Kick that Rut, the 2016 Version

At the beginning of the year I don’t make resolutions so much as I try to do something about the ruts I’ve fallen into. This is known in the Felkerino-Gersemalina household as the “kick that rut right in the butt” examination.

Ian, Ted and Me. Courtesy MG.

Ian, Ted and Me. Courtesy MG.

As adulthood continues on (thankfully!), ruts become a problem, it seems, as I try to figure out this living thing. Someone recently told me the trick to aging gracefully is not to die from the neck up.

In 2014 I realized I had spent too many years solely riding the bike as my main form of fitness exercise.  That was entirely justified, I figured, as I loathe gyms and my attempts at swimming are laughable.

I was a runner in high school and college, but had dropped it long ago in favor of cycling. Like, 30 years ago. So last year I decided to buy some running shoes, a GPS watch, and see if I could get my legs back in shape. Plus, MG and my daughter DF were running and I was sort of jealous.

It took a long time of mixed walking and running just to be able to run continuously without knee pain, and then run three miles. I finally got there in early March, finishing a 5K. My next goal was a 10K in the fall, which I accomplished in October.

For the year I managed 353 miles over 101 runs and didn’t ruin my knees.

My goal this year is to stick with it and run a 10-miler or half-marathon by the fall. I’ve enjoyed running again, expecially the contemplative aspect, so I expect to get there.

The other rut last year was planning my cycling life around the quadrennial Paris-Brest-Paris 1200K randonnee. I had gone the last four times dating back to 1999, with MG joining me in 2011 on tandem. It was a lot of fun, if exhausting.

We decided that it was an event we’d sorely miss in 2015 — FOMO, it only comes once every four years, and all that.

Yet we didn’t feel like flying to Paris just for a four-day event that we’d done before, and spending a ton of money and blowing two weeks of vacation in the process.

We took a pass and tandem toured for the third straight year, this time for two weeks in Montana and Idaho. That was right for us, though we really missed being there with all our fellow randonneurs in France.

On the other hand, Missoula was cool and we loved visiting the Adventure Cycling Association HQ.

We’ll try to go to PBP in 2019.

This year? We’re going to tandem tour again, likely two weeks from Sacramento to Portland via the Adventure Cycling Association’s Sierra Cascades Route. After riding the past summers in Colorado and the northern Rockies, it’s time to see other mountains by bike.

We’ve heard great things about Lake Tahoe, Crater Lake and the whole route. Plus we know some coffeeneurs in Portland and hopefully we can meet up before we return home.

We’re also going to try to put in more winter miles than last year, when circumstances and weather got in the way. To that end, Mary and I signed up for the Bike Arlington (Va.) Freezing Saddles challenge.

It runs from Jan. 1 to the beginning of spring. You get 10 points for each day you ride (1 mile minimum) plus a point per mile. They put you in teams weighted with both high- and low-mileage riders, so there is some friendly competition.

The competition is based on data uploaded to Strava, so we’ve both fired up our dormant accounts and linked our Garmin accounts. Last year I captured every bike ride, run and fitness walk on Garmin via GPS, so I’m in the groove.

MG is going to have to start using her phone or Garmin watch more than she has, but she’s already liking the “kudos!” you get from Strava.

I’d like to get 600 miles a month through March. We’ll see how that goes — my fallback is 150 miles a week when certain events don’t get in the way.

We’re also going to ride the DCR Fleche this year after skipping last year. We’ve glommed onto a new team and plans are being made with a certain English gentleman who loves to draw up routes, so stay tuned for more.

This weekend MG and I rode our first rando ride of the year, the easy RaceYaToRocco’s 102mi/165K RUSA permanent from Frederick, Md. to East Berlin, Pa. and back. Here’s a map and our GPS data.

It was hard to get up early, drive an hour to Frederick, and start out in the cold — I’ll acknowledge that up front. Getting in the base miles now means we’ll have more fun on the spring brevets and the fleche, though. Plus, we like riding in the winter once we warm up. Tandeming is always fun with MG.

Cold and damp, let's ride a century

Cold and damp, let’s ride a century

The weather was dreary to start — cold mist, in the 30s — but dried out mid-day, though the day was quite gray and foggy.

If you're wearing a buff, let it be reflective!

If you’re wearing a buff, let it be reflective!

The ham-and-bean soup at Rocco’s Pizza was a welcome warmup and tasted great. The folks there have been and always are nice to us randonneurs, and Saturday was no exception.

Rocco's, the randonneur destination

Rocco’s, the randonneur destination

We also had a nice visit at Gravel & Grind bike and coffee shop in Frederick before driving home.

We took the Co-Motion Java touring tandem, and it rode like a champ, comfy and confident. Nothing daunts that bike.

One tough randonneur

One tough randonneur

The new go-faster Spectrum tandem rides nicely needs a bit of tweaking next Saturday back at Tom Kellogg’s place in Pennsylvania before we’ll put it to hard use. Once I finish outfitting with the final bits I’ll write up a post with lots of flattering photos.

Today it was unseasonably warm in DC and I got out for a Freezing Saddles ride with Ted N. and we met up with Ian F. on Hains Point. I was tired but it was fun and we saw MG while she was out and her run.

MG, Ian and Ted

MG, Ian and Ted

If you too are riding more this winter, keep up the good work and let us know in the comments how to follow you on the social media.

If you are local to DC, see you out there!


Another Inaugural Permanent: Devil’s Daughter 206K

After MG and I talked ourselves into a brand new 600K permanent this summer, we didn’t plan on helping break the champagne on another new permanent. But this weekend we found ourselves ignoring the forecast for occasional rain to join Maile Neel, Paul Donaldson, Crista Borras and Chuck Wood on the first running of Crista’s new The Devil’s Daughter 206K RUSA permanent.

Maile, Crista and Chuck at the summit of CR12

Maile, Crista and Chuck at the summit of CR12

See all the photos from the day at my Flickr page and Maile’s Flickr page. I’ve also uploaded the ride to my MotionBased page.

Crista warned us about the estimated 10,000 feet of ascent on this little ride, which featured four major climbs. The big tough mother of the day was up CR12 to Lost River State Park in Lost River, W.V. Steep switchbacks forced us to stand on the pedals in our 26×34 granny gear, rotating the cranks one turn at a time like a cog railway car.

Crista and Chuck climbing CR12

Crista and Chuck climbing CR12

We slipped from rain to clouds to sun and back again all day as soft showers rolled through the region. Somehow it was always dry when we stopped to eat and then rained after we started riding again! The route took us through mostly deserted back roads and gave us majestic views of the West Virginia side of the Shenandoah Valley. When the sun came out we enjoyed the first colors of autumn.

Downhill to Lost River State Park

Downhill to Lost River State Park

We thought we were home free on the last section when a huge rainbow appeared ahead, a sure sign of more rain. We finished in drizzle, 12 hours after we started, elated to have conquered this mighty ride.

