DC Randonneurs Warrenton 300 km Brevet

After the cold, wet, hilly Paul's Paradise 200k, I was ready for spring and fewer hills.  The Warrenton 300k is relatively flat, and April is warmer than March.  The forecast a few days out had a chance of rain on Saturday, but as the ride got closer the chance of rain went down to zero.  I packed my rain jacket anyway, but was cautiously optimistic.

This year's innovation was adding some gravel sections to the route.  I mostly ride brevets on a road bike with 25mm tires, so gravel doesn't thrill me.  The pre-ride report was that some of the gravel was new and not easy to ride on skinny tires.  I do have a touring bike with 30mm tires, and I would have ridden it if the gravel were mandatory, but there were paved options to bypass the gravel so I decided to skip it so I could ride the lighter bike with better brakes.

So far in April, I'd done a couple of 20-mile rides Wednesdays after work, and a 60-mile ride the previous Saturday.  Not a lot, but, on top of the 2 200-km brevets I did in March, I thought I was approaching a reasonable mileage base for a 300.  My main concern was my left knee, which got sore enough to make me bail out of the fleche last April at around 150 miles.  I hadn't done that distance since, so I couldn't be sure my knee would make it 300k.  But I thought the recent rides were helping it, since it started hurting around 50 miles in March but I made it 60 miles without pain in April.

My weight had been 203 lbs. (dehydrated and glycogen-depleted) on Thursday, but two days of pre-ride carbo loading had it up to 211 (glycogen-stuffed and retaining water).  A bit more than I wanted; next time I'll eat light on Thursday and only eat heavy on Friday.

Our 300s start at 5 a.m.  I live about 45 minutes from Warrenton, so I packed the bike the night before and set the alarm for 3.  I tried, but failed, to get to sleep early, and so only got about 4 hours of sleep.  I threw several caffeinated Gu packets in my bag, just in case I got sleepy during the ride.  I also brought a couple of Clif Bars for calories, my 1L Zefal Magnum bottles since the forecast high was in the 70s and there were some pretty big gaps between stops, and started with Gatorade in the bottles for even more calories.  And had a bowl of cereal for breakfast.

With forecast temperatures ranging from the high 40s to the low 70s, I wore summer shorts and a summer synthetic jersey, arm warmers, light tights, reflective vest, light full gloves, cotton and wool socks, and summer mountain bike shoes.  I packed but did not wear a light balaclava and a rain jacket.  I remembered to apply Lantiseptic but forgot to apply or bring sunscreen.

We got a good turnout for a 300, 52 people.  I arrived early enough that there was no rush for bike inspection or registration.  There was a nice spread of pre-ride carbs, so I had two mini-scones and a homemade cookie.  Operation Do Not Bonk was right on schedule.  I was a bit chilly standing around outside, which is about right to avoid overheating once the pedaling starts.

After the pre-ride speech, we rolled off and I ended up at the front.  The light to turn onto 29 was red, and I didn't remember if the sensor could detect bikes, so I rode over and hit the pedestrian button.  Unfortunately, it only controlled the crosswalk, not the light, so we all ended up running the red when it was safe.  (The best thing about 5 a.m. is that there's no traffic.)  I remained in the lead for the first couple of turns, but eventually someone else blew past me and took over the navigational chores.  The lead rider got confused and tried to turn right a bit early, which caused me to stop to avoid hitting him, and a paceline of about 20 riders blew by on my left.  I tucked into the back of that group, then gradually slipped back over the next 5 miles or so as we went north toward 55 in the dark.  There's a tradeoff between saving energy by drafting and saving energy by not going too fast, and I'm never sure I have it right, but I ended up at the back of the second or third group, which was going fast enough that I didn't feel too lazy and slow enough that I didn't feel too stupid.

I knew there was probably going to be a secret control somewhere on 55, because I manned it last year.  Paul, riding just ahead of me, suddenly sprinted off the front of the group, and I wondered if he knew where it was and was trying to reach it first.  I decided to save energy and not chase him.  Sure enough, the control was there a couple miles later.  And because I was at the back of a big group, I had to wait a couple of minutes to get my card signed.  No big deal.  The control did split up the pack, as riders trickled out alone or in pairs.  So much for the draft.

