Keeping the Wheels On: The DC Randonneurs 600K

Mary and I took a break from the longer brevets last year, mostly because of the 4 a.m. starts and being at new jobs that required us to be fully functioning on Mondays. This year we were able to plan ahead and made time for the D.C. Randonneurs 400K in May and the 600K this last weekend.


Another fun weekend on the bike. Photo courtesy Mary.


There is a joke in randonneuring about randonnesia — where you forget the discomfort of the most recent big brevet enough that you sign up for more (I’m sure a version exists in all endurance sports). We had a version of that going into this year’s 400K and 600K, which is a good thing. We approached them with renewed enthusiasm for overcoming the logistical, physical and mental challenges.

We didn’t suffer too much on the Frederick 400K on May 20. It was the hillier version of the two that DCR ran this year, but we prefer hilly over flatter rides. You can see our GPS log from the event here.


Outside Hancock, Md on the 400K


We finished in a solid 20:09 overall, falling short of the goal of taking only an hour rest per 100 miles, but there was a lot of climbing in the morning and some headwinds in the afternoon. We’re about an hour slower than our best performance of years past for the distance, which we could approach with less time off the bike. Maybe next year.

After having ridden 600Ks over the years, I’ve concluded our strongest rides come on the shorter brevets. Our legs tend to be heavy after riding the fleche and the 400K in particular. The overnight sleep stop on the 600K also makes a big difference — the better we feel on the first day, the sooner we arrive at the overnight and then get out on the road again.

This year we had a solid if not spectacular 600K. Here’s our recap. You will find our 600K GPS files at Garmin Connect: Day 1 and Day 2 (note: we turned the Garmins off for long stops), and my photos at Flickr.


The weekend forecast called for the lots of sunshine and warm temperatures, possibly hitting the upper 80s. We got home early from work on Friday and had dinner before driving out to Warrenton, Va. to the start hotel, the Hampton. Ride organizers Kelly and Josie Smith greeted us in the lobby just as they were packing up from the advance sign-in, along with Eric Williams and Emily Ranson keeping them company.

We had no drama getting set up, which involves hauling the tandem off the car, getting it into the room and attaching the front fender, little bags and electronics, and stuffing in our rain jackets and other gear. As we have this spring, I had my Garmin Edge 1000 GPS computer up front and Mary had a Garmin Edge 810 on the rear top tube, both with OSM Cycle maps. We also carry USB batteries to recharge on the go; I ran mine off the battery the whole day and recharged Mary’s once along the way.

I made up custom courses in nine segments on RidewithGPS earlier in the week (see them here), and had those loaded on both Garmins. I like to break up the route in case one of the Garmins has a problem and shuts down, so that I don’t have to reload the entire route file. Plus, we get the Garmin fanfare noise and little “You Win” notice when we reach the end of each segment. Every little morale booster counts on these rides, haha!

One bummer was that our fleche team captain and fellow coffee stop afficionado Jerry Seager had to skip the event because of work commitments. We missed his good cheer.

An Early Start

The usual 20 or so of us attending DCR rides these days gathered for the 4 a.m. start. Having a Sheetz store nearby was helpful; Mary and I got a faux-cappucino to share and a breakfast sandwich for me. We also ate some Hippie Crack granola I brought from A Baked Joint bakery in D.C., which went down surprisingly well in middle of the night with soy milk. We both put on arm and leg warmers and light caps, but left our cold weather gear in our bags.


Check in desk


Kelly and Emily were getting folks signed in, with help from David Ripton helping with lights inspection.


Quiet anticipation


Right at 4, Kelly quietly sent us off into a cool, clear night.


John and David ready to go


Compared to when I first started riding, riders are definitely more visible in the night. The quality of reflective gear and lighting has advanced a lot. It looked like a wall of white and red (some of the battery taillights were actually too bright) coming from the riders ahead of us.


Roger and Bob


We rode with the front group as long as the rollers allowed, about 20 miles, as we steamed over the green hills and valleys toward the first control at Somerset, Va., mile 60. There were no services until there, but at this stage of the brevet season we can easily ride that far on pocket food and breakfast. We rode a bunch of miles with Bob Counts and Roger Hillas after the sun came up, as one gorgeous Virgina countryside vista after another came into view.


Randos converge on Somerset


At Somerset the first group was still there, which meant we had kept up a good pace. I got some little country ham sandwiches and bottled ice tea, my go-to rest stop drink.

When we went to leave, Mary’s Garmin had shut itself down. It restarted fine, but reset back to zero so she had to add 60 miles to her distance total the rest of the day. The unit saved the lost segment data to internal memory and I was able to join it with the rest of the day’s track when we got home on Sunday.

On the way to the control at Dyke, mile 81, a driver slowed to warn us about a dog that had bitten a rider ahead, and then an ambulance passed. We were worried. It turned out to be a cyclist not on our ride, but we were saddened that somebody got hurt. At the control we learned Roger had talked to the fellow — “he was bleeding all over his Sidi’s,” Roger said, but said he wasn’t in bad shape.


