We paused before leaving to try to help Rick Rodigher, whose rear fender bracket had snapped. None of our tools would get under the fender to turn a little nut, and he had to resort to the randonneur fix-it, the zip tie. (I bet you thought duct tape!) It wasn’t perfect, but it got the fender off the tire.

Off we went toward Louisa in the heat of the afternoon. We had spent just an hour off the bike through the first century, but had taken another half-hour off at Howardsville and it looked like slow going until the cooler evening. We stopped on the climb away from Howardsville to fix our own rear fender, which had its own loose bolt, but we had the right tool and off we went again.

After the Information Control at mile 131, it was all hot roads and little hills until we saw a car on the side of the road with a hand-made DCR sign. As we rolled past I saw it was Dave Sweeney!

I thought he was out there to take photos, but he had gone ahead and set up a roadside oasis stocked with soda, ice and snacks. Bonus — there was shade! Oh boy, we forgot about the clock, executed a U-turn and came right back.

Shade break at the Dave Sweeney Oasis. You rock, Dave!

The Bill Beck group joined us at the Dave Sweeney Oasis in a few moments and we all savored a cold drink and the nearby shade. This stop had a great psychological effect, in that it broke up the 50-mile run to the next control stop, in Louisa, on top of letting us cool down in the hot afternoon.

After leaving the stop by ourselves, I noticed Bill Beck in my rearview mirror. He rode up and asked us about our dinner plans. We said we planned to sit down at the Roma Garden restaurant in Louisa for a meal. Bill thought that was a great idea and rode with us the rest of the way into town, which was hot and bustling with Saturday night activity.

On  the way there we spied a wedding party gathering at a church and yelled out “Congratulations!” to them. They waved back heartily. After seeing the drunk bride dragged into the Hilton during the 400K, it was nice to see one upright and alert!

In Louisa we passed a bank sign that said it was 91 degrees. After rolling through town we reached the restaurant. Just in time, I thought, as I was famished and thirsty. After getting settled into our booth and ordering, I could feel my eyes getting very heavy. I put on my sunglasses and did my best to affect an “I’m not sleeping in your restaurant” look and drifted off for a couple of minutes, propped up in the corner.

It’s bad form to sleep in a restaurant but it felt so good to let my eyes close. I managed not to slump over and I felt better after coming to. The service was excellent, which meant our waiter was very kind to me or I got away with it — probably the former.

David Ripton walked in and ate quickly so that he could check out with us. As we departed there were a number of bikes at the nearby McDonalds, but we saw no one else as we started on the 65-mile leg back to Warrenton.

Feeling fueled up, MG and I tried to ride as efficiently as we could, ramping up the pace on the flats and pedaling the downhills. The loose goal was to get back by 11 p.m., though we were on pace for a 10:30 p.m. arrival if we stayed in the saddle.

The roads were familiar and we were making good time, but David needed some more liquids and a snack, so we stopped at the Bakers Store at mile 202 in fading light. MG and I put on our night gear, topped off our Camelbaks and chugged down some Coke.

After what seemed like an interminable time in the parking lot — really just 10 minutes or so —  MG and I saddled up and pulled out.

On the run back to Warrenton with Bill and Dave.

David and Bill tagged on and we rolled through the final 40 miles with quiet determination.  The sunset was soft and lovely and the hills manageable. These were known roads and the miles passed relatively quickly, a welcome stretch after the hot rollers earlier in the day.

Bill was not feeling perfect but still cracked us up with his usual good humor. A calf bolted away from a fence when MG called out to it, which Bill interpreted for us: “You’re dressed like a clown. I’m afraid of clowns!” he said. I’m still chuckling about that one.

Our only sketchy moment came at the right turn on busy Rt. 17/29, mile 237 — just outside Warrenton. These almost-there stretches are always a challenge for me and I have to keep up my focus to avoid making mistakes.

The shoulder on Rt. 29 had been repaved and had a small dropoff to the right. A heavy stream of cars from our left, lights blazing, sent us scurrying onto the shoulder, and I had to correct sharply to avoid dropping into the ditch.

This was jarring to MG to say the least! I muttered a few rando-oaths and tried to crank my head like Linda Blair to my left to look for our opportunity to cross. A gap in the traffic came and we shot across both lanes into the left turn lane for Lovers Lane, and from there got into the hotel just at 11 p.m.

Jose Blanco and Rick Rodigher were in the lobby, eating the last of the pizza Clint Provenza thoughtfully bought and left after heading back out into the night. I had the final slice but there were no other provisions, so I bought a couple of sodas from the vending machine. No matter. The clock was ticking to get that precious sleep!