I rode alone, but within sight of several riders ahead and behind, down 55 to Marshall.  The sun was coming up as we turned south on Free State.  Just over the the bridge over I-66, I was looking for the turn onto Crest Hill, and wasn't sure if I was at the right place because I didn't see a sign and I didn't trust my odometer calibration.  Then two riders behind me yelled and took that turn, so I figured they must know and followed them, and fortunately they were correct.  We had almost 17 miles on Crest Hill, which was really nice.  Still not much traffic, and hilly but not steep.  A group of 5 riders passed me during that stretch, and I rode close to them for a while but eventually let them go, since I wanted to keep my speed down to conserve energy.

We zipped through the village of Flint Hill and then onto Fodderstack, which is hilly and pretty just like Crest Hill.  This went through Little Washington and past the famous Inn.  Unfortunately, the bucolic back roads had to eventually end, and we got dumped onto Route 522.  Only for a mile, though, and it was still pretty early so the traffic wasn't too bad yet.  There was a Shell station, but I decided not to stop since I was making good time and still had plenty of Gatorade left.  That reminded me that I hadn't eaten anything since the start of the ride, so when after we turned onto Rudasill Mill I stopped for a minute to eat a Clif Bar and water some trees and and turn off my taillights and stow my arm warmers (which had been rolled down into the wrist warmer position for a while).  During that brief stop, several riders passed me.

After a few more miles on back roads, we got dumped on 522 again for a bit, then turned onto F.T. Valley (not to be confused with Ft. Valley, which is two valleys to the west) for 10 miles.  This was one of the roads with a gravel bypass that I didn't take, and the traffic wasn't that bad and (I heard later) the gravel was new and hard to ride, so it was a good call.  Still, 10 miles with fast cars isn't so fun, and I was happy to finally turn off onto Etlan Road toward Old Rag.  We got a great morning view of the mountain, and then the big nasty rough sweeping downhill toward Syria.  I'd climbed this hill at least 5 times on the Old Rag 200, but had never gone down it before, and was a bit worried.  It turned out to be not too bad, though I took it a lot slower than the rider ahead of me who shot off into the distance.  And another pack of about 5 riders passed me right before we reached the 65 mile Syria Mercantile control.

I used the bathroom, bought sunscreen and Gatorade and a cookies-and-cream ice cream cup, and had a brief discussion with a couple of riders about whether it was warm enough for shorts yet.  My vote was yes, and I stripped down to summer cycling attire and lathered up with sunblock.  It was the right call, as it kept getting warmer after that and the daily high reached about 82.  I got back on the bike pretty quickly and followed a group of 3 riders through the familiar and very nice Hoover / Hebron Valley section.  My knee started to ache a bit around mile 75, but I didn't want to root around in my bag while moving, or make an extra stop, so I decided to wait until the cue sheet flip at mile 80 to take my Ibuprofin.  When I did, I saw that there was an info control in 4 miles.

The next 15 miles was a nice section with rollers and not too much traffic.  My knee stopped hurting about 8 miles after I took the Ibuprofin, which was nice, and I brought my speed back up a bit and passed George.  (We leapfrogged each other all day.)  I hit the 95-mile halfway point at 11 a.m., so 7 hours, or a 14-hour pace if I didn't slow down (which I figured I probably would).

The cue sheet said there was a Subway and Hardees in Gordonsville at 101 miles.  I thought about it for a few miles and eventually decided I wanted Subway.  But then the Hardees was right there on the route and I couldn't see the Subway, so I decided Hardees would do.  I went in with Chris, and George joined us a minute later.  I had a 6-dollar Thickburger with fries and a Coke Zero.  (I normally get full-sugar soda on long rides, but I forgot.)  Also refilled my bottles with water at their fountain, though they weren't quite empty so I ended up with very diluted Gatorade.  We chatted with a guy who was interested in our bikes, how far we were riding, etc.  Then Chris and I left together.  We were both worried about going the wrong way out of Gordonsville, but we got it right (though I almost missed the turn onto Kloeckner, seeing the sign at the last second).