Theresa Furnari arrives at the Dyke store


Caleb joined us for the run to Crozet, mile 103, over the high point of the ride in the Appalachian foothills. We got there just after 11 a.m. and went to Green House Coffee by ourselves and had sandwiches, espresso and treats. Everybody else did the rando thing and went to the convenience store. It felt good to sit down and catch our breath in a relaxed setting. The nice staff filled my Camelbak with ice, too.

Mary in Crozet

A good rest stop in Crozet


The air was hot as we departed. The cue sheet did not mention any more stores until mile 178 (there were a number of them, I should have recalled) so we stopped again at Brown’s Store, mile 127, to get more ice for our Camelbaks, fearing we’d run out of water.

Jack Nicholson, Bob Counts and Pat O’Connor rolled up and took our surplus ice, and Gardner and Theresa pedaled past, showing strong time discipline.


It’s hot! Time for more ice.


The terrain leveled off, we had a hot tailwind and by mile 164 I was overheated.  We stopped at the friendly LJ Store, where I got an emergency Snickers ice cream bar and ginger ale.

The Wheels Come Off

At Louisa, mile 178, I was in distress. I was nauseous and grouchy. The new Sheetz had a sitting area and I took a 20-minute nap while Mary fretted about my situation. Normally my stomach never bothers me. Dehydration, I think, was the culprit and nothing was appetizing, even though I had consumed more than 100 ounces of fluids in 60 miles. I didn’t think to get something moist and easy to digest, like a banana.

I finally managed to drink another ice tea and we decided to go to the control at Orange and see if I could recover.

We spent an hour in Louisa, which put a 30-minute dent in our plan to get to the overnight by midnight. Most of the people in our ride orbit were now ahead of us, not to be seen again today. It was definitely a low moment, not knowing if more trouble was ahead.

I Am Focused

The cooler evening temperatures and easy terrain made a huge difference, though. By 20 miles later in Orange, mile 199, my appetite had returned and we ate at McDonalds. I recovered and we rode steadily, though I was fighting drowsiness and saddle soreness at the end and counting down the miles.


Appetite returns in time for McDonald’s.


About an hour out from the overnight stop, blearily riding along and not paying attention, I said loudly, “I am focused!” Mary was naturally perplexed. I said I was declaring myself focused on getting to the hotel with no missed turns. This exercise seemed to work, though I had to repeat it occasionally, which became a bit of running joke.

We arrived to the hotel at mile 255 at 12:40 a.m., not far off our usual 400K pace.

Kelly and Josie had a nice spread of hot and cold food going in their room. Caleb was there taking a peaceful nap in advance of heading out into the night. After some chicken soup for me and chili for Mary, we got almost three hours sleep.

Day 2

We arose in the usual randonneur fog after short sleep, ate the last of our granola and got some bananas from Kelly and Josie (yep, still at work!), and checked out of our room. By 5:10 a.m. we were off just before first light, and I felt back to my usual self. I like the exit from Warrenton on this route because it trends downhill, making the initial miles go by without a lot of effort to start. Unsurprisingly, my Garmin advised me that my recovery status from my last ride was “poor.” Gee, thanks for that.

Our ride to Fredericksburg was pleasant though we had no sighting of any riders. I’d see a red light ahead in the dark but it would always be a driveway reflector.

The genial clerk at the 7-11 at mile 279 said some folks had come through about 40 minutes earlier, which we assumed was the first group that had slept. We saw from Instagram later that Caleb and Paul Donaldson had ridden out first.

We stopped to move a turtle off the road. It protested wildly about being picked up, but I got it into the ditch before it clawed me.

At Fredericksburg, around 9 a.m., we stopped at Hyperion Espresso for today’s sit-down meal and coffee. The air conditioning was delicious too. I was hungry enough to eat a cold tofu and cole slaw sandwich, which would be well off my radar, but that was all they had outside of pastries, and it tasted great.


Not a convenience store.


The ride though the Fredericksburg Battlefield is always a highlight and we enjoyed the tree-lined, peaceful Lee Road and the little dirt footpath connector section. No randonneurs were anywhere in sight so we presumed we got passed at breakfast, and that was that.

We learned later that Roger Hillas saw us up ahead at one point before the battlefield but we caught a traffic light and he got stopped.

At Spotsylvania, mile 325, the sun was blazing. Choosing the Fasmart to control just on the edge of town, we bought a big tub of cold potato salad and cold ice and cold drinks. If it was cold, it looked good.


Potato salad. Hot weather food.


We were cheered up a lot when Roger rode into sight and turned into the parking lot, but then he made a quick U-turn and rode away, apparantly not seeing us at all. Oh well!


So long Roger! Photo courtesy Mary.


The chains were driving me crazy with noise, so I oiled them, but I forgot to reapply sunscreen to myself, so it was a half-victory on the tasks list. I suffered some sun exposure by the end but didn’t burn, but it was an risky mistake.

The Invention of RandoBall

There was a lot of Sunday morning traffic over the next 14 miles to the information control at the church at mile 338, on twisty and hilly roads. Everybody was nice to us, but it was pretty stressful. The traffic let up after that, yay.

At the church, Mary shot a couple of baskets, including a nice layup, and we enjoyed a shade break. Our progress was good and there was no more stops over the next 45 miles. We had plenty of fluids and food, and set our sights on the finish.


383 miles and two points.


