Tuesday, May 22, 2007

On the road again - DC 400k

At the beginning of 2007, an idea took hold in my head that I should travel around and try brevets in other regions and meet other riders before many of us headed to France for Paris-Brest-Paris. Along with the usual SIR brevets and permanents, these trips have yielded a rich and varied harvest of randonneuring over the last four months.

In February, I traveled to San Diego. The Jacumba 300km brevet offered some 13,000 feet of climbing and the chance to climb up over 4000 ft much earlier that would be possible at home. I rode with two other Seattle riders (Rick Blacker and Peter McKay). In addition to the local riders encountered en route, we met PBP aspirants at an information seminar the night before.

March brought two trips to Arizona. Early in the month, I rode a 300km with with some Pac Tour folks out of Tucson (short write-up here). Later I joined seven other wet & cold weather refugee riders from SIR for the Casa Grande 600km brevet in Arizona. Here's a description sent to a friend afterwards.

The rainy Davis 400km in April and the lovely Oregon fleche ride at the beginning of May were the subject of earlier posts after Bill Dussler browbeat me into starting this blog.

DC Randonneurs Frederick 400k

I hoped to include an East Coast event in my travels this spring. The DC Randonneurs Frederick 400km brevet fit nicely into my schedule and looked appealing, with a hilly, rural route through four states. The chance for a brief visit with my little brother in DC was a bonus.

After my personal best 400km time the previous weekend, I was expecting a return to normal pace on this 400km. Hills were foretold. The website let us know that "[t]he Maryland 400K has been revised slightly from last year's award-winning route to provide a better training opportunity (read: more hills)." This would start right away. Ed Felker, veteran DC randonneur and OR fleche teammate, picked me up in DC and shared his motel room in Frederick. His description of the start promised a fast pack ride downhill to the Potomac River crossing. But not this year - some bonus hills were added at the start, so sixteen miles in, I'm riding by myself and wondering why several riders are going straight when the cue sheet says to turn right. I yell at the two guys closest ahead. A discussion follows and one rider chooses to continue on after the riders he saw going straight (maybe they knew a flatter route!). Another rider and I choose to make the turn. In less than a mile another cue confirmed that we had made the right decision.

About the cue sheet: As a member of the DC Randonneurs and lurker on their e-mail list, I knew that Crista Borras and Chuck Wood led epic rides nearly every weekend. In addition to great roads, rich scenery, and well chosen food stops, the rides were known for outstanding cue sheets. For this 400km, Crista had done the cue sheet from ride organizer Lynn Kristianson's pre-ride notes. A new vocabulary was quickly learned (TRO - "to remain on"; ORF - "outdoor restroom facility"; ETM - "easy to miss") and despite the four dense pages of cues, navigation on this brevet was a snap.

Shortly after the uncertain turn, the other rider and I crossed the Potomac into Virginia for some lovely pre-dawn riding. My companion, whose name I promptly forgot (but have learned since was Stanton Miller), was new to randonneuring and on his second brevet. This came out in conversation; otherwise I wouldn't have guessed - he was equipped with a great attitude and a built-for-distance bike (a Surly Long Haul Trucker). I learned about his touring adventures in Costa Rica and we discussed the bicycle retail business. My wife and I own a shop in Redmond; he had been a long-time mechanic and shop manager. A highlight of this stretch was heralded by a house ahead bathed in an alpenglow-like orange and pink light. We turned around to see a spectacular sunrise, with the sun rising perfectly in the "V" between two hills. Wow.

The first control was at the closed Airmont store. Crista and Chuck were signing cards and offering water. I found the store by heading away from the "weight limit" sign which I took personally. (Photo by Ed Felker).

In general, I ride with quick control stops, so I headed off alone to test the weight limits. The route climbed through the town of Bluemont, preparing for that weekend's "Art in the Foothills" festival. After the town, the route crossed the Blue Ridge mountains at Snickers Gap. I rode for a while with Curtis Miller, another new randonneur, and Larry Brenize, who had been out to WA for the 2005 Cascade 1200. Somewhere around the 80km mark, we crossed into West Virginia for our third state of the day. I dropped off the back a while later (and would ride most of the next 250km alone), but saw lots of riders again at the next control, where many were captivated by the siren song of the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop. A chocolate croissant and strong coffee (double espresso) seemed like the perfect food for a pre-PBP ride.

The route meandered along in West Virginia seeking a bridge to cross the Potomac, which we did into the next Hancock, MD. I rode along with local rider Mike Martin for some of this stretch. In Hancock, the friendly staff of the C&O Bike shop and general store took care of our cards. Reeling from a steep climb up from the river and warned by the cue sheet that it was a long stretch to the next control, I stopped for a sandwich at the Crossroad Deli. There I encountered a group of about six riders from State College, PA (with one interloper from Albany, NY). I spoke with one of them (a Seattle native) about randonneuring in Seattle. Although they were stronger riders, I had seen this group before and would see them off and on throughout the day. Shortly after the sandwich stop, I crossed the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. (The route took us across the narrowest part of Maryland).

A slow climb led to a great descent into the town of Cove Gap, PA - apparently the home of the indistinguished 19th century President Buchanan. Despite this wealth of important history, I didn't stop. The upcoming (in 75km) rest stop at a 18th century log cabin near Newville promised more of interest to this hungry rider. Sure enough, volunteer Ray Skinner and family had put out an impressive spread. I stuffed myself with lasagna, pasta salad, and other goodies. Resisting the temptations of comfortable chairs, beds upstairs, and swimming pool outside, I headed off again.

Ray warned of some pretty good climbing through the Michaux state forest on the way to Gettysburg. At one point Ed Felker came by as I walked off a leg cramp. After dodging the history buff traffic in the battlefield, I stopped to fuel at the 7-11 in town, the last control before the finish. Curtis (by then Larry had DNF'd) and I decided to ride together to the finish, despite my warnings that my late-ride pokiness would only hinder his progress. Just out of town we encountered Ed again and the three of us would ride together in the windy dark back to Frederick. Riding with a local veteran, Curtis and I were liberated from any need to navigate over the last 60km.

We finished (around 11:30, for a 19.5 hour finish time and a return to ~20kph average) to a nice welcome at the motel. Lynn, Christa, and Chuck were there along with Roger Hillas, Jeff Magnuson, and Bob Sheldon. Also pizza! My bike computer claimed we had done 17,800 feet of climbing; my legs were in no mood to argue.

A really great day on the bike. I thought the course was terrific - scenic, varied, quiet roads, good road surfaces. A big thanks to all the volunteers (and riders) - from bike check on Friday night to the finish control, there was lots of good cheer and support in evidence. Worth the trip!

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