I couple of miles later, I was riding well behind but within sight of Chris when I saw a gigantic gray dog (Mastiff-Great Dane-Elephant mix?) come out of its yard after him.  Luckily Chris had a head start and the dog stopped chasing him pretty quickly.  Unluckily it was already in the road when I got there.  Gulp.  Luckily it just wanted to say hi, not eat me.  Because I think it was bigger than me.  Immediately afterward, two tiny little yip-yip dogs went charging after Chris, but they were too small to be scary.  I yelled so he would see them and avoid running them over, which he did.  They were also waiting in the road for me, so I zigged left and zagged right and went around with no problems.

I approached the 107-mile info control riding near Chris and George and two other guys.  Chris and George and I stopped but the others blew past.  We yelled but they didn't stop, so we hoped they saw the sign.  (When I caught up with them later at a control, they said they did, so no problem.)  Lunch kicked in and I felt good for a while, which let me pull away from Chris and repass George.  We had another control at 120 miles, and I got a Klondike bar, and more Gatorade.  Roger was also there (he's usually faster than me so I'm always happy to see him in the second half of a ride) and I think he also got ice cream.

I was still feeling good when I noticed that the street sign ahead said Vawter Corner but the cue sheet said Vawler Corner.  Distracted by the typo, I turned right instead of left, and led a following rider (who I didn't even know was there) astray.  Luckily I caught the mistake right away and said "sorry, left turn" and got us back on course.  But I worried that my brain was starting to go.  My knee was hurting again, and it had been 40 miles since my previous Ibuprofin, so I took some more (and chugged a bunch of Gatorade to make really sure I was well-hydrated).  I gradually slowed down over the next 12 miles to Orange.  Orange was an open control, and I felt paralyzed by choice, but eventually decided on the 7-11 rather than a fast food place since I'd just had lunch 30 miles ago.  But, still obsessed with not bonking, I had a Mrs. Fields Klondike ice cream sandwich (way too much cross branding there, but it was good), my third ice cream of the day.  I remembered to get a receipt, and George pulled in while I was refilling my bottles.  We discussed the upcoming gravel section — I decided to stick to pavement and George decided to take the gravel.

That next section was up and over Clark's Mountain, which isn't much of a mountain but isn't flat either.  Then 4 miles on 522, which was awful.  Tiny shoulders and too much fast traffic.  One pickup truck passed me very dangerously, almost colliding head-on with a car coming the other way.  I decided to ride as fast as possible to get off 522 before someone hit me, and got my speed up over 20 on the flats.  But then I saw Bakers Store at mile 147, and figured I could use more Gatorade and a brief rest after the fast riding.  I also got a Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake bar (ice cream #4 of the day).  Whatever problems I would have this day, I wouldn't bonk.

Rested up, I waited for a big gap in traffic then sprinted the last mile of 522 (most of it downhill to the Rapidan) and was happy to turn off onto Algonquin Trail.  The next 10 miles on low-traffic back roads were very nice, though I was tired after sprinting.  I caught up to George again right before crossing Route 3, but then needed to stop and take my third Ibuprofin of the day at mile 160.  The familiar roads around Kellys Ford were nice as usual, except for the usual rough patches.  We crossed the Rappahannock at the usual bridge, and then turned left toward Remington on Summerduck.

The road into Remington was kind of low, with standing water in the fields to our right, perfect breeding grounds for bugs.   So I rode through my first disgusting gnat cloud of the year.  Followed quickly by several more.  Luckily I had sunglasses on and my mouth was closed, so I only got gnats all over my arms and legs.  Yuck.  I stopped one last time at the Citgo in Remington at mile 170.  I didn't think I could handle any more ice cream, and I was getting sick of Gatorade, so I got a Vanilla Coke instead.  Mistake.  I guess the carbonation riled up the giant mass of undigested calories that was already there, and my stomach was sour for the rest of the ride.

I wasn't sure if I'd finish before dark, but I figured it would be close, so I turned on my taillights and put on my reflective gear to avoid needing to stop later.  It was still hot.  I left the Citgo, carefully keeping it on my right side to make sure I was going the right way.  But then Route 15 wasn't there, and I realized I'd gone the wrong way.  The Citgo was on a corner so there were two ways to leave and keep it on my right.  Aargh.  Second brevet in a row that I left a stop in the wrong direction.  It cost me 1.5 bonus miles, and some morale.  But, whatever, still only 20 miles to the finish.  My legs were pretty shot and my stomach was still sour, so I rode the last 20 miles very slowly, but didn't make any more wrong turns.