Our aches and pains were piling up, though, which made the last miles a challenge. My big pain points were the heel of my left hand, which stays on the bars most of the time while I shift the rear gears,  my seat from compression soreness, and my left big toe, which was throbbing for no real reason.

We had some breeze, thankfully, and kept up a decent rolling pace, taking just one shade break.


Shade and some personal care on Summerduck Road. Photo courtesy Mary.


I liked the routing at the end via Courtney’s Corner, Shipps Store and Elk Run roads. It’s a peaceful stretch with good shade. After the usual turns and hills into Warrenton we arrived at 3:55 p.m. for a total run of 35:55. That’s a fine outcome for us, especially given the ride was 383 miles. For the record, we passed the the 600K distance, 375 miles, at 3:18 p.m.

Kelly texted us earlier and asked that we give him an arrival time so he and Josie could order pizza, and there it was in the room, still hot, along with plenty of cold drinks and other snacks. Nice going team! He also came down to greet us.


This year’s 600K was a return to form for us. As the years go by, keeping up with past performances is the primary goal for me.

It was unusual to not see anyone for all of Sunday other than the random sighting of Roger.  The ranks of the regulars have dwindled for DCR rides and it appears there is too much separation on a 600K for groups to form. I hope this trend changes.

Big thanks go to Josie and Kelly, and to Bill Beck and Emily  (with Kelly) for riding the checkout over Labor Day weekend. Also big thanks to Nick Bull, our hard-working brevet administrator, for managing another long spring series.

Our next big event is our annual summer trip, this year a 1,000-mile unsupported tandem tour from Albuquerque, N.M. to Boulder, Colo. starting July 1. The brevet and fleche miles should come in handy in getting over the summits out there.

Tech Notes

Our Avid BB7 disk brakes were annoying on this ride, with the disk pads tending not to retract fully on the front wheel for awhile after hard braking, skimming the rotor. This is unusual. I hope it’s just time for new cables and housings. We also had our rear shifting start to get clunky at the end. I’m thinking of going from 9-speed to 10-speed shifting, which we have liked on our other tandem for a few rides so far. I’m still sticking with bar end shifters, though. No matter how sore or cold my hands get, I can always shift them.

Our tires, Panaracer GypsyKing GravelKing 32mm smooth tread, remain a mixed bag. They roll and corner really well and mount easily but are stiffer than our standby, the 32mm Panaracer Pasela PT. I presume they are made that way to ward off sidewall cuts. It was noticable on the rougher roads in central Virginia. Maybe I’ll lower the pressure as they are less likely to pinch flat. (Sorry folks we are not going tubeless).

My new Voler Black Label shorts were a fail on Saturday. I’m between sizes and moved up to large after finding the medium was too tight, but the chamois was too big and caused some chafing. They are going back. I pulled out a pair of my Voler Caliber shorts for Sunday, which were fine. I’m not a big fan of the move to compression in sports clothing and I think Voler has taken it too far in their Black Label line.




Winter Riding and Summer Planning

Ah, a three-day weekend. Better yet, on Sunday and Monday the weather was mild and dry. This is the time of year I find myself of multiple minds: trying to keep up the miles on the bike to get ready for the upcoming spring randonneuring brevets, and fretting over our summer tandem tour. A long weekend let me indulge both.

Friday morning started out pleasantly as always at the weekly Friday Coffee Club commuter cyclists gathering. The pre-work meetup is nearing its five-year anniversary, which we’ll celebrate later this month.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for the reopening of our original FCC location at Swing’s Coffee on 17th & G NW by the White House. It now looks like July or later according to the Swing’s site. A Baked Joint at 440 K St. NW has been a welcome temporary spot and we’ll continue there.

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14



A typical cold and rainy January day met us. I got out for a nice midday Freezing Saddles ride for a coffee visit with Jerry and Carolyn at Chinatown Coffee.

Rainy Day in DC

Rainy Day in D.C.


The rest of the day I worked on our summer tour. This year we’re returning to Colorado, but starting in Albuquerque and finishing in Boulder! The route is here – we start for Santa Fe on July 1 and finish on the 13th, about 950 miles later.  We haven’t ridden in New Mexico before, and in both states we’ll see some new terrain and towns, notably:

  • Santa Fe, Taos and Chama in New Mexico;
  • the Black Canyon of the Gunnison;
  • Monarch Pass to Gunnison;
  • Independence Pass;
  • Aspen and the Rio Grande Trail to Carbondale.

We’ll also return to some favorites: Durango, Silverton, and Kremmling, and another go at hauling the tandem over the wild & wooly Rollins Pass from Winter Park on the final day. This time, big tires are going on the tandem for that doozy.

The route was already drafted – the real work was making hotel reservations and buying our airline tickets. I always feel a little nervous locking down our July trip in mid-January, but it’s also nice to have everything lined up. I’ll make up cue sheets in the coming weeks and figure out the coffee places, bike shops and restaurants in the new towns.


The skies cleared and we rode the Spectrum tandem to Frederick, Md. to one of our favorite area shops, the enchanting Gravel & Grind. Mel and James have created something really special and we always enjoy ourselves there. Everything is good (the coffee, food, bikes, stuff, and scene), but especially their welcoming vibe.