We ran up to our room to shower and re-set for the second day. No bed feels as good as one during a multi-day randonee, and we were out quickly, alarms set for 2:15 a.m.

Day Two

Another silent getup. We wordlessly dressed and left the room by 2:45 a.m. MG threw our bags into the car and I brought the bike around for some breakfast at Sheetz. The good thing about these middle-of-the-night Sheetz runs is that there is no line at the store. The staff actually seems OK with us giving them something to do. I think.

After getting espressos and supplies, we went outside, saw Greg and Andrea ride past from their hotel back to the Hampton, and realized a group was heading out. MG and I jumped on the bike. We spied Greg, Andrea, Chip Adams and Bryan Nelson ahead of us, and by the time we left town all of us were together under starry skies.

The rolling hills were not so bad for us to stay with them and we took our turns at the front on the downhills and flats. About an hour up the road we noticed a rider stopped. Mike Martin was at wits end about his lovely rear Honjo hammered fender, which was rubbing the top of his tire. He had been fiddling with it the previous day but got in too late to take the time to work on it.

We all gathered and started offering tools and free advice. The end result? We removed the fender altogether so Mike could just get on with it. There was no good place to hide the fender, though, and I feared it would be gone when Mike got back when they left it in the yard of a homeowner.

The sun was just starting to lighten the sky at the first control of the day just past Bristerburg. The scenario was the same — the fast group grabbed some food and drinks and scraped their hooves to get going, while MG and I started taking photos and updating Twitter. True to form, the next group to leave the hotel rolled up just as the speedy kids took off.

Sexy Randonneur Lifestyle: Another pre-dawn store stop, Day 2.

A few miles later the sun was fully up and we tooled to the second 7-11 control, where we switched to day gear. The course took us into downtown Fredericksburg, where I glanced wistfully at the fancy coffee shop that had yet to open. We were now in the last 100 miles of the ride and had the idea of finishing around 34 hours, but MG told me not to think about the clock.

The streets were quiet and we enjoyed a nice little Sunday morning meander through the quaint part of town, before tackling a nasty grinder under bright sun up to the entrance to Fredericksburg Battlefield.

Ah, what a nice diversion! We proceeded on through the battlefield on wide, pebbled roads with towering trees giving us welcome shade. We exchanged waves with the morning walkers and a few folks out on their bikes.

A small dirt path connected our road to the next at mile 295 — our 32mm tires handled the few hundred yards just fine, though MG was not completely sure about his section. We scooted back onto the road and rolled along open roads to the Stonewall Jackson shrine information control.

Still in proximity with the fast folks, for the moment.

We found the Greg & Andrea group again at the Courthouse Cafe in Spotsylvania. I wandered around the parking lot with the tandem looking for a parking spot around the tiny building, and finally figured out where to wedge the beast amongst the single bikes leaning against the shrubs.

Omelettes! Iced tea! Air conditioning! Yes, this was a most welcome stop. The food was fast, if not gourmet, and the staff was efficient at splitting checks and signing cards.

We knew we needed full stomachs and water supplies for the final 45-mile ride in increasingly hot conditions, and the cafe hit the spot.

Again, we rolled out with the group, which now included Chip, Bryan and Rick Carpenter. Some brisk pedaling kept us with them over some busy roads — Plank Road was a pain in this regard — to the next information control at a church at mile 331. We stopped in the bright sun and filled out our cards. It was to be our last meetup for the ride.

The group finally put us behind them on some bigger rollers soon after. It was just as well. We were flying past them on the downhills, only to force them around us on the uphills.

We started watching the clock a little, and figured we could get in on the two bottles on the bike plus our Camelbak reserves, and pointed our noses toward Warrenton.

The heat came on but we kept at it by ourselves, stopping just once around mile 345 for a roadside rest. The new run into Warrenton on Rogues Road was challenging and hot, but very pretty, taking quiet roads that I had never used before.

We were still on pace to arrive before 2 p.m., which would set a new 600K overall low time for us, but the heat was strong and we were starting to think about water. Our supply looked good, though, and we pressed forward, spinning slowly up the rollers and pedaling the downhills to regain our speed.

After slogging our way up into Warrenton under bright sun, it seemed like the final two miles took forever. Intersection. Pedal. Intersection. Pedal. A right turn and finally the Hampton appeared just at 1:55 p.m. — we made it!!

Just to be sure to get that coveted sub-34 hour credit, we parked the tandem immediately and rushed into the lobby. Lynn K. noted our cards and the deed was done.

Epilogue

As you might guess, we were pleased with our overall ride! It felt good to achieve our goal to get around the course with a minimum of fuss, while also enjoying the terrain and the company of our fellow riders.