I crossed 15, then a mile later crossed 17, then after a few miles crossed Meetze.  Calista passed me just a few miles from the end, and I tried to keep her in sight as a way of keeping my speed up, but then a car pulled out of a driveway right in front of me on Frytown, and I had to stop to avoid getting run over.  By the time I got going again she was gone and I was back to 10 mph.  The downhill on Duhollow was very fun (I think I descend better when I'm tired because I forget to be scared) and I saw her again, but then lost contact on the uphill part of Walker.  Finally, I turned one driveway too early, into whatever business is right before the Hampton Inn, and their parking lots didn't connect so I had to drag my bike over a couple of curbs and a few feet of grass to make the finish.

I finished at 7:59, for an elapsed time of 14:59.  I actually felt pretty good about my pace for the first 170 miles, then fell apart in the last 20.  No big deal in the context of a 300, but there's a 400 coming in three weeks, and I hope 20 miles of very slow riding doesn't become 80 in the dark.

Other than one insane truck driver, and the slow drag into the finish, it was a fantastic day.  Nice weather makes everything better.

Lessons learned:

  • Ice cream is good, but I can only handle so much of it while pedalling.  Limit to 1 per 100k in the future.
  • I need to carefully get my bearings upon arrival at a control, so I leave in the correct direction.
  • Ibuprofin works better than I remembered.  (I hope that means my knee is better than it was.)


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DC Randonneurs Paul's Paradise 200 km Brevet

Our second 200 of the year was Paul's Paradise, a very hilly route.  The weather forecast was 40s and rainy.  Bleh.  If I were in better shape, I may have decided to skip it.  But with only 2 weeks until the 300, I really needed the miles, so I gathered up my rain gear.

I have two bikes with fenders.  One is a fixed gear — nope.  The other has fiddly cantilevers that are always going out of adjustment.  (I own some nicer Paul cantis but haven't got around to installing them yet.)  The thought of going down a wet Mar-Lu Ridge with brakes I don't really trust — nope.  So I decided to ride my Litespeed road bike, sans fenders.  I figured I'd eventually get soaked with or without them, and I probably wouldn't be going fast enough for anyone to want to draft me anyway.  Though, with hindsight, maybe I should have attached my Race Blades, which aren't as good as real fenders but are better than nothing.

I wore a short-sleeve wool jersey, shorts, heavy tights, cotton socks, wool socks, summer mountain bike shoes, a balaclava, light full-finger gloves, a rain jacket, and a reflective vest.  I started with the jacket's pit zips open (but mostly blocked by the vest).  I also had some arm warmers and an extra set of gloves in my bag.  Hindsight says I should have worn my winter boots, which are waterproof.  (Though maybe they would have made my feet too warm.)  Or, at least, two pairs of wool socks.

I started the ride at a carbo-loaded 208 lbs., only 1 pound less than the ride 3 weeks ago.  I've lost almost 40 lbs. since October, but very little in March, as I reduced my calorie deficit to keep from losing too much muscle mass along with the flab.  I'd never ridden this route before, but I rode the similarly hilly Urbana 200 at 228 lbs. last March, and hoped the 20 lbs. of weight loss would, if not getting me back to the midpack speed I had when I was riding every day, at least let me finish before dark.

My left knee started hurting on Urbana last March, and got bad enough on the Fleche last April that I had to abandon and then take time off the bike.  So I'd been paying close attention to it.  For this ride, I decided to raise my seat 3mm, as per the instructions for spring knee in Andy Pruitt's book.  And I brought Ibuprofin.  I figured that would be enough for 200k.

I did reasonably hilly 55-mile rides the previous two Saturdays, and a flattish 200k the week before that, so I was about as prepared as I was going to get, after a snowy winter of not riding much.  I figured I could go reasonably fast for about 30 miles then drag for the remaining 95, or go medium for about 50 miles then drag for the remaining 75.  The latter sounded smarter.  So I resolved to not chase the fast people early.

Driving to the start in Poolesville, I got to cross White's Ferry, then slow way down for the infamous speed camera.  Despite having to wait several minutes for the ferry, then drive at bicycle speed to make really really sure I wouldn't get a ticket, I still made it to the start in plenty of time.