James, Mel and Mary

James, Mel and Mary


Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind


Mary, James and Me

Mary, James and Me


A randonneuring friend of ours has been talking to James about staging a fall randonneur brevet from the shop, so everybody could get some food and drinks and hang out afterwards. I hope it comes true.

The ride was a good one for us, at 117 miles without any extended climbs – perfect for winter when the wind isn’t blowing. Here’s the route on Garmin Connect or you can check it out at Strava.

The ride home was uneventful except for this very cool hawk on the side of River Road, near dusk. It calmly let us take photos. Thanks hawk!

A Hawk Surveys Its Domain

Hawk Surveys Its Domain



Mary and I each had dentist appointments and the skies were gray. I rode my Rivendell Bleriot, which sees far too little use these days, up to Clarendon in Arlington to turn in a very old Mac Mini for recycling (the PowerPC generation, if that rings a bell). The bike, unlike that old Mac, is just as good as ever, though it needs better fenders.

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim


From there I rode down to the Mall and went to the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, which was busy with visitors — appropriately so on this day.

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial


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.

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?

Wilderness Campaign 200K Brevet. Back in the saddle.

Hello readers!

MG and I took a little breather from the brevet scene last year. We did not ride the longer events and focused on touring and informal rides.

Taking that step back, and additional duties for my job, led me to put TDR on the back burner.

Every good layoff deserves a comeback. So, hello, again.

And, we're back.

And, we’re back.

This year we’ve laid out an ambitious program. Our big randonneur ride will be the D.C. Randonneurs 1000K this fall. We also plan to return to Colorado for two weeks of touring in July, and go back to the Hilly Billy Roubaix gravel race in Morgantown, W.Va.

The goal is to get in great shape for next year, when we want to go again to the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200K in France. I consider it “The Best American 1200K Not Held in America” because nearly 500 U.S. riders go and you get to see everybody at one ride.

With those big rides in mind, we need to get out there and do a complete Super Randonneur series this year. You hardy randonneurs know that means a 200K, 300K, 400K and 600K.

Bring on the sleep deprivation, I say. I love getting up in the middle of the night to ride my bike!

Ha ha, just kidding! (Or am I?)

We got our campaign underway on Saturday with the aptly-named Wilderness Campaign 200K, run by the D.C. Randonneurs from Bristow, Va. The route (see it here) winds south from the Manassas area west of D.C. to Spotsylvania.

Riders take in the forested Wilderness Battlefield where the North and South skirmished in May 1864 over a number of bloody days.

Checking in at the start

Checking in at the start

MG has captured our ride on the Co-Motion “Big Cat” tandem in pithy fashion over at her award-winning blog, Chasing Mailboxes. See it here. See all of my photos here and MG’s here.

Our only game plan for this ride was to draft the stampede of fast folks until the hills and pace put us off the back, hopefully later than sooner.

Starting with the group

Starting with the group

We went with the speedy single bike riders for about 40 miles, until they pulled away after a series of steep rollers through Kelly’s Ford.

The Profile!

The Profile!

Riding the tandem in a group of singles was the usual challenge. Drafting works some of the time, though MG can’t see the gap to the bike ahead and keeps pedaling hard when the group slows down. (That’s a good problem, don’t get me wrong!) I have to keep in good contact with her about when to soft-pedal.

When we get on a real downhill, the tandem bolts forward like a rocket and if the road is clear, we end up out front.  But then we slow and get swarmed on the next uphill. We have to ride like mad to stay with the group over the top.

As you might expect, this goes on for only so long before our legs start to fade.

Seeing the front guys pull away was not a bad thing. Riding on our own, I could take my hands off the brakes and we could spin along and have a nice chat and enjoy the sunny day.

Most everybody figured out how to get food from the 7-11 and the pizza place at the turnaround in Spotslyvania, mile 68, but we were famished and went to the homey Courthouse Cafe. Only two other riders, Kurt and Matt of Harrisonburg, Va. had the audacity to throw away time like us and came in. We had a good talk about rides and tandems as we ate omelettes.

Matt and Kurt at the Courthouse Cafe

Matt and Kurt at the Courthouse Cafe

The return route starts on narrow roads with traffic, which led to spirited riding to get to the quieter sections. The day warmed up fantastically, to the 60s, but also brought a little headwind and sidewinds that made the return slow going.

The profile trends upward, gradually, which made momentum hard to find at times.

We discussed this in a tandem team sort of way, with such phrases as “boy I am feeling it in my legs!” and “it sure is a nice day, no need to rush, right? SIGH.”

Our spirits lifted as we caught up to other riders at the remaining stops, especially when we encountered our pal Eric P., who missed us at the start and was convinced we slept in. Hey — that’s what we thought you did, Eric! Ha ha!

Eric shepherded us back through the spiky rollers back through Kelly’s Ford and to the final rest stop/control at the old-timey Elk Run Store, which provided this ride’s Star Wars Cantina moment.

Taking it easy before the last stretch.

Taking it easy before the last stretch.

That’s when everybody sits outside a store grinning (or grimacing) and generally kicking back for a few minutes. We stuffed the last of our cold weather gear in the Carradice saddle bag, with the overflow longflap extended, and headed back with our luggage to Bristow.