Crista, Maile and MG happy at the finish

Crista, Maile and MG happy at the finish

My GPS tracking gave us more than 14,000 feet of climbing, though my Garmin Vista HCx tends to run high. Chuck’s came out closer to 12,000. Either way, we got our $3 worth out of this permanent. For the adventurous, this ride is highly recommended. Thanks Crista!

BPB: MG’s Double Middletown 600K Report

You’ll have to read the story to find out the meaning of BPB, though as a hint I will say MG has keenly observed that no long brevet takes place without some gastronomical distress. Hey, anything to set the tandem and mixed tandem record on this brand new route through the Shenandoah Valley.

See MG’s story on our and David Lippke’s Double Middletown 600K Permanent ride this last weekend below.

30 a.m.David, MG and Me, Before

30 p.m.After

Double Middletown 600K Permanent
(a.k.a. BPB-Big Pukin’ Bike ride)

June 14-15,2008
By Mary Gersema

2008 proved to be a patchwork quilt of brevet events for Ed and me. We were able to complete 200K, 300K, and 400K ACP-sanctioned brevets, but our schedules did not mesh with any of the scheduled ACP 600K brevets in our area. However, thanks to some creative thinking by Ed, and some amazing routing by Lynn Kristianson, my lifelong dream of doing a 600K permanent came to fruition this past weekend.

Ed asked Lynn about a 600K permanent route, and she wiled away many hours putting together a great journey for us, eventually submitting it for RUSA’s final approval. At first it looked as though the permanent would not be accepted by the weekend we had planned to ride it. Darn it, I thought. How disappointing- . Thankfully, though, Permanents Coordinator Edward Robinson added the Double Middletown 600K Permanent to the RUSA database in the nick of time, and we were ready to roll. Great!

Ed sent out a note inviting others on our adventure. I was sure that we’d have no takers on our fine opportunity, but surprisingly, David Lippke responded that he would be interested in riding with us. Lynn K. provided us cue sheets, brevet cards, maps, and brownies. Now I am not sure if brownies are standard fare when you ride a Lynn K. permanent, but if so, I highly recommend you all sign up for one of her rides immediately.

Day One

Ed and I drove off from my place Saturday morning at 3:15a.m., and as we made our way along the Waterfront in Southwest DC, we saw that the nightclubs were just closing, and there were lots of people in their clubwear chatting and walking to their cars. Off we were to ride our bikes after four hours of sleeping, and these people had not even been to bed yet. It felt so surreal.

We gathered at the Sheetz in Haymarket, Va. to begin our little 375-mile tour. After bike prep and pre-ride chat we entered the Sheetz to control in. The young woman who signed our control cards thought it was so cool that we were doing this ride and that she got to sign our cards. Her excitement was shocking. We were not prepared for so much enthusiasm at 4:30 a.m. She signed all of our cards with a smiley face, and even added a heart to mine. David said he hoped all the controls would be like this. Tina, David’s wife, memorialized our start with a few pics of us outside the Sheetz in front of the windshield wiper fluid and the three of us rolled out into the dark morning together.

The morning ride was uneventful. The sun rose, we put a few miles on the odometer, and I thought about how much we had to ride the first day. 266 miles. That seemed far to me. Really far. “Mary, don’t freak out. You can do it,” I told myself. Then the Talking Heads song “Road to Nowhere” started looping in my mind.

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside.
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride.

I told myself to stop singing that song. That only made the song louder in my mind. Unfortunately, that little bit was the only part of the song I could remember. I started thinking about the song. Did they mean that a road to nowhere was bad or that a road to nowhere was OK? The Talking Heads seemed to think a road to nowhere might not be a bad thing. How can that be? What was the rest of the song? I don’t know! ARGH! This song was pedaling me into psychological ruin. Ed seemed completely unaware of all that was going on back in the stoker zone.

We passed through a couple of controls (the Middletown 7-11 and the Newstar Market, miles 45 and 53, respectively), and then slogged our way down the ever-popular Back Road. The controls took longer than usual for us because, for one, we could not seem to get into a 600K permanent groove. Secondly, we had to make sure to get receipts as well as signatures at each control.

“Road to Nowhere” continued to chorus in and out of my mind, the sun rose, and I began to feel drowsier. This was unusual, as my lethargy tends to fade with the daylight. I wondered if Ed could sense my drowsiness, and a few miles later Ed said he needed to pull over for coffee at Larkin’s Store. Guess Ed was having drowsiness issues of his own.

After that coffee stop, the drowsiness of the day seemed to fade somewhat, and David, Ed, and I happily talked and rode our way up and down the next 50 miles to Singers Glen. As we arrived the sky began to darken. That made for a perfect time to stop and have lunch. Good thing we did because ten minutes later thunder rumbled, the wind kicked up, and the rain POURED down! I looked out the window. The rain was streaming sideways, and the sides of the streets were gushing with water. Yep, we chose a good time to stop.

Fortunately, the rain showers powered through, and around an hour later we started off again. There was still rain, but we were not getting doused. Not that it really mattered, though, because a few miles up the road a car passed us and made sure to completely drench us with the rooster tails rising up from his car wheels. Yucko! I did not even want to venture a guess as to what was in that water. David was sure the person had soaked us on purpose, and I had my own thoughts about the matter, but I tried to believe it had been an accident.

Oddly enough, the Singers Glen stop marked my transition point. It may have been storming outside, but finally I was feeling alert and in synch with the ride. No more “Road to Nowhere” for me. Good thing we were doing a 600K permanent so that I could take full advantage of the 100-mile warm-up, ha ha!

The day cleared again and we enjoyed some mellow, yet toasty miles to the Stokesville Market control at mile127. Another friendly person signed our cards, and we hung out and rested a little bit as some guys came by and washed up the fish they had caught.

Soon after the Stokesville Market we meandered onto Bunker Hill Road and Jennings Gap Road. These were lovely roads, but the few cars that passed us seemed to have some anger management issues, yelling out their windows, and not giving us much room when passing. Dude, we’re just out for a bike ride; we’re not staging a bicycling revolution out here.

The skies began to darken, the wind began talking to us rather urgently as we hit US250, and Ed decided to ponder our next steps at a closed restaurant that had a nice overhang. David pondered with us a bit, and then ventured out into the drizzle. He gave us his wife’s cell phone number as he pedaled off. How reassuring! We waited a bit more, the drizzle turned to steady rain, we decided there would be no lightning or immediate danger, and continued on our way. It rained for a few miles, and then ebbed.

We caught David at the Deerfield store at mile 150 and went in to buy a treat and get our cards signed. The woman inside told us that we would have some nice downhill ahead. She then added that we’d have some uphill, too. Um… ok. We laughed about that as we started riding again. Ed said, “Yes, it will be downhill except for the parts that are uphill.” And David kept saying whenever there was a rise in the road, “It’s downhill… mostly. Mostly.”