30 people showed up.  About half of what we got for the previous ride, but considering the hills and the weather forecast, not bad.  No tandems, a sign of the hills to come.  We got one recumbent, though.

It wasn't raining (yet) at the start, which was nice.  I chose a small-print cue sheet because it fit on two pages and had the page break at a control, where I could theoretically flip the pages under cover and avoid soaking them.  This turned out to not be the best choice — while I could read the small print easily enough in the dry while stationary in good light, it was harder to make out the small print on a bouncing bike at dusk with water droplets all over the map case.  Next time I'll go with the big print version and deal with flipping the sheet an extra time.

We headed toward Mar-Lu slowly at 7 a.m.  I started in fourth position and stayed there, rather than sprinting to the front like an excited puppy.  Gradually the fast people passed me, and I stayed right where I was.  Eventually I felt like the group I was in was going too slow, and passed a few people, but I resisted the urge to go fast.  Not much point since I was going to go over Mar-Lu slowly regardless.  Approaching the light to cross Route 15, I remarked to someone that I'd never caught the green there and always had to wait for it.  Sure enough, the universe likes to prove me wrong and it turned green while we were a ways back.  So we sprinted for it.  I almost made it, but then it turned yellow and I started to brake, but then Bill (right behind me) kept sprinting so I re-accelerated and we both probably caught enough yellow to be legal.  Bill's a slow steady low-gear climber, so I decided to follow him up the hill at his speed, which turned out to be 5 mph on the lower 11% grade and 4 mph on the upper 15% grade.  Perfect.  We made it to the top, and I was happy to be breathing a bit hard but not exhausted, and then he shot away on the downhill at high speed, and I followed at a much lower speed, and didn't see him again for the rest of the day.

After Mar-Lu, the route went through Jefferson then turned toward Middletown.  Even though I hadn't done this ride before, we use the same roads on a bunch of others, so it all felt familiar.  The sky was very dark but it wasn't raining yet.  It was windier than expected, though.  I wasn't tired yet, but I knew the rollers of Burkittsville Road were each taking a bit out of me and I'd be paying later.  The first control was at the LDS (not the religion) store in Middletown at 25 miles.  I bought some Gatorade and some cashews.  It still wasn't raining, so I was a bit warm, so I took off my balaclava.

The next stretch featured Harmony Road, which is hilly.  And then Harp Hill Road, which gets to 18%, possibly the steepest hill on any DCR brevet.  (The switchbacks in Lost River State Park might be steeper, and that climb is certainly way longer, but that's on a ROMA ride.)  Steep enough that you need to lean forward to keep the front wheel planted.  I got passed by a pack of 5 riders at the bottom of Harp Hill, but stayed at my 3-4 mph pace rather than chasing.  It went up for approximately 5 million feet with a couple of false summits just to be mean.  My lower back started aching hard, something I don't remember happening before on a climb.  I saw a couple of riders stopped to rest near the top, and I really wanted to join them, but I knew that if I stopped it would be hard to get going again, so I gritted my teeth and kept pedalling.  Eventually I saw a couple of McMansions, the sign of an approaching summit, and started zipping up everything I'd unzipped to prepare for the descent.  Then the descent was surprisingly tame.  The descent on Wolfsville Road a few miles later was worse, because of potholes, but at least it was still dry.  The wind was really starting to gust.

Roger caught me from behind around mile 40, said hi, and blew on by.  I matched his speed for about 100 yards then realized it was a bad idea and dropped off.  (Roger likes to start brevets fashionably late then pass most of the field.)  I resumed my plodding pace into the wind.  I wasn't really hurting yet, so I was still in a reasonably aero position in the drops rather than in the fully upright position I'd need to use later in the ride.  My knee started aching around mile 45, so I pulled over to take a couple of Ibuprofin.  While I was stopped, a rider in an odd-looking helmet cover I didn't recognize passed me and greeted me by name.  I didn't recognize the voice (probably because of the wind) and had to speed up and get a good look to see who it was.  Once I saw around the helmet cover I realized it was George W., and rode with him for a while.  He was riding with kind of a burst-and-coast pace, while I was still in steady plod mode, so I passed him once to try to get my rhythm back, but then he re-passed me at the next stop sign and I just stayed behind him after that.  It was starting to rain (not hard yet) and he had fenders and I didn't so I didn't want to spray him.  We were both hurting a bit due to the hills and wind, and the ride wasn't even half over yet.