We hoped for a finish before 5 p.m. (sub 10-hours) and pedaled along steadily but without much pop in the legs, wondering why we were so dang slow.

Plus, I had a case of ABB. (For the uninitiated, that’s short for Achy Breaky Butt).

Cockeyed Helmet.

Cockeyed Helmet.

We finished at 4:47 p.m., almost exactly the same time as last year.

So, it must be the course, and maybe the fact that we don’t have a lot of miles in our legs yet in March and maybe started too fast. I lay most of the blame on the course. Verdict: not really all that tandem friendly.

The club’s volunteer organizer for the ride, Hamid A., had the usual DCR pizza, pop and treats waiting for us at the finish, which made everything real good.

Catching up with fellow riders topped off a good day on the bike. Big congrats to the other tandem team today, Cindy P. and John M., and we enjoyed seeing once and future DCR rider Russ M., back from South Korea for a few months before heading off to his new home in Reno.

Russ and Lothar. You may know them as the Korea Randonneurs.

Russ and Lothar. You may know them as the Korea Randonneurs.

Next stop on the brevet train: either the second DCR 200K later this month, or the 300K next month. If we can’t get to the 200K we’ll do something on our own of similar distance to substitute.

A Brevet in Amish country

Sometimes a change of scenery makes all the difference. MG and I have been riding familiar roads around Washington these last few weeks after our summer Colorado tour and thought it might be good to ride somewhere else within driving distance.

That led us to the Pennsylvania Randonneurs Silver Spring 200K brevet from Christiana, Pa. This loop tour takes in the rolling farm hills of southern Pennsylvania in Lancaster County, with a run into northeast Maryland.

Our route. We rode clockwise.

Our route. We rode clockwise.

See my photos here and MG’s here. The route and our performance statistics can be seen at my Garmin page.

Tom Rosenbauer and me. Tom was riding with us today.

Tom Rosenbauer and me. Tom was riding with us today.

Andrew gives pre-ride comments. Cool enough for warmers.

Andrew gives pre-ride comments. Cool enough for warmers.

The start was just close enough, about 110 miles, to drive up and back the same day. It was an early start — leaving home at 4:15 a.m. — but we got there in plenty of time to get ourselves organized and the tandem ready. Organizers Andrew Mead and George Metzler got our group of about 20 out on the road right on time at 7 a.m.

We wanted to finish in 10 hours but also knew this was a very hilly route, with more than 9,000 feet of climbing over short, steep rises all day. The toughest hills were in the first half, including the wall that is Douts Hill Road, but the second half was only rarely flat.

Our approach to keep moving was one we picked up from our cycling friend Josh S. and his wife Doreen: don’t sit down at the stops. It works well, in that standing around reminds one to depart soon enough.

C.J., Clair and those obligatory cows.

C.J., Clair and those obligatory cows.

The weather was just about perfect. We were treated to bright sunny skies, light breezes, low humidity and highs in the low 80s.

Just past the Conowingo Dam, not a cloud in the sky.

Just past the Conowingo Dam, not a cloud in the sky.

As for the ride itself, the first five miles trended down and we rode away from the group but were caught before the first control at Port Deposit, mile 31, by the faster riders. From there we spent the rest of the day leapfrogging with Bill Olsen, Clair Beiler, first time rider C.J. Arayata and Eric Dahl.

The randonneur lifestyle. Eric, C.J. and Clair.

The randonneur lifestyle. Eric, C.J. and Clair.

Bill just completed the Granite Anvil 1200K randonnee on Aug. 25 and is headed to Colorado this week for the Last Chance 1200K. He was in full get-there brevet mode and left us at the next-to-last stop at Mount Joy, mile 85, while we ate sandwiches in the warm afternoon sun.

As is typical being on the tandem, we’d fly away on the downhills. Our riding companions would catch us on the uphills. We’d all ride together on the flats.

C.J. and Clair on another quiet road.

C.J. and Clair on another quiet road.

During all this MG took photos of the barns with tobacco leaves drying and Amish farm families working the fields. We rode around the occasional horse-drawn carriage and shared the Sheetz convenience store patio with a number of Amish teenagers who ate pizza before piling back into a van.

Except for a couple of short stretches, the roads were not busy. That’s a testament to a well-designed route.

Cutting the grass, the old-fashioned way. Courtesy MG.

Cutting the grass, the old-fashioned way. Courtesy MG.

Tobacco drying. Courtesy MG.

Tobacco drying. Courtesy MG.

Andrew came out to meet us at the second control, a gas station that had closed, with some drinks and snacks. Thanks Andrew! We love roadside oasis support. The Coke was just what we needed.

Andrew and this cooler of cold drinks.

Andrew and this cooler of cold drinks.

We finished right before 5 p.m., and made our 10-hour goal. The hills took it out of our legs, so we were more than happy to be done. George Metzler generously grilled hamburgers and sausages for the returning riders at his house near the start.

We had a very nice time visiting with George and his family, and our fellow riders, before the drive home. Sleeping in our own bed was much nicer than a hotel.

Tom R. finishes at dusk.

Tom R. finishes at dusk.

One of the best post-ride dinners you could ask for. Courtesy MG.

One of the best post-ride dinners you could ask for. Courtesy MG.