This event gave us a lot of confidence for the High Country 1200K, and for that we want to thank Lynn and her volunteers, and the D.C. Randonneurs in general. Riding 378 miles in two days is a lot more fun with such a great club and we’ll be back again.

Randonneuring: When it’s Worth the Effort

Morning riding on the DC Randonneurs 600K

I completed my first brevet and Super Randonneur series in 2005. Since then, I’ve completed rides of at least 600K distances each year with the exception of 2007, which I spent in graduate school. Seven years of brevet riding.

Up until this year I’ve excitedly anticipated the arrival of the Super Randonneur series. Time to hit life a little harder, test my physical conditioning, enjoy long days on the bike with others, and find a way to balance cycling with competing life priorities.

This year, the attraction of brevets faded. The car rides, 4 a.m. starts and 2:30 a.m. wake-ups, reflective clothing and Camelbaks, convenience store food, pushing through while managing various physical discomforts, and post-ride grogginess and fatigue started to get to me. The effort randonneuring requires began to overtake the overall enjoyment I experienced in previous years.

Sometimes it’s good to hang it up and other times it’s worth it to hang in and see what the next ride brings. I chose the latter and I’m glad I did.

On some rides, you get something back for each thing you give up.

A car ride takes you to a ride start in new territory beyond your regular radius.

That middle-of-the-night wake-up rewards with sparkling stars and moonlight. Dawn offers up breathtaking morning light that makes you want to take a million photos, even though there’s no way they can truly communicate the morning’s beauty.

The burdensome Camelbak becomes a good friend that lets you not worry about water as you traverse segments that are lovely, but have no services.

Riding diligently takes you to places you never thought you could reach in one day on a bicycle, and it’s almost like living two days in one.

A hot day in the saddle yields to a gorgeous sunset and a cool and dreamy night ride where you see fireflies glow and hear the steady chorus of little frogs.

There is also that rare brevet moment that compensates in its unexpected perfection. After waiting and waiting, this weekend’s 600K gave me that gift.

Felkerino and I had ridden 177 miles and just eaten a warm meal. We grouped up with Bill Beck and David R. for the final miles of the first day. The late afternoon sun warmed my skin. A gentle breeze blew over me and sifted through my hair.

The bike meandered smoothly in and out of tree-lined shaded sections of a lightly traveled country road. We only had 65 miles to go for the day and I knew that a peaceful starry evening awaited us. I found myself completely in the present, thoroughly engaged in the ride.

Sunset over the mountains in Virginia on the DC Randonneurs 600K

Those elusive idyllic moments keep me coming back to brevets. They don’t happen on every ride, but if I just hang in there, they will happen.

It’s those moments that fill my heart and make all the effort, time, and discomforts of randonneuring absolutely worth it.

Post-series update: Sleepy and Hungry

The ACP brevets are behind us by more than a week, but I still find myself sleeping heavily and wanting to eat a lot. Those miles, combined with heavy work schedules and daily riding around town, have added up to a fair bit of fatigue.

My caffeine reduction is also playing a part, in that I used to drink coffee in the afternoons rather than get a full night’s sleep. I’ve stuck to a routine of one double espresso in the morning and an iced tea at lunchtime. I don’t have to worry about falling asleep at night anymore!

Today I could tell I was in a low-level recovery bonk when I could not resist a donut at Swing’s Coffee in downtown D.C., something I had sworn off during the brevets as part of a health focus dubbed “Operation Gaunt” by our friend Lane G.

Espresso and a donut at Swing's Coffee -- sure sign of a post-brevet series bonk.

The temptation to dig the hole deeper by riding big rides even when tired is still strong, however.

Last year I convinced MG that we should take advantage of being in great shape from the brevets and do a non-credit 300K ride two weeks after the 600K.

It was fun, but we discovered that we had tired legs after about 200K. That ride only prolonged the fatigue from the brevets and we never quite recovered the snappy legs we felt during the brevet season.

Sill, we feel like we need to keep up the miles between now and the end of July to get ready for PBP.

As an alternative to doing a single big ride, we’re going on a round-trip overnighter this weekend to Martinsburg, W.V. from our house in D.C. We could not join our friends Crista, Chuck and Eduardo on her annual two-week tour, but this will give us a taste of those carefree days on the road.

The first day will be 125 miles and the return about 100 miles, with mostly rolling hills and good cafe stops. We love multi-day inn-to-inn touring, and this will be a perfect shakedown for our four-day 4th of July weekend tour in West Virginia and back via the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive.

Time for more sleep — there are many miles to go before we get to Paris!

