By Dan Oldale
May 28, 2010
DC Randonneurs hosted its 400k brevet last Saturday from Frederick, Md. The course was a 252 mile loop south in to Virginia, west over the Blue Ridge mountains to West Virginia, then north across the Potomac River and the panhandle of Maryland to Pennsylvania. We rode a big arc through Pennsylvania north then east back across the mountains, then south through Gettysburg, to Thurmont, and the finish in Frederick.
We had cool temperatures and overcast skies in the morning, sprinkles and light showers in the afternoon, and heavy rain in the evening and through the night. Two crossings of the Blue Ridge mountains meant lots of climbing. One ascent in Pennsylvania was three miles long, it just kept on going up. The descents were fun, but in the rain we rode the brakes to stay in control.
We had a 4 a.m. start which is early even for us 5:45 guys. There were 44 of us including three tandems. Cheryl and Lowell Grubbs, Chuck Wood and Crista Borras, and Ed Felker and Mary Gersema. Chuck and Crista would do very well finishing with Bill Beck at 18hr 20 min. Cheryl and Lowell would suffer a catastrophic failure of their free hub at around mile 200. Chuck drove out from the finish to get them at midnight after riding 400k.
I rode in the vicinity of Ed and Mary most of the day, and over the last three hours they were the guiding light that would bring our small group home.
I had a lot of support for this ride. Clint Provenza and Clif Derking two of my SPP 5:45 team mates were there, as was Linda McAdams, my riding partner for the PA 300k, and 400k. Several of the DC Rand group who I had ridden my R-1 in January were with us, Bill Beck, Chuck and Crista, Ed and Mary, George Moore, and several other familiar riders.
I had planned to ride this event at a slightly slower pace. My R-12 hopes depended on completing this ride so I couldn’t take any chances. A big group got off the front early, including Clint and Clif. I let them go, content to stick to my strategy. Linda had come to this ride with a similar plan and we rode the whole day together. I think the 400k in PA was the only glitch in her randonneuring career, and together we were determined not let it happen again.
As we rolled in to the first controle at mile 39 the lead group was nowhere in sight. We met Lane Giardina there, I had ridden with Lane for a while at the 400k in PA, he is very fast. Ed and Mary arrived on the tandem. The five of us rode out as a group and shortly after the controle came upon Andrea Matney, and Greg Conderacci. Andrea had dropped her chain, literally. The pin had worked its way out of the master link and the chain ended up laying in the road several yards behind the bike! Greg was making repairs and Lane stopped to help.
Lane would catch back on and ride with us for a while then head home for the day. He had already ridden a 400K this month, and I think hadn’t planned on riding this whole event. It was good to ride with him for a while. We met several other riders at the Sweet Shop in Shepherdstown W.V., our second controle at about mile 74. I had a muffin and filled my water bottles, Linda did the same and was ready to go, so we rode out.
Mary and Ed were sitting at a side walk table on a beautiful Main street, on a pretty morning having coffee, I was slightly jealous, but we had a long way to go and I was anxious to get back at it. About four miles later Linda and I would miss a turn and get some bonus miles in before getting back on the course. In that time Ed and Mary would get by us without our knowing it. Damn, we could have stayed for coffee after all.
After our missed turn Linda and I zeroed out our odometers and began resetting the mileage at each cue. This worked well until Linda’s computer failed, we were down to one computer. Linda read the cue sheet, and I kept the mileage, and together we stayed on the course.
Linda and I rode without seeing another rider for more than 30 miles. It seemed odd to us, we thought the tandem would catch us, or someone would come off the back of the lead group, but for almost two hours we didn’t see another rider. At the third controle, C&O Bikes in Hancock, Md. at mile 110, we ran in to Andrea and Greg, George Moore, and Jeff Magnuson. Andrea and Greg got out before us, Jeff and George needed a rest, so Linda and I rode another 18 miles by ourselves. At mile 128 the cue sheet read “camp store at Saunderosa Campground, LAST FOOD FOR 26 MILES.”