Thanks to all the Pennsylvania Randonneurs for hosting us so graciously. We hope to see one and all here in D.C. soon.

DC Randonneurs Wilderness Campaign 2013: Our ride report

We’re back home after the DC Randonneurs first ACP brevet of the year, the Wilderness Campaign 200K from Bristow, Va. What a day!

Jeff Miller and rest of the field awaits the start.

Jeff Miller and rest of the field awaits the start.

(See the rest of my photos here and MG’s here.)

This gentle course through four Civil War battlefields south of Manassas features flat sections through farmlands and lovely rolling roads through historic battlefield forests. This was our first brevet on our new Co-Motion tandem and everything went quite well on the bike today.

The front group got off to a fast start on the flat initial 15-mile segment and we hung in there until about mile 25, when rollers and their strong legs left us behind. The group included our neighbor Jeff Miller who hitched a ride with us over to the start.

After a first control around mile 50 we toodled over to Spotsylvania under unseasonably warm, bright sunshine to a sit-down lunch at the Courthouse Cafe with Lane. No one else walked in, apparently deciding to use the nearby 7-11 as their control stop.

You missed it folks — service was friendly and fast, and our omelettes and ice tea hit the spot. None of us bonked in the afternoon.

Bennett rolled up as we remounted and the four of us took off on the 57 miles back to Bristow.

They and us took turns rolling ahead on the short hills that stood in our way until we saw Justin Antos, riding his first brevet, who was stopped on the side of the road with chainsuck.

His front derailleur needed some tweaking. We got it adjusted enough to get him back out on the road. Justin your good cheer in the face of a balky bike was inspiring to this old rando horse.

Justin, Lane, MG, Bennett at an information control.

Justin, Lane, MG, Bennett at an information control.

After our second information control stop we swooped past the cushy Inn at Kelly’s Ford and descended to the final road control at the Elk Run Store near Bristerburg. Snacks and drinks were consumed in bright sun as more riders arrived.

Lane decided to wait for Bennett and we joined with Carol, Paul and Chris for the last 20 miles. A gentle headwind kept our speed in check, which let us joke around and talk as we pedaled along.

Our legs were getting tired from the day — this was our longest ride of 2013 — and we counted the miles down.

Carol and MG in the best sun of the year so far.

Carol and MG in the best sun of the year so far.

MG, Chris and Paul at the Elk Run Store.

MG, Chris and Paul at the Elk Run Store.

The finish came around 4:30 pm and we were met with the traditional pizza and soda by organizers John and Cindy. Thanks to them for putting on a flawless event. Thanks also to our fellow riders for your good company.

Done! And happy!

Done! And happy!

As always, I must also express my gratitude to my fearless and strong tandem stoker MG. You were a champ today, honey!

One personal historical footnote: today’s successful ride marked the 18th consecutive year that I’ve completed at least one ACP brevet and the ninth consecutive year that MG and I have completed an ACP brevet on tandem. We’ve had a good run and are looking forward to more rides with the DC Randonneurs in the months and years ahead.

DC Randonneurs 2012 Flatbread 200K: Flat and Fun

We’ve ridden the D.C. Randonneurs Flatbread 200K before and each time it’s a little different experience. Being on the mostly-flat Eastern Shore side of the Chesapeake Bay, the ride is highly influcenced by wind direction and the lack of hills. The easy terrain lets riders form groups that might split up in hills, which means we tend to ride with folks we might not see as much on other rides. See the full route and the rest of our GPS data here.

The Flatbread route from Centreville, Md.

The event is also a good one for folks who want to try their hand at randonneuring for the first time. Think: Longer Seagull Century, without the thousands of riders, no pie, free post-ride pizza and soda. It’s a pretty sure bet that if one can ride the full 100-mile Seagull, you’ll complete this ride within the time limit of 13.5 hours.

MG and I have been out of the rando scene for a few weeks but got ourselves back in the saddle for this year’s on Saturday Nov. 10. We’ve had fun on this ride in the past and th 2012 edition would prove to be our best experience yet.

After a shockingly early 4:15 a.m. wakeup, we picked up Jeff Miller, a first-time brevet rider in our neighborhood, just before 5:30 a.m. Jeff is the president of the Alliance for Biking and Walking and has a ton of experience in cycling and cycling issues. He and I chatted away the miles, though when I looked over at MG, she was getting in a few final winks. Smart lady.

After a slight delay getting around an accident scene on I-295, we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge as the sun rose and pulled in to quiet little Centreville, Md. with just 25 minutes to spare before the 7 a.m. start. Jeff ran over to sign in first, then MG and I arrived with barely two minutes to spare. We had pre-registered, which made things easy; sign the waiver, stuff control cards in our pockets, go!

Pre-ride gathering in Centreville

Photo links: see my full set here and MG’s here. Lisa Shiota has photos here, Dave Sweeney has photos here.

All in all, we were in good shape. The sky was clear for the big group of 76 riders who left after organizer Chip Adams made a few comments.

Folks who know us quickly realized we were not on the same bike! It’s true. For the first time in ages, we decided to ride our singles instead of being on tandem. Why?!