We reached the lunch control at Paul's Country Market in Waynesboro PA at mile 55, as the rain started to pick up.  Paul's is a Mennonite store with good deli sandwiches and baked goods and clean bathrooms.  Pretty much the perfect control, except that it's closed on Sundays so you don't want to ride this route then.  (Yoder's on the Old Rag brevet is very similar.)  I had a tasty roast beef hoagie (we had crossed the Mason Dixon Line so subs had officially become hoagies) and a pack of oatmeal raisin cookies.  I spent a few minutes eating and chatting with riders and volunteers, then decided to hurry out since I wasn't going very fast and might need the time later.

Unfortunately, I got turned around and headed down the wrong road.  Fortunately, volunteer Mike W. saw me going the wrong way and chased me down in his car and turned me around, so I only did 1.2 bonus miles instead of the at least 2 I would have done if I'd had to figure out my own mistake.  Still annoying, because I had to add 1.2 to every cue sheet distance for the rest of the day.  Back on course, I retraced the route back to Rouzerville, then went up Old Rt. 16 and Buena Vista, which went up a long long way.  Not steep, but far.  The climbing was annoying, as was the increasing rain, but I was happy to be halfway done with the ride and past (presumably) the 3 worst climbs.  It got really foggy up there on top of whatever mountain that is, and I was worried about half-blind drivers, so I made sure all my lights were on and prepared to bail off the road if needed, but luckily it wasn't.  The wind also got really ferocious without the side of the mountain to block it.  Crossed the Appalachian Trail, which meant it was time to go downhill again, and fortunately both the fog and the wind decreased away from the summit.

Spruce Run Road at mile 76 was a treat — steep, narrow, downhill, wet, and potholed.  I dragged my brakes most of the way down, alternating to avoid overheating either wheel.  Luckily there was no oncoming traffic so I was free to use whatever part of the road was the safest.  I got to a (different) LDS store at mile 79, but wasn't sure it was the right one at first.  It was.  I bought more Gatorade and some Golden Oreos (not as good as the cookies at Paul's but still a nice source of calories) and had a hard time getting the money out of my wallet to pay for them, as my hands were too cold and wet for fine motor control.  I swapped my gloves for dry ones (which would only stay dry for a few minutes).  George and Gary arrived while I was there, and I left before both of them.  Slow, but still not last!

Gary passed me a couple of miles later on Wolfsville Road.  Then we had to do Harmony Road again, but at least the return route bypassed Harp Hill.  (Going down the steep side in the rain would not have been much fun.)  George passed me pretty close to the 95 mile control at the Jefferson Crown gas station.  Not the most scenic control, but they had food and bathrooms, so good enough for me.  I got a Hershey's Moose Tracks cone that was surprisingly delicious; it was a bit cold for ice cream but I was feeling lethargic and wanted something with a lot of calories.  I took a couple more Ibuprofin for my knees (plural; my right knee was also aching a bit by this time).  George left right in front of me and we started up the less-steep side of Mar-Lu.  After Harp Hill and Buena Vista, it was really easy.  Then we had to go down the steep side, and it was wet, and I was very careful.  So was George, so I almost caught up with him again right after the light at US 15.  But he had more left in his legs than I did, and slowly drifted away into the distance, as we rode the nice flat(ish) section around mile 100.  That was the last time I'd see another rider until the end.

The rain was getting a bit harder, and my feet were getting cold.  I was happy that the ride was almost over.  Some quick (and probably questionable) math told me that if I could keep riding at 12 mph I'd finish in under 12 hours.  That seemed good enough, but not enough to really give me a sense of urgency.  I found myself using my small ring even on fairly flat roads.  Fingerboard Road had a bit of traffic.  Slate Quarry Road had some epic potholes.  As did Peach Tree Road, which featured an information control whose answer was "dumping."  Soon afterward, Peach Tree turned downhill, but it was so rough that it was still work rather than an easy coast to the end.  I pulled into Poolesville at 6:55 p.m., with an elapsed time of 11:55.  Really slow, but over an hour faster than Urbana last spring.