We stopped to fill our water bottles and found Ed and Mary there resting and having lunch. We didn’t know they had gotten by us. It had been sprinkling off and on, but now the rain became persistent and would intensify over the rest of the ride. The big climbs east over the Blue Ridge through PA were ahead of us. Ed, Mary, Linda and I would ride off and on as a group through the next two controles and on to the finish.
Ed and Mary are very experienced randonneurs, and know the DC Rand routes very well, it was good to be in their company. We were only half way.
We rode through the hills of Pennsylvania, through Cove Gap, and the towns of Edenville and Orrstown, and on to the fourth controle at Kane’s Subs in Newville, PA, mile 176. We passed Bill Beck and Chuck and Crista on their way out from the controle as we were riding in to town, they looked fresh and fast. We had a light meal, filled our water bottles, put on our rain gear, and headed on toward Gettysburg.
The course took us over a few more climbs, past Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and Michaux State Forest. We rode through Gettysburg National Battlefield at sunset, the monuments and statues at that time of day were beautiful. The last controle was in Gettysburg at mile 212. I was very tired, it was dark, pouring down rain, and we had 40 miles to go.
Let me say this, I am NOT a wheel sucker, you can ask the guys I ride with, it is just not my thing. I was so afraid of losing Ed and Mary though that for the last 30 miles I attached my self to their rear wheel like a remora on a big shark. I kept telling myself that I would endure anything to not be dropped by our guides. They were kind to us, Linda and I worked hard and we all finished together.
We had picked up another rider at the last controle and he hung with us for twenty miles, I didn’t get his name. He seemed strong and rode well. It was really pouring, very dark, around 10 p.m. It was nearly impossible to read the cue sheet through rain splattered glasses, and the water on the zip lock bag over the page. I looked back and saw that he was off the back, we made a hard left turn by Rt. 15 and he was gone, nowhere in sight. Ed and Mary planned to stop at a convenience store in Thurmont two miles away and figured the rider would catch us there, he didn’t.
Our group finished at 11:38pm, another group of four riders including Andrea and Greg finished at 12:38am. Tim Zak finished alone at 12:18am, I hope he was our guy. I can’t imagine being dropped in the dark and the rain after 18 hours on the bike, with 20 miles to go and having to figure out how to get back by myself. That’s Randonneuring.
And so, We finished 252.7 miles in 19hr 38min at 11:38pm. Because of the weather the finishing controle was in a hotel room. There was a great reception by the riders who had finished before us and the DC Rand volunteers for the event. Checking the results, Henrik Olsen was first to finish in an incredible 15hr 30min! Clint finished in a group of four riders all at 16hr 20min, smokin’ fast. Clif came in by himself at 17hr 20min, an hour after the group ahead of him, and 50 minutes ahead of the group behind him. The last two finishers came in at 25hr 20min, well under the 27hr time limit. We had seven DNF.
What I Learned:
The biggest lesson was that cutting the pace back just a little made a huge difference. I was able to enjoy the ride, take time to navigate, and get to know the riders around me. Just not feeling like I had to stay attached to a fast group relieved all the stress and made the ride a great experience in spite of the weather and hills.
For this ride I tried just plain water, small amounts of food fairly often, and Ecaps from Hammer Nutrition. It worked really well, I wasn’t ill all day. I’ve discovered Clif bars, hard to open while riding, but really good.
Before this event I had a new cassette put on my bike, an 11-32. With my small chain ring at 34 teeth I had huge gears for climbing, they were awesome. I’m not going to say that climbing was effortless, but I could stay in the saddle and grind out the hills all day.
I’m still not great at navigating, but I’m getting better, and gaining confidence with each brevet. I may never be as good as Chip, but I look forward to a day when riding alone late in a ride is not such an intimidating thought.
Many thanks to Chris Mento our ride organizer and the many volunteers from DC Rand for hosting a fine brevet, cant fault them for the weather. Thanks to Clint and Clif, my teammates on the ride. Thanks to Ed and Mary on the tandem who shepherded our group safely through the darkest and wettest hours of the night. And a very special thanks to Linda for riding with me and supporting me the whole way, we really had a great day! I enjoyed it all, and hope to ride with you all again soon, see you on the roads.