Knowing we had a little over a century left for the day simultaneously buoyed my spirits and depressed me. We’ve come so far, I thought. We have so far to go, I responded to myself. Focus on the former, I thought again.

After the Deerfield store, we were treated to some pretty quiet downhill stretches (except for the uphills, of course), and I felt better. However, I noticed David making intermittent remarks about how ORF-less this stretch of road was. (ORF is one of the many little cue sheet acronynms that have become part of our vocabulary. It stands for outdoor restroom facility).

I started keeping my eyes peeled for some ORF relief. Finally, I spied this old-fashioned outhouse that was painted a pretty russet brown with a black crescent moon and star on the front. “Look there, David!” I shouted. “There’s the perfect ORF for you, but I don’t know how you will get there.” It looked way off in the weeds. David said, “See you later, I’m going back.” Later he reported that was the loveliest outhouse he’d ever visited, with toilet paper and everything. He was disappointed Ed had not taken a picture of it.

Ed and I rode on alone through this beautiful stretch to the midpoint of the ride, Clifton Forge, Va. at mile 193. David caught us, and we all entered the control together. The women working there asked us about our ride and when we told them, one of them remarked on how great our journey was. Wow! I have never experienced so much support from people on a long ride. Most people have just looked at us like we are a little crazy. Not this ride; all the people at the controls thought we were doing something special. That gave me a really good feeling!

Soon after our Clifton Forge stop, night fell, and we began climbing North Mountain toward Goshen. The climb was about five miles, I think, but the grade was quite manageable. Nonetheless the canopied road and darkness of the evening started fooling with my brain. I looked ahead and all I could see was Ed’s Camelbak; I looked to my side and all I could see were trees and leaves.

David’s lights came from behind the tandem and started casting crazy shadows. Images of Ed and me were huge and cast onto the trees. I could not tell if one of the shadows was my head or Ed’s so I decided to wag my head vigorously from side to side to check it out. I’m sure Ed really appreciated that, but I was in another zone. Then I decided that since I could not see anything anyway I would just close my eyes for a bit. A second later I woke up. (Ed told me later he noticed there was one point on the climb where he felt my legs go totally dead. I imagine it was this moment.)

As we came closer to the top of the climb, I was able to see one thing… arrow signs. Lots of them. Arrow sign after arrow sign. I did not find these arrow signs very helpful. They were too yellow and too bright in the darkness. Also, since we were climbing so slowly we had plenty of time to figure out which way the road turned. I thought they were an insult to my intelligence. Duh, we are quite aware the mountain is still going up and that we need to take a right. Thanks. They also seemed interminable. Never had I felt such animosity toward a road sign. I really wished we had been a bit more efficient during the day so that we could have made the climb before nightfall and these arrows would not be reflecting back and mocking my ascent. Oh well. I have to remember to not look back like that on rides. It is not productive and only serves to deflate me.

Finally, finally, we reached the top of North Mountain, and we began to pick up some serious speed on the descent. We had great lights and the descent was smooth and fairly straight. It was AWESOME! You should ride this permanent just to relish this downhill. It was one great payoff that lasted around eight miles. Yahoo! Any cars that passed gave us plenty of space and acted like it was totally normal to have cyclists out on the road at 10:30 at night or whatever time it was.

We eventually reached the end of the delightful descent, and rolled along to an intersection where Ed and David remarked it would be a good place to flip the cue sheet. We stopped, and then Ed started feeling bad. He went over to the side of the road and I told David quietly that Ed was probably going to throw up. “Oh really? Oh!” David replied quietly. What would a RUSA ride be without “occasional vomiting?”

Ed returned to our tandem, reporting that he felt better. David pointed up at the sign that was on the corner. It read “BPB Lumber Corp.” “Hey,” David said. “We didn’t do PBP, we’re doing BPB… a Big Pukin’ Bike ride.” That made me laugh so hard that I could not get on the bike, and then I laughed about it for the next ten miles.

It was a beautiful evening in Goshen, and there was a group on an outside stage at the still-open Cozy Restaurant playing bluegrass music. It sounded great, and if we had not been on a 600K permanent, I would have demanded that we stop to enjoy the music. Alas, we had 50 more miles of riding to go and we pedaled onwards.

Lynn, genius router that she is, put us on VA42 for most of the remaining miles to the control. That was perfect because we did not have to worry about missing a cue, and the road was undulating and pleasant. As we rode we could see fireflies around all the trees. A train passed just to the right of us. Cars gave us plenty of room when passing.

I told Ed that this 600K permanent was one of the weirdest rides I had ever done. There was not the seriousness that I often feel on a brevet, but at the same time the distance was a serious distance. I kept thinking, “Hey I’m just on a permanent,” and the next minute I would freak out and think, “I’m on a 600K permanent! Pedal pedal pedal!!!” Also, we were doing the permanent as a group ride. In this respect, it felt like a fleche… a fleche that never ends. Good thing we were all enjoying each other’s company (at least, as far as I knew!).

We made another climb through the George Washington National Forest, and as we descended to mile 245, Ed noticed David getting very quiet. David asked about taking a little stop in Churchville. Ed and I thought that sounded good. We stopped on a corner of some local store that had a nice overhang and comfy cement steps. David walked across the street to grab a couple pops. Ed and I watched him, both of us feeling a bit drowsy but good. Either my sense of time was really skewed or David was having problems with the pop machine because it seemed to take him forever to get his Coke. I told Ed I thought I should go and help him, but my legs wouldn’t move. So we just watched. Eventually he returned and said the machine wasn’t liking his money. Maybe so, but it is funny how simple things take on a new complexity after you’ve been riding for more than 20 hours.

We drank our pops and then made off to the Village Inn Motel at mile 266 in Harrisonburg. After we turned onto US11, Ed tried to convince David and me that a big farmhouse was the motel. “No, Ed,” I said. “I just don’t think this is it. Are you sure?” Ed said he was going to go up and ask. Fortunately David saved us by calling Tina and getting assurance from her that the motel would be clearly marked. Sure enough, after a couple tenths of a mile, a gigantic and brightly lit Village Inn Motel sign greeted us. We checked in for the evening, picked up the drop bags Tina had so kindly brought forward for us, and arranged to meet at 7 a.m. the following morning.

BPB-Big Pukin’ Bike ride, Day 2

Three hours of sleep later I awoke feeling pretty good. Just 110 miles to go, I thought. I can do this!

Ed and I met up with David, rode four miles together to the day’s first control (mile 270, Bridgewater) and promptly stopped for breakfast and coffee. Our legs were feeling pretty heavy as we left town and Ed and I watched David climb away from us. As we approached the control at mile 288 in Broadway, I decided I was going to have an orange Pushup and Fritos. Yummy! I had seen Nick Bull eating Fritos on a recent brevet, and they looked so tasty I had decided I would have some on my next brevet. Unfortunately, there were no regular Fritos to be had, only barbecue flavor. That was heartbreaking, but at least they had the orange Pushup! I ate my Pushup and watched David ride away again.