Reason No. 1: We’re awaiting a replacement frame from Co-Motion because our beloved Speedster developed a problem (stay tuned for an upcoming post in which I’ll explain).

Reason No. 2: Our older 26″ wheel Cannondale tandem, A.K.A. The Lead Sled, is a good touring rig but somewhat uncomfortable for MG after 100 miles or so. On a long flat ride without much coasting, comfort is key and won out.

With a few bikes to choose from in the Dining Room Bike Shop, this was the perfect ride for us to each have our own wheels. MG chose her trusty Rivendell Romulus and I grabbed my 650B Rivendell Bleriot, two of our favorite brevet bikes.

MG riding strong on her Rivendell Romulus

The rush to get on the road left me a little disoriented. From bed to car to bike, it all happened in a blur without a decent breakfast or coffee. For the sake of our neighbors, I did not fire up the grinder or espresso maker before we left. This made me sad.

I was still trying to wake up during the first miles. We had already talked about starting easy and letting the main group go ahead and that was no problem. The early temperatures seemed to dip into the 30s as we got out into the countryside which also added to my motivational challenge. It also took me awhile to get used to riding a single bike in a group again.

We quickly fell in with a number of our BikeDC / Friday Coffee Club pals, including John Roche, Crystal and Adam, Chris Niebilski, and Mike Ross and Lisa Shiota on his Da Vinci tandem. This was Lisa’s first long tandem ride and we were very impressed.

Mike and Lisa, new tandem duo

See Crystal’s story here and Lisa’s here. It was great to run free in the countryside with our urban pals, beyond the cycletracks and stop lights of D.C.

Adam and Crystal

We also spied past riding companions Steve Harding of Newark, Del. on his Rivendell A. Homer Simpson — err, A. Homer Hilsen — and Nigel Greene of Elkins Park, Pa. on his Raleigh fixed gear bike. I was also impressed with the Rawland Sogn piloted by Jameel, who was out with his dad for the day — more first timers!

Still, as the temperatures fell I wondered what I was doing out here. Chip Adams steamed by on his fixed-gear Cannondale and I drafted for a moment and said hello, but fell back as he shot up a low rise and my legs complained. At the information control I took a deep breath, unzipped the sleeves from my jacket and tried to get focused.

At mile 28 I saw bikes at the store on the right and pointed my wheel there. MG said she wanted to keep riding so we agreed to meet at Dolce Coffee in Milford, Del. at mile 49. I got a Coke, stuck it in my bottle cage, and some cheese crackers. I don’t know why they sounded good, but I ate the entire pack and felt better. The Coke also satisfied my caffeine and sugar needs — Breakfast of Champions, all that, ha!

John and Lisa, warming up

Chris and I teamed up to ride through a headwind to Milford, where we found a little rando-party at Dolce. Think Villaines during PBP, just smaller. OK, a lot smaller, but just as welcome.

Ron and Barb Anderson were there, and Mike and Lisa pulled up soon after, adding to the festivities. Espresso and breakfast goodies got me revived for good and the loose group, now including Dave Judkins, moved on to the Slaughter Beach control under cloudy skies.

Good times for randonneurs at Dolce Coffee

Barb and Ron on the Purple Comet (I made that up)

Much picture taking and conversation ensued as we tooled away on the shoulder of Delaware Rt. 36 to the control. A big group was there, getting their cards signed and then going over to the beach for photos. MG and I got Steve to take our picture. Thanks Steve!

Our annual beach outing – really!

We reached Milton at mile 68 and stopped for lunch. Subway was our cuisine of choice today. You know what you’re getting before you walk in and the service was fast and friendly. I ate half of a footlong turkey and put the rest in my Carradice saddlebag for later. The final control at mile 87 is just a gas station convenience store and I recalled being famished last time in the last segment. My plan was to eat a second lunch there to avoid the big bonk.

Nigel and MG. Fed and fired up!

Leaving Milton

The easy roads kept on coming — Thirteen Curves, Prime Hook, Sand Hill and Deer Forest as we made our way to the 87-mile control in Bridgeville. There we saw John and Lynne on their new red Co-Motion Mocha tandem — just gorgeous. It made me want to get our new bike from Co-Motion even sooner! Congratulations to them on their new steed.

New Tandem. Great choice by John and Lynne

It looked like we’d get in before 5 p.m. with a steady effort, and the stop at the Super Soda Center (great name!) was relatively quick. Chris was worred about the steering on his Surly Long Haul Trucker and we checked the headset and front hub, but found nothing amiss. Out on the road I ate the second half of my Subway turkey sub and drank ice tea I put in one of my water bottles. Hmm, I’m going to do more of that. I downed a few cashews as well. Like pototo chips, they’re too much for me off the bike, but on a ride they taste so good.

Steve, Nigel, MG hoping to make the cover of the American Randonneur

Near Denton we came upon Nick Bull and Mike Wali fixing a flat on Mike’s fixed gear and they joined us — making a group of nine of us in all: MG, Dave, Chris, Barb and Ron, Mike, Nick, Steve and me. Nigel had stopped to get water around mile 106 and would come in by himself. I was sorry he wasn’t there to finish the ride with us.