DCR Shenandoah 600K: MG’s Ride of Redemption

MG has written her story of the D.C. Randonneurs Shenandoah 600K brevet last weekend. It was quite a different experience than the one we had in 2005 under a scorching sun. This time, all went well and we enjoyed a lot of good, exhausting miles in the lovely valley with mostly moderate temperatures.

MG enjoying our last stop before the finish at Larkin’s Store.

Our memories can maintain such a strong grip on us. The Shenandoah 600K out of Middletown was the scene of my first 600K brevet, and also prompted my first ride report ever.

My recollection of the 2005 iteration of this ride is not that pleasant. Our tandem threw the chain about six miles into the ride, prompting Felkerino to throw his helmet and yell a few choice words into the pre-dawn air. I spent the next several miles wondering if we would be disqualified for his comments.

Later that day I overheated. I was so unhappy I sat on the ground and cried under a tree. I remember Felkerino running through the names of our friends to see if there might be someone to come and get us. (This was before the D.C. Randonneurs began to include “Tired is not an emergency” on its cue sheets.) We gritted out the rest of the first day after realizing that none of our friends owned a vehicle that could carry our tandem.

I cried here in 2005

I ride my bike for fun, and I spent many miles in 2005 in a state that could hardly be considered fun. I’m not really into the whole suffering bit. That is not a good feeling. As the 2011 600K approached last Saturday, I recalled that teary moment under the tree.

“2011 will be my year of redemption,” I thought to myself. I also wanted to do well on this ride because a successful completion would qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Thankfully, 2011 was not a repeat of 2005! Our fender started rubbing about six miles into the ride so we had to let the group go on (like 2005) to address that, but there were no funny words or helmets thrown (unlike 2005). The day’s heat was manageable, and I felt good and strong enough the entire day to enjoy the ups, downs and incredible vistas this course delivers.

Even though we spent many miles keeping each other company, we also criss-crossed frequently with other riders. We kept moving along the route, but I never felt rushed. My legs (and other parts) got tired, but I was never without energy. Despite the 4 a.m. start on Saturday morning and the four-hour sleep stop between day 1 and day 2, Felkerino and I had a civilized ride.

This ride definitely had its highlights, and here is a quick rundown:

High: Watching the sunrise and seing the morning light spill over the Shenandoah Valley. Simply beautiful.

Morning light in the Shenandoah Valley

High: The many beautiful roads we passed over throughout this 2-day pedalfest. Fort Valley Road, Middle River Road, Maury River Road (at Rockbridge Baths and Goshen Pass), and Turleytown Road are just a few of the highlights.

Making our way to Goshen

High: The pop machine at the Walkers Creek Volunteer Fire Department at mile 131. Just 50 cents! I highly recommend it.

The VFD pop machine

High: Getting to be the subject of Bill B.’s fisheye lens in Goshen.

Using the fisheye lens in Goshen. Felkerino, me, Cindy and John (c) Bill Beck

High: Riding and leap-frogging with other riders, especially Maile, Carol, Mike, Gary, Jeff, John and Cindy.

Maile, Carol, John, and Cindy at mile 183

High: Riding the same 600K brevet as tandem buddies Ron and Barb.

Ron and Barb motor to Buchanan, Virginia

Low: Getting a flat on Big Hill Road. Fortunately, it was prior to the big climb.

High: Seeing Felkerino’s super-fast flat-fixing skills in action.

Fixing the flat on Big Hill Road. So speedy!

High: Watching the sunset and seeing the crescent moon take its place in the sky.

Low: The slow uphill slog from mile 240 to mile 243 to arrive at the overnight in Raphine, Virginia. It’s a cruel one!

High: Seeing Tom and Mike at the overnight control and eating something hot before running off to bed!

Low: Starting the Sunday ride in rain. Boo!

High: Remembering my rain jacket!

High: The dissipation of the rain and the cloud cover which kept the temperatures pleasant for the morning miles.

Route 42. Get ready for the big rollers, people.

High: Eating eggs and hash browns at the Volunteer Fire Department in Churchville. Thanks, Fred and Bill!

High: Napping under the awning of an old pharmacy in Bridgewater. Brevet naps are the best!

High: Seeing all the horse-drawn buggies outside of Bridgewater. Beautiful.

Sharing the road with the horse-drawn buggy

High: Finishing before 3 p.m.

High: Qualifying for Paris-Brest-Paris!

Felkerino and I finish the 600K (c) Bill Beck

We did it! I am so relieved and happy. Felkerino and I enjoyed a spectacularly beautiful ride, I didn’t cry once  (yes, not once!), and we are now qualified for PBP. It’s a great feeling.