Ed and I left Broadway and made our way to Middle Road. This was another one of the gorgeous stretches. The weather was perfect, the terrain rolling, but not killer, and the views of the valley and mountains were spectacular. I could tell Ed and I were feeling awesome about the brevet. “I love you so much, Mary!” “I love you, Ed! It’s amazing we get to do this together!” We are so lucky, I thought! I told Ed that I didn’t care that we wouldn’t be validated by the French on this ride. I felt good just doing the ride! I was a super randonneur in my own mind, ha ha! And I did not even have to sell myself a medal to award the distinction.

We hit Route 11, a.k.a. the Great Fleche Highway, and pedaled into Woodstock for lunch. We saw David hanging out on the sidewalk at the Sheetz, and I told Ed how ridiculous that looked. For some reason, when we sit on the gas station curb it seems completely normal, but when I see someone else do it, it looks funny. We enjoyed our first real sit-down meal of the ride at the Woodstock Café… great coffee, great food. (And fast service, always a plus for the randonneur!)

After lunch, we slogged our way to Middletown. We saw the same cashier who had been there yesterday and Ed commented on it. “I live here,” he replied, and signed our cards. He also told us David had taken off ten minutes prior to our arrival. Outside the 7-11, a couple of locals talked to us quite a bit about our tandem and told us how we should use reflective gear, lights, and a flag so that they could see us bicyclists better. Ed and I were down with the first two, but there is no flag going on our tandem, thank you very much.

Back on the route, Reliance Road took us down toward the low water bridge outside of Front Royal. We spied a tandem with a “For Sale” sign on it, and could not resist stopping. It turned out to be a gorgeous orange 1978 Schwinn Paramount tandem with Phil Wood front and rear hubs and Phil Wood pedals. It was the oddest treasure to find by the roadside during a 600K permanent. Our ride was charmed, I thought! Ed marked the spot on his GPS unit so if anyone wants to go back and purchase it, let us know!

I started feeling the hills and the fatigue in my legs after we left the Schwinn tandem behind, and then I started crying just as we made the turn up onto Dismal Hollow Road. Ed was surprised by this turn of events. I guess the charm and awesomeness had faded for the moment. Actually, I was just tired and feeling out of synch with Ed, which can make things sort of frustrating on a tandem. After a short shade break, though, I recovered and told Ed I was having a pedal stroke. “One pedal stroke after another,” he said. That gave me the giggles and we kept riding.

Things brightened up for us after Dismal Hollow Road, partly because we got to take in some nice tailwind and downhill on Route 55 going into Marshall, and because I knew we were going to be successful in our RUSA 600K permanent endeavor. In Marshall, we ran into David, who had waited for us, and we rode the final miles in together. We spied a mileage sign that indicated Haymarket (our final destination) was three miles away. “Surely you’ve ridden three miles before?” we said to each other, quoting Lynn K. from one of her brevet descriptions.

“I see a Sheetz!” David said a few minutes later. It felt so good to see the finish line. We parked the bikes and went in to make a final convenience store purchase and get our brevet cards signed. We went outside and stood in front of the windshield wiper fluid again so Tina could take a finishing picture of us. (Nothing but glamour shots for the randonneurs.) Woohoo! Complete elation. We had so much fun, I thought! The first 100-mile warm-up and Dismal Hollow crying moment were but distant memories to me now.

I was so proud of us for doing the ride. Even though we took more breaks Saturday morning than I would have liked, it helped us manage our sleep deprivation and we eventually fell into a good riding groove. David was excellent company, had a great sense of humor, and possessed a keen sense of the momentum of the tandem. I was amazed by how well he descended with us! Everybody kept their cool, rode within themselves, and we all looked out for each other.

Also, it felt satisfying to be able to work in a 600K. Last year, competing priorities did not allow for me to do much riding, let alone a 600K. The French may not validate me, but Lynn Kristianson will, and that works for me! And guess what? Lynn K. even gave us 600K finishing brownies when we turned in our brevet cards! I may not be a Super Randonneur, but with rides like this, company like David, and my favorite tandem rider Ed Felker I feel super to be one!

BPB Postscript

After the ride I listened to Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.” I discovered it is a perfect randonneuring song. Check out some of the lyrics below.

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride

I’m feelin’ okay this mornin’
And you know,
We’re on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go

We’re on a ride to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride

Maybe you wonder where you are
I don’t care
Here is where time is on our side
Take you there…take you there

We’re on a road to nowhere
We’re on a road to nowhere
We’re on a road to nowhere

There’s a city in my mind
Come along and take that ride
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right

And it’s very far away
But it’s growing day by day
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right

Double Middletown 600K Permanent

We did it! MG and I, with David Lippke, were the first riders to complete Lynn Kristianson’s brand new Double Middletown 600K permanent from Haymarket, Va. this weekend. Watch this space for a more complete report, with data from our GPS units. We have a photoset at my Flickr page and a Slideshow.

UPDATED: David has merged our two GPS tracks together (we both lost some tracking, but not at the same points) and has uploaded the data to MotionBased. See it Here.

Riding North on VA42, Sunday MorningRiding North on VA42, Sunday Morning

We started at 4:30 a.m. with David meeting us with his wife Tina, who thoughtfully provided bag drop service for us to the overnight control in Harrisonburg, Va. at mile 265. We all agreed we had not had enough sleep and were drowsy. But, a plan is a plan and off we went into the night.

Tina and David at the StartTina and David at the Start

The route took us south through the Shenandoah Valley, ascending most of the morning to VA42 to Singer’s Glen, where we stopped for lunch under heavy clouds. The skies opened up and poured as we sat inside. The storm moved past within 20 minutes or so, and despite forecasts of scattered showers, we had only one more light rainfall for the rest of the day. Since this was a permanent we needed receipts at each control, which meant we had the opportunity to buy lots of caffeine drinks trying to stay alert.

As an aside, when two drowsy people ride a tandem it makes for some interesting handling. Luckily neither of us fell asleep in the warm, humid afternoon!

We made the turnaround in Clifton Forge around 9 p.m. and began a slow five mile climb up North Mountain, followed by a tremendously fun descent to Goshen. Each turn on the way up had an arrow sign and near the top Mary said if she saw one more arrow we were going to stop so she could chop it down.

Few cars were out on VA42 to Harrisonburg and we rode under mostly clear skies with light, warm winds. We felt like we were crawling due to the sleep cravings, but we made pretty good time and got to the hotel at 2:30 a.m. I delayed our arrival by a few minutes when I became convinced a large farmhouse with a few trucks might be our hotel, but David got on his cell phone and confirmed we had a little ways further to go…about an eighth of a mile. MG and David were very gracious about my little snafu.