Making the turn, closer to the finish

Dave and MG

Good Guys Pizza in Centreville appeared right at 4:30 p.m. and we were greeted by Chip and his volunteers, with the customary DCR free pizza and soda. Many thanks to Chip, Clint, their wives and the rest of the Severna Park Peloton group for hosting this ride. And, our best wishes to Bryan Nelson for a quick recovery from his recent crash. You looked in good spirits at the start Bryan!

Made it! That was fun

The Flatbread 200K is for me an annual homecoming ride for DCR, a last chance to gather in fall’s glory and moderate temperatures before the holidays and colder days arrive. We were glad to be a part of it.

Adam and Crystal, new randonneurs. Well done, you two

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.

Colorado High Country 1200K Initial report

MG and I had the good fortune of completing the Colorado High Country 1200K randonnee last Thursday with a great group of fellow randonneurs.

I would put this completion among the top rides we’ve undertaken as a tandem randonneuring team. We owe a lot to the support from organizer John Lee Ellis and his tireless volunteers. It was our third successful 1200K, coming less than a year after Paris-Brest-Paris.

We’ve begun posting our photos. Mine are here. MG has posted hers here and our fellow D.C. Randonneurs member (and RBA) Bill Beck has sets here.

Bill, MG and I also used Twitter to post updates on our progress, with the hashtag #HC1200. See all our Tweets here, no membership required.

Where PBP was a mass event that took stressful international travel and lots of attention to other riders, the HC1200 was downright relaxed. We took a relatively short direct flight from Washington to Denver on July 5, took a quick commuter bus ride from the airport to the hotel, and rode with just 40 other riders rather than the thousands in Paris.

The weather could hardly have been better. The only rain of note we saw was at the start in Louisville, outside Boulder, just before the start last Monday. An overnight shower abated just as we gathered in the predawn darkness for final comments by John before the first day’s stage to Wyoming.

John Lee provided evening and morning food at the hotel overnight control accommodations with the entry fee, taking away two other worries. We mostly just had to ride, control, eat and sleep — what could be easier?

We arrived each of the three evenings at sundown or a little earlier and departed between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. John Lee posted the arrival and departure times of the riders here.

The Co-Motion Speedster tandem rode well with our 700×32 Pasela Tourgurd tires and extras stuffed in a Carradice Nelson Longflap bag on the back. We rode with fenders but hardly needed them, with only a little drizzle over the four days. We had no involuntary tire deflations nor other mechanical problems.

The altitudes on the first day, at 10,800 feet over Snowy Range Road in Wyoming, were an issue for both of us. MG got some nausea and I got light-headed, but those problems cleared quickly as we descended. Other high points, including a 10,300-foot summit on the final day, gave us no problems other than a little headache for MG.

We both battled the intense UV and found we had to apply sunscreen much more often than on the East Coast; MG put on sunsleeves to keep her arms from burning. I had to put on a bandana to shield my neck.

The course was a mix of stunning forested climbs and vistas connected by long stretches of sparsely populated range lands with little vegetation. We spent many hours in a loose group 6-7 riders tooling along on gradually rising rural highways, then climbing through and over lush high passes before plunging back to the lower elevations.

Highlights included afternoon lunches in quaint Laramie, Wyo., and Steamboat Springs, two awesome country breakfasts, and a sublime sunrise journey through Gore Pass.

The final day we had a close encounter with a moose on the roadside (it bounded into the woods) and saw first-hand the ravages of forest fires. The stage started with an star-lit 30-mile night climb to Cameron Pass and then a descent after daybreak through chilly Poudre Canyon. Entire hillsides were scorched and the scent of burnt wood hung in the air.

The Poudre fire initially forced the first of a number of routing revisions John Lee made at the last minute to get riders around fire- and mudslide-related road closures in Colorado and Wyoming.

All in all the route worked well, with a few out-and-backs required to get the distance to 1200K. Despite having few roads to use, John Lee managed to keep the daily stages moderate — 220, 198, 181 and 148 miles respectively — even with the alterations.

The lack of rolling hills led us to adopt what I call “turtle tempo” riding — staying in the saddle and pushing a moderate pace without trying to fly down the road. Whenever we got a descent or truly flat section MG and I pressed the pedals, but the key to this ride was to pedal at a conversational pace and not worry much about the speedometer.

Nearly the entire field, made up of many experienced randonneurs, finished between 80 and 88 hours. That tells me the ride is geared toward a four-day experience and not to rushing through.

The only downside is that we spent more time on the saddle pedaling than a more rolling ride, and our seats and hands got pretty sore. On the third and fourth day we often stood on the pedals to get relief from the saddle. I moved my hands around the bars to lessen the soreness in my palms.

HC1200 is fairly tandem friendly, in that we and the other tandem team, Beth and Brent Myers of Denver, each finished with plenty of time to spare. We never ran low on gears except for the super-steep Twenty Mile Road into Steamboat, but as the name implies, it was not a long segment.

I’ve got a longer story in the works. For now I want to express my gratitude to John Lee and his volunteers, and to MG, for being a super-strong stoker and partner.

We had no tandem team meetings and were able to finish with some great riding pals (Jeff Bauer, Bill Beck, Dave Carpenter, Jimmy Williams, Mark Thomas and a bunch of other riders) with smiles on our faces. That’s the mark of a great event, right?