Thanks to everybody who volunteered and helped make the brevets go off so well this year. D.C. Randonneurs is an awesome club!

D.C. Randonneurs Shenandoah 600K: RBA Bill Beck’s Report

Our esteemed RBA and expert photographer Bill Beck has posted his report of the D.C. Randonneurs Shenandoah 600K this last weekend, copied below. The quick view: 40 starters, 32 finishers.

Bill was roaming the course taking photos on Saturday. Here he is at Goshen Pass.

I’ve also finished posting my photos. See them via the link below.

Many thanks again to Bill, who organized, and his volunteers, also noted below. You all did a fine job helping enjoy a great course though the wonderful Shenandoah Valley.

I’ll have a story of my own in the next couple days.

Well, that was an adventure. 40 riders started the Shenandoah (Middletown) 600K ACP brevet on Saturday morning with unusually cool temperatures that reached down into the 40s in the low-lying areas. They set off on a scenic 375-mile tour of the Shenandoah Valley that included LOTS of rolling hills, a few bigger climbs, and almost neverending views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Mechanical problems, illness, and the increasing heat took their toll, but 32 riders (80%) arrived back in Middletown with an official finish. That was actually a higher completion rate than last year when 73% finished. Thanks to Lynn Kristianson for designing perhaps the most beautiful of all DCR routes. And congratulations to all that completed their qualification for PBP or other Grand Randonees!

This year, two teams of dedicated volunteers treated riders to hot food all night and into the morning at both the overnight control in Raphine and at the Churchville Volunteer Fire Department. Many thanks to Rosemary and Tom Lepore, and Mike Wali at Raphine, and to Bill Dennen and Fred Robbins at Churchville. I heard nothing but positive comments about the tasty food at both places!

Thanks also to Chip Adams, John Mazur, and Cindy Piotrowski who registered riders on Friday, and to Mike Wali, Bob Sheldon and Ken Zabielski who handled registration at 3AM on Saturday morning. And thanks to Charlie and Katrin Thomas who helped at the finish and rescued a stranded rider.

Finally, I would also like to thank Ethel Simmons and Raymond Grogg at the Churchville VFD who allowed us to use their excellent kitchen and dining facilities all night long.

Preliminary results are posted at http://www.dcrand.org/dcr/results.php?page=display-results&year=2011. Here are the pictures that I know about:

Mine: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wabeck/sets/72157626898325092/ (including a few by George Moore)
Ed Felker: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8193389@N06/sets/72157626895117208/with/5802824480/
Mary Gersema: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gersema/sets/72157626770605209/
Maile Neel: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcn7/sets/72157626898477968/with/5803897275/
Mike Wali: http://www.flickr.com/photos/randomikew/sets/72157626770078323/

As we finish the spring season of long brevets, thanks again to the small army of volunteers that made them possible! We are finalizing the schedule for the second half of the year, with rides planned for each month from August through December. That schedule should be posted within the next couple of weeks.

Bill

Quick report on D.C. Randonneurs 600K: We did it!

I’m finally back at home after we finished the D.C. Randonneurs 600K ACP qualifer today. The completion qualifies us for PBP!

The ride today was tough but satisfying. This course is hilly throughout — following last night’s four-hour overnight stop, we had to traverse 131 miles of rolling hills all the way to the finish.

We made it back to Middletown for a 34:39 finish, which is a good time for us on a hilly 600K.

The rollers took a toll on our legs. We had to take a couple of roadside stops and one 15-minute nap to overcome drowsiness and fatigue. But overall we had a nice ride with lots of good miles with our pals.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how much we appreciated the terrific support from the DCR volunteers at the overnight hotel — thanks Mike Wali and Tom LePore — and the hot breakfast provided at the next control in Churchville by Fred Robbins and crew.

Their hospitality and plentiful portions helped us shake off those second-day blahs. Of course, we also must offer our gratitude to brevet organizer Bill Beck and his volunteers, who ran a flawless event.

The encouragement from our friends on Facebook and Twitter helped. You can see my Twitter updates from the controls and last night here.

I’ll write more tomorrow after getting caught up on sleep. Thanks for reading!

Ready for the DC Randonneurs 600K

This will be a short one because every minute now is a minute less sleep before an early 2:30 AM wakeup call tomorrow here in Strasburg, Va.

The weather looks promising and of course the Shenandoah Valley should be spectacular. It’s our favorite place to ride. Follow our progress tomorrow and Sunday via Twitter: @gypsybug for MG and @dailyrandonneur for me. And, I”ll post an update when we get in to Raphine, Va. tomorrow evening, at mile 243.

The Co-Motion is ready to go. Guess I better get to bed. Good night!

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