Up and out again at 7:30 a.m., we encountered a sparkling clear morning. With 110 miles to go and lots of time, we stopped as we felt. MG and I had our first decent meal of the ride in Woodstock, and later talked with a homeowner along the route who was selling an excellent condition custom Schwinn Paramount tandem, which he said was built in 1978. It had kind of a crazy geometry, as if it was built for a child stoker. With vintage Phil Wood hubs, Phil’s CHP pedals and Suntour components, it was tempting.

Schwinn Custom along the routeSchwinn Tandem along the Route

David had gone ahead but we found him at a 7-11 cooling off 13 miles from the finish at Marshall, Va., and we rode to the end together.

David and MGDavid and MG

David, MG and Me at the finishDavid, MG and Me at the finish

We found this ride to be challenging, but the climbing was rewarded every time with broad views of the Shenandoah Valley and fast downhills. Services were limited at night but we managed with our Camelbaks and food on board. Thanks Lynn for this ride!

Kelly Smith’s “Idiot’s Guide to the Shenandoah 1200”

First I laughed. Then I cried. Then I laughed so hard I started crying. Kelly Smith has written a stellar account of his Shenandoah 1200K. It was his first long randonnee in three years of randonneuring that was to culminate in PBP until pesky circumstances got in the way.

Judith Longley and KellyJudith Longley and Kelly, courtesy Bill Beck

The Idiot’s Guide to the Shenandoah 1200
by Kelly Smith

Monday June 9, 2008

Executive Summary:
-The best weapon in the arsenal of heat defense is a tubesock full of ice.
-Ask more questions and look at the cuesheet more carefully (of course if I had I would not
have started).
-Though it seems impossible at lunch time, you can climb mountains until midnight.
-Volunteers are the greatest people in the world!
-It is better to be lucky than good.


Here I sit in my bed trying to sort out impressions from the Shenandoah 1200 brevet, while simultaneously resting my seat, feet, hands, neck, and knees. I have never done a grand randonnee so have no direct frame of reference, but can only say it was the hardest, hottest, and in some ways scariest experience of my life.

First, some background. I began riding brevets in 2006 intending to do PBP. Riding with Mary Crawley on the tandem worked out so well I would have liked to have done BMB with her that year but a conflict stopped me. Come 2007 I missed PBP as well. When the idea of a local 1200 was mentioned I was all over that idea, even recruiting my wife to help. As time went by and the controversy grew I had my doubts, but starting a 1200 within 23 miles from my house was too ‘easy’, I had to do it.

Naturally (for me) as time went by my doubts grew and grew, peaking during the Middletown 600. That Saturday night I was 100% decided that I would not do the 1200. If I could get any money back, great. If not, consider it a donation. You could say it was Carol Bell who is responsible for my starting the 1200. She came blasting by on Back Road as I was recovering from a bonk. The fun I had chasing Andrea and Greg with her and Paul helped me forget how miserable I’d been. As it was the 600 probably saved my 1200 by finally teaching me to eat and drink enough.

I was a nervous wreck as the event approached. I debated all kinds of last minute changes, even considered building up a new bike before I came to my senses (or just ran out of time). I switched my saddle, but a test ride the weekend before convinced me to switch back. In the end I bought new tires (Conti Gatorskins) after a rash of flats (none on the 1200) and a new light (Black Diamond Icon – great light) the week of the event. Of course these last minute panic buys were at full price!

I knew it was important to be well rested, but my fretting led to much lying awake when I should have been sleeping. A final evening of packing meant I only had four hous of sleep before I got up at 2:15. Amazingly, from there on every thing went fantastically well for me, four truly lucky days.

Day One

The start was cool. There were so many people I didn’t know from all over the country, every one seeming confident and ready. Matt was his usual low-key self, finally launching us with a dramatic “well go ahead” or some other casual send off. The morning was comfortable, but intensely humid, my glasses fogged as we simply rode the easy initial bits of the route. We had to climb over and around downed trees and power lines in Waterford, but you could see stars in the sky and threatened storms never appeared.

The first 68 miles were like a regular club ride (other than being half in the dark). A good group stayed together chatting, and held a high but not unreasonable pace. The first shock was Spruce Run, a narrow and extremely steep climb I’d never ridden before. A school bus squeezed by adding to the thrill. We arrived at the Gettysburg control in great time and I put on sunscreen while eating a PBJ on bagel and grabbing snacks (eat, eat!). The group broke up here and I left alone, meeting Tom from Connecticut (I believe, apologies if that’s wrong) on the road. We chatted about the Gettysburg battlefield until we came upon the ‘group Andrea’ on the roadside. I didn’t know that her pedal had failed causing a fall till later, but they indicated things were under control and we moved on expecting to be overtaken soon.

In this area we saw lots more storm damage; in some places all trees were broken to some extent. Cleanup trucks and debris made it impractical to ride fast so things were pretty casual. Along here I met Jim from Ohio and Tim from Charlottesville. They were great road company. Jim reminded me of Jim Carey, and we kept a quick but manageable pace on through West Virginia into Virginia again. The heat began to really kick in now, and my memories get a little fuzzy, but I rode the section from Columbia Furnace to Harrisonburg with Mike Lutz from Pennsylvania at a conservative pace, arriving at 8:30 p.m.

My wife Josie and daughter Maggie were there. It was great to see them, and the facility was very nice. We made such good time and got in so early I had debated pushing on to Deerfield. Once indoors, however, the decision was made and I cleaned up. I chatted with them and also called Mary, who was having a great adventure crewing for Jeff Bauer and Kevin Kaiser on RAAM. I wasn’t very efficient so was up ’til 10; the dreaded seriousness of the event had not fully sunk in!

Day Two

Curtis Palmer, Mike, and I met in the morning for a 4 a.m. start. I felt bad but not awful, and had breakfast of pancakes and OJ. We set off at Curtis’s usual FAST pace and while it felt like I might be sorry it was too much fun to pass up. The other benefit was rolling into Deerfield by 6:30 a.m. Later I realized how important it was to go fast in the dawn coolness; you would not go fast later! There we discovered a fantastic breakfast being served — hash browns, eggs, biscuits, gravy, bacon, and piles of readymade pastries. I immediately requested eggs and home fries, which really hit the spot I hadn’t even known was open.

The next section began to be increasingly hilly and I dropped back, riding solo the last bit into Clifton Forge. I met Paul there and joined him as I ate a grilled ham and cheese and enormous wedge of German chocolate cake. Paul’s big breakfast deal included the baked apples he didn’t want so I cleaned those up too. My feeding plan was certainly on track!

Mike arrived later after fixing a flat so he and I rolled out together. Soon the climbing became severe and I dropped back, beginning the hardest section of the route. Rich Patch, Upper Rich Patch, and Jameson Mountain Road were extreme trials, relieved only by overhead shade. I use a 34×28 low gear and have been climbing a lot recently, but I had to stand for extended pitches just to keep the pedals turning.

I was unwilling to take full advantage of the descents due to grit and gravel so this was a slow section: 76 miles took 7.5 hours!

I rolled into Christiansburg a cooked and broken man. The service sheet just listed snacks at the control so I stopped at a local pizzeria. That turned out to be a good choice. Two big slices of eggplant pizza and iced tea refueled me and I made phone calls to let the family and Mary know I was alive. Still, it was a very low point.

I dodged the rush hour traffic on 11/480 to the control and found a scene from Village of the Damned. Several riders were there who had decided to DNF and were trying to make a plan to get back to Leesburg. Matt greeted me with “Kelly, you’re going on, aren’t you?” Despite the way I was feeling I said yes and fled the vortex of bad vibes with my brevet card.

Christiansburg to Hillsville was rough, although not as hard as the last section, but I was very tired and facing a long solo night ride. On the plus side all along this area of the route, when you weren’t in the mountains, farmers were making hay. It was fascinating to see one after another in the stages of mowing, spreading, drying, raking into rows, and bailing the hay. I know it sounds boring but it was endlessly interesting to me…at the time. And time was freely available as I crawled through the endless rollers.

I stopped at a firehouse to fill my bottles and rig for night. One of the firemen was there and we chatted. It was almost embarrassing to explain what I was doing, but he was interested and friendly.

This was my first extended night riding. Thank goodness I had bought a new light at the last minute. It is a Black Diamond Icon headlamp with a 3 watt LED which completely changed my experience. With it I made time about as well as I could have by day, and the temperatures at last cooled. The terrain was not what I expected though, lots of descents that would be rued tomorrow on the return. There was one long climb that had me panicked for a while – I thought “if this keeps up to Fancy Gap I won’t get in til 4 a.m.!!” Finally I met the first two returning riders, who told me it was about two more hours to the Gap. It took me more like three, but at least I had an idea.

I reached Hillsville about 10 p.m. Thank heaven for Jim and Clare at the control! They were so positive and enthusiastic. Clare handed me sodas and a PBJ, Jim got me lined up with a group leaving to head up to the Gap and I was on my way. At last the day’s end was in sight. I felt much better to be climbing in sight of others, and finally believed I could make it and sleep a while.

When I reached the Parkway it was truly eerie. I’d ridden it before but not at night. It is utterly dark, and I expected deer or bears to step into the road at any minute. Finally I got to the control, which was different because you left your bike at one cabin near the Parkway then were shuttled up the hill to other cabins to eat and sleep.

What a setup the NC Randonneurs had! There was tasty chili, made to order burgers, and lots of side treats. Even better, the atmosphere was really positive and fun. It really boosted my spirits.

Day Three

After a short but comfortable sleep I met Curtis and Mike at 3:30 a.m. for a 4 a.m. rollout. It was a pleasant surprise to see Paul at the lower cabin resting up. Of course the WGR doesn’t actually need to sleep, but he does get off his bike from time to time. He chided me for my silly sleep habits and we wished each other luck.

Leaving Fancy Gap was fairly miserable at first, seat issues began to show up, and the legs were fairly unresponsive. Here were the dreaded downhills from last night. In fact, one of the steepest bits of the route (but short thankfully) was on the ‘descent’ from the BRP! We passed Andrea and Greg who had stopped in Hillsville, I think, and they looked good.

Hillsville was a different story now, no one but the three of us, and the very sleepy team of Clare and Jim. They sprang into action and took care of us for a quick turnaround. Things were jammed up when Curtis discovered a broken spoke nipple on his rear wheel. I had one in my Kevlar spoke kit so he got to work. Of course, then his CO2 gizmo blew up so he used Mike’s pump and we finally rolled about 6 a.m.

Just then Judith and Martin rolled in. They’d had a brevet rider’s nightmare, taking a wrong turn and descending the WRONG SIDE OF THE BLUE RIDGE! On the long climb back up they had to hike around a jackknifed semi that had wrecked after they passed.

Leaving Hillsville we were in a jolly mood and riding well, but soon I tired and fell further and further behind. I rolled into Christiansburg in the rising heat and had a tuna sandwich and Mountain Dew at the control. It was a real disappointment to see the course back-tracked over many miles of yesterday’s route, but at least not the truly horrible climbs near Clifton Forge.

We rolled out together but I was soon solo again and pondering the meaning of life as I broiled on the scary hot white chipseal of Blacksburg Road. I had to drink constantly but didn’t want to run out before I could refill. I soon came upon Curtis and Mike chatting with a friendly farm family who they had begged water from. I joined them and we got a minute’s break in the shade.

A few miles later I saw a lady in her yard and stopped again. By this water leapfrogging I made it to the first store and found Curtis and Mike sitting on the floor surrounded by bottles and ice cream wrappers. I joined them and in a bit Judith and Martin arrived. I loaded my bottles, tube sock, and helmet with ice and we headed out to “cross the Nefud, the sun’s anvil!” to quote Omar Sheriff from Lawrence of Arabia.

From there I rode with Judith and Martin. We formed an amazingly compatible group. We struggled through Fincastle (an old English word meaning stopsign at the bottom of a 20% grade), and met up with Tim and Jim from Florida teaming up for the stretch on US11 into Buchanan. As we rolled up to the control someone noticed the bank thermometer reading 102!! Curtis and Mike were already there, and mentioned they’d seen 103. YAY IT’S COOLING OFF!

Here folks debated pushing on or holing up in Burger King and letting the asphalt firm up again. Judith and I decided to leave and take it very easy until it cooled. This follows the randonneur principle that moving slow is infinitely faster than stopping. Clare and Jim rolled in as we were leaving and told us 15 folks were behind us.

From here we explored how slow one can ride and wove from side to side seeking shade regardless of lane. We finally began to feel some cooling about when we reached US11. This road had been hotly debated before the event, and I was shocked when we first got on it. It is a four lane hwy, usually without shoulder, and when we first hit it traffic was somewhat heavy.

I couldn’t imagine riding it for 50 miles into the night and if I’d actually had a map or known the roads better might have abandoned. I didn’t though, so we pressed on. I thought a lot about the balance between riding and death, but then the traffic disappeared. As it turned out there was almost none for almost all of the way on US11.

This was actually good riding: beautiful views of huge fields (more hay) and the mountains, pretty towns, big rollers but gentle enough to carry momentum up. The miles began to tick away, but there were a lot of them.

After dark we reached Staunton and that was quite an experience. It was about 10 p.m. on Saturday night and US11 is a de facto main street. We were flowing in four-to-six lanes of traffic and changing lanes with the cars. At one light a drunk walked into the intersection and a cop pulled up and grabbed him. I mentioned to Judith that we were crazy! All this excitement made it impossible for me to keep track of my computer error, so I was completely off about how far remained. For the next hour we hoped every exit and glow of lights was Harrisonburg only to be disappointed.

We arrived in town, but could not figure out the last block to the dorm. We asked people on the street and went back and forth, now on the verge of total bonk. Finally Judith found a person who’d heard of the college and we rolled in about midnight.

I was about at the end of my rope and just sat and ate food Jeff and Bob handed to me (thanks!). After considerable debate we decided to get up at 3:45 a.m. (vs 3:30, talk about splitting hairs) and fell out.

Day Four

Seconds later I was awakened and reeled down stairs to be greeted by Steve “Bones” Matney: “what are you doing up?” I looked at the clock, 3:15 a.m., but couldn’t understand what he meant. Turned out Judith had been woken up by another rider’s arrival and made an executive decision to get us up and moving. Once I realized this I was pretty annoyed, but just stumbled on getting ready to leave. Bob fixed me some pancakes which I supplemented with a donut and we wobbled out. Judith said I would thank her, and she was right.

I discovered my light had died (9 hours is the limit) but it was OK because Martin and Judith pulled. We pedaled up an entirely deserted Route 42 and began to feel better. Except for our bottoms.

At one point I shifted my weight and let out a little yelp, a moment later Judith did the same and I mentioned that anyone listening would get entirely the wrong idea. This stretch was mercifully gentle though, and as the sun rose we had more gorgeous views of valley farms and the surrounding mountains. We made a pit stop at the Edinburg Shell where they told us the previous days high had been 106!!

We rolled into Middletown at 8:30 a.m. and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, but Martin announced he had to stop. He’d reinjured his knee and it was too painful to go on. We discussed rescue options and ice bags, then he insisted we push on.

I applied more Chamois Butter and pulled on a second pair of shorts. We went to the gas station market across the street and got tasty breakfast sandwiches, then turned the cuesheets. Imagine my horror when I saw Route 7/Snickers Gap, and realized we’d be there around midday! I told Judith we had to go, now! I explained there was an ugly climb ahead, not terribly steep but long and exposed. For the next 30 miles we had an amusing game of “Is this the climb? NO!”

Along here we met Chuck and Crista. It was so exciting to see them! I really wanted to stop but we had to move so we exchanged a couple words and pressed on. After the low water bridge I mentioned to Judith to thank Matt for not including Blue Mountain Road, LOL! We stopped there for more ice and started the rollers and small climbs along the Shenandoah.

Traffic on Route 50 was heavy and fast, not giving us an inch of room, which really frightened me in my semi-unhinged state. Coming off that road we saw Bill in his safari hat taking photos. Mount Carmel and Frogtown roads seemed just terribly hard now, and then the ride along the river was more scariness as every local roared down it in their truck.

And then we hit Route 7 – DUNH DUNH DUNH DUH! The Virginia DOT has repaved it and the first section has no shoulder at all, just one foot past the fog line then the side of the mountain. I was totally unnerved as steady traffic hammered by, often within a foot of us. The next section has a shoulder, but was freshly and roughly chip sealed. I didn’t care and rode it, bumps and all. Judith, braver than I, stayed on the fog line. Finally we reached the top and coasted down to Snickersville Turnpike.

We were completely cooked and stopped at the Bluemont Store for rootbeer floats. This worked wonders and we rolled on feeling OK. My double shorts strategy worked too and that issue receded.

Unfortunately the mood was ruined just past the Airmont store. I saw a car back and dropped behind Judith to let them pass. Suddenly beer and glass sprayed past me. The passenger in the car had thrown a beer bottle and hit the back of my helmet. By amazing luck not a piece cut me and I didn’t fall. Unfortunately Judith felt a tiny piece get in her eye, but it didn’t cause an injury. By the time I realized what had happened they were so far up the road neither of us could get a tag number or model. I called 911 but they couldn’t do anything with out it. This totally freaked me out and I stayed behind and to the left of Judith the rest of the way and was constantly looking over my shoulder.

Traffic was crazy Sunday afternoon on Business 7, but eventually we made it to Dry Mill and Leesburg. We dodged traffic onto Route 7 and there it was THE COMFORT INN! WE MADE IT!

It was wonderful to see so many friends come to cheer for us, and see our friends who finished. Like I said earlier, once the ride started I had unbroken fantastic luck. The biggest factor in my success was continuously meeting people to ride with who were going just the right pace to move me along without blowing up, and who had fun, positive attitudes. Tim, Jim, Curtis, Mike, Martin, and Judith really saved the brevet for me!


P.S. It shows how deranged I am that just now thoughts of Tom Rosenbauer’s Pennsylvania 1000K in August came to me. Hmm, I wonder if Mary would do that on the tandem?

John Fuoco’s N-S Vermont Record Attempt

TDR’s own Jon Gardner holds the north-south ultracycling record in Virginia, and when John Fuoco of Lewistown, Pa. took his shot at the Vermont north-south record, it brought back memories of Jon G. cruising down U.S. 11 and doing his best to ruin his shoes. John F., a veteran randonneur, already holds the Pennsylvania West-East record; see his story about that ride at the UMCA website. Here is John’s story of his Vermont attempt.

Super D and John Super D and John

Vermont N-S Record Attempt
by John Fuoco

I wanted to let you all know about my attempt at the above record on May 18: it failed. My oldest daughter went to college and lives in Vermont. It is beautiful and I love visiting it. I have been contemplating taking a shot at this record for a couple of years. My friend from Massachusetts, Russ Loomis, holds the 50+ record for both N-S and S-N. I assured him I would only go after one of them. Well, he can still relax.

My daughter Dani was crew chief. Her friend Brian was the UMCA official, and another friend, Wilson, also crewed. Dani and Wilson are VISTA volunteers. We started on the Canadian border on Rt. 7 at 5:35 a.m. The sky was blue and the temp a crisp 48. The northern part of Rt. 7 was in good condition but further south the road surface deteriorated. The wind was light at the start but in the first two hours I only averaged 19 m.p.h.

We were aiming for doing the 180 miles in 9:42 which would mean an 18.5 m.p.h. overall average. Determined to keep digging, I did just that but the wind kept picking up. It was directly out of the south, the direction I was headed all day. It averaged 10-15 m.p.h. I spent about 90% of my time down on the aerobars in an attempt to minimize wind resistance, only sitting up to go up hills. I felt fine, focused, and strong but the miles were not rolling past fast enough.

At 125 miles, after seven hours of riding, I pulled over and put a foot down for the first time. I explained to my crew that we were not going to beat the record. What should I do? They left it up to me. I decided it was pointless to ride the last 50 miles, risk injury. etc., and further tire out my super terrific volunteer crew. So I stopped there. It was a great workout, a good tour of Vermont, and would only take a couple days to recover.

We drove slowly back up to Burlington, stopping in Middlebury to wander around and have a nice lunch. I really enjoyed planning the ride, spending time with Dani and her friends, and seeing more of Vermont by bike. I admit, though, that from the aerobar position it is hard to sightsee! All in all it was a super weekend. But something is eating at me. I have not decided for sure, I have to talk with my daughter more, but I have a long weekend in July that would be perfect to go back and get that record.


Thursday Commuteblogging: the Pope and Steel Bikes

I admit I missed yesterday’s Wednesday Commuteblogging and didn’t have one at all last week. I’ll plead that when the ACP brevets are underway, I try to scale back the late evenings in order to get more sleep and generally focus on the next event. MG and I are tentatively headed south to the N.C. Randonneurs 300K in Raleigh on the 26th, and we’ll return for their 400K on May 17. Our 600K plans are uncertain right now, with the Boston 600K on July 26 the most likely.

This week Pope Benedict is in D.C. and as a bicycle commuter who rides past the White House daily, I get to see a little more of the pomp of VIP visits than your average person who drives or takes the Metro subway. That was the case Wednesday, when he was hosted at the White House. What’s he got to do with steel bikes? Nothing, really. He probably grew up riding a steel bike. We know he has a wooden bicycle to ride around Rome.

Here’s a photo of cyclists gawking at the White House south lawn on Wednesday, when the Pope was hosted by the president:

Cyclists stop to view the papal visit to the White HouseCyclists stop to view the papal visit to the White House

On to steel bikes. Randonneurs ride all types of bicycles, with steel, titantium and carbon the top frameset choices these days (did I just list those in reverse order?). Aluminum is relatively rare on brevets, save for Cannondale, which to its credit still offers a touring bike and the most affordable high-quality tandems now that Burley has given up on bikes and focuses on trailers.

Richard Schwinn of Waterford Bicycles recently spoke to Georgena Terry of Terry Bicycles about frame materials.

Check out the audio interview at Georgena’s t-chatter blog.

While he’s a fan of steel (warms my heart!), Richard notes the qualities of carbon. In particular, he recognizes the ability to shape it into cool lines, and, to him, the value of carbon forks to reduce weight, though he says the non-racer is overly focused on that aspect. He also talks about how carbon’s long-term durability is as yet unknown and how cyclists confuse its ability to dampen, vs. absorb, vibration.

We all know carbon fails catastrophically, unlike steel and to a lesser degree titanium. Richard delves into the economics of carbon, as well. China and Taiwan saw an opportunity to win market share through aluminum frames, which they sold cheaply enough to push steel bikes off shop floors, and now are doing the same to aluminum by emphasizing carbon.

Over at the Cycloculture Blog, Surly’s Andy Corson offers his take on the Surly lineup. See Andy’s comments Here.

Surly offers what I see are the best lower-cost randonneur-ready frames and bikes. They are available through any shop that does business with the big wholesaler Quality Bicycle Products. It helps to look past Surly’s ugly web site, I’ll admit. The problem is that you rarely see Surly bikes in shops, which prefer to push the brands with which they have dealership status.

I wish more shops would keep a Long Haul Trucker, Cross-Check and Pacer built up for test rides, just to show folks that affordable, lightweight (note I did not say ultralight) steel bikes are still around. I recently told a buddy who is considering getting back into cycling to check out Surly, but I have no idea if he could actually find one built up for a test ride in his size.

Seattle randonneur Paul (Dr. Codfish) Johnson reminds me that another affordable alternative is the Salsa Casseroll. The Casseroll looks great and I’ve mentioned this bike before, but it’s worth repeating. Steel, versatile, room for fenders and 32mm 700c tires. What’s not to love?

PA Randonneurs April 12 200K — Scenic & Unexpectedly Sunny

An even dozen D.C. Randonneurs (counting Mary Crawley as one of ours!) traveled to Quakertown, PA Saturday for the PA Randonneurs 200.

See my Flickr photoset Here or see the captioned Slideshow.

Update: Bill Beck has posted his photos, Slideshow, and Motion Based map and elevation graph.

Maile has also posted her photos. See them Here, or see the Slideshow.

Cresting Fox Gap

After a pre-ride group dinner at the popular McCoole’s Red Lion Inn in Quakertown, we went back to our hotel and hostel beds to dread the forecast of showers throughout the day Saturday.

We gathered under rain at the Weisel Hostel and Tom Rosenbauer delayed the start when thunder and lightning rolled through. It was very ominous. Yet the rain had tapered to a mist as we departed at 6:15 a.m. and we rode the rest of the day under partly sunny skies, save for a sprinkle in the afternoon when the winds shifted from the south to the west. Temperatures climbed into the low 70s and we drank a lot of water.

Ed & MG give the Secret Randonneur Salute

A total of 37 riders (Tom pre-rode the route, bringing the official field to 38) undertook the loop route that consisted of four long ascents and numerous little steeps along the Delaware River, alternating winding descents, riverside romps and slow crawls back to high ground. There were four tandems: Chuck and Crista, Mary and Kelly, me and MG, and Ron and Barbara of Hamilton, N.J. on a well-equipped Burley Paso Doble. There were many excellent randonneur bikes on this ride — I’ll post about them this week.

Tom had a terrific route, beautiful and challenging. Chuck logged about 9,700 feet of ascent on his GPS. It felt harder because most of the climbing was steep, such as Fox Gap, which had sections of 13 percent. On our tandem, that’s about 4.3 m.p.h., or more than 30 minutes to climb the 2.6 miles to the top of Fox Gap. Oof!

In all, the event was well run and Tom took very good care of us. We’ll be back for more.

Crista and Chuck, with Dan from Pittsburgh, prepare for the final segment

Happy New Year

Thanks to all of you, our dear readers, for taking time to read TDR this year. I’m especially grateful to the randonneurs who wrote terrific stories about their adventures in 2007, especially the PBP stories. I hope everyone continues to enjoy the sport and the camradarie in 2008, and keeps on riding and writing.

Hot ChocolateHot Chocolate with Lots of Whipped Cream

On behalf of Jon and me, Have a great New Year!

Velo Orange Randonneur price bump

As if I didn’t have enough bikes already, I’ve ordered a Velo Orange Randonneur frameset for delivery sometime late next year from VO in Annapolis. Unlike my wonderful Rivendell Rambouillet and Bleriot, the VO will be custom-sized to me and will have the geometry to handle a loaded front bag. It will accomodate wider tires, generator hub wiring, integrated racks and fenders, and powerful Paul caliper brakes.

I mention all this because VO owner Chris Kulczycki has announced a price increase of $200 effective Saturday. If you’ve considered a custom-sized bike designed specifically for randonneuring, his $1,650 price until then is a screaming deal. It is the about the same cost as a Waterford, with more rando-specific details, and more than $1,000 less than the ornate, custom Rivendell. Bicycle Quarterly recently issued a glowing review of the Randonneur’s handling and construction.

MG has ordered the VO Camper touring bike for herself. Even if you’re not in the market for a new frame, it’s definitely worth the time to check out the VO site or visit the VO showroom in Annapolis. Chris is working hard to offer more affordable bags, racks, and components for touring and randonneuring. VO bikes are not cheap, I admit, but the comfort of a properly fitted bike made for our kind of riding is worth every dime.