I ate 3 pieces of pretty good pizza at Cugini's while chatting with the other riders and volunteers.  The rain was steadily increasing outside, so I was glad to be done.  I hadn't remembered to bring dry clothes to change into, so after a while it started to get cold, and I headed to my warm car.  This was probably the hardest 200 I'd ever ridden, considering the hills and the weather.  Still only a 200, though, so not that hard in the grand scheme of things.

My knee held up okay, with only minor pains that were squashed with Ibuprofin. I was slow, but much faster than at Urbana last year.  I made it up Harp Hill.  My bike was mostly okay, though it autoshifted a couple of times, perhaps an indication that it's time to change the chain, cassette, and chainrings.  All in all, a pretty good day, though I was pretty grumpy for the last half of it.

We have a 300 coming in two weeks, a 400 in five weeks, and a 600 in seven weeks.  I'm cautiously optimistic about the 300, and worried about my ability to finish the others.  I don't think there's enough time to properly prepare.  But at least it should warm up before then.


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DC Randonneurs Wilderness Campaign 200k Brevet / Get Well Soon Lynn

A couple of weeks before our first 200k of the year, Lynn and Maile were hit by a psycho in a CR-V, while riding a permanent.  Maile is okay, but Lynn is still in the hospital and has a long way to go to make a full recovery.  This awful incident is a reminder that even the safest and most experienced cyclists are at the mercy of any drunk, distracted idiot, or nutjob in a motor vehicle.  In my opinion, the penalty for hit and run needs to be increased to the point where no even slightly rational person would ever consider doing it.  A decade in prison and lifetime revocation of driving privileges seems about right.  Fortunately, the vast majority of people out there are decent and kind.  Thanks to everyone who helped Lynn and Maile.

It's been an unusually cold and snowy winter, meaning a lot of cyclists have been riding less than usual.  (Of course the hardcore R-12 crowd finds a way to get a 200k in every month regardless of the weather, and thus don't have to beat themselves back into riding shape in the spring.  They might be onto something.  But it's so cold in January…)  I hadn't done a long ride since dropping out of the fleche with a knee injury last April, so I was worried about whether my knee would hold up for the full distance.  My warm-up rides were a hilly 100k back in early February (which I completed without drama but very slowly), and a couple of 35-milers since.  Not enough, but it would have to do.  I'd been dieting hard for months and had dropped from my bloated high of 245 lbs. down to 207 a couple of days before the ride, though I carbo-loaded myself back to 209 with a big dinner Friday night.  I also tweaked my serratus lifting on Thursday, but I didn't think that would matter much for cycling.

The forecast was for just below freezing at the 7 a.m. start and 50s by the afternoon.  So we needed to be prepared for a wide temperature range.  I wore shorts and a summer jersey, thermal tights and heavy winter jersey, cotton and heavy wool socks, summer mountain shoes with thermal shoe covers, lobster claws, a balaclava, and a reflective vest.  I also brought sunscreen, just in case it got hot enough to need to expose skin later, since I've gotten burned on winter rides in the past.  Plus arm warmers and lighter gloves.

We got a surprisingly big crowd for such a cold start, 58 riders, including a bunch I hadn't seen before.  I was freezing and rode off the front at about 20 mph in an attempt to warm up.  (I'm not sure whether this really works, since the extra effort warms you but the extra wind cools you.)  Most of the riders were a bit saner than me, so I got to break away for about a mile until Scott caught me.  We rode together to a red light, where about half the field caught us before it turned green.  (I didn't think to hit the pedestrian button, but Andrea did, and then it changed.)  That was the end of my time in the lead, and I tucked into the middle of the large lead pack for the next few miles, enjoying the reduced wind chill.  By the time we reached Nokesville at mile 4, I was starting to remember that I had no business going that fast, and started dropping back through the huge group.  It eventually split in half, and I was happy to be in the back half.  Soon enough I was split out of that group into a slower one, then an even slower one, and then I was riding by myself at 15 mph.  Honestly, a more reasonable speed for my current level of fitness.

Around mile 15, John and Cindy passed me on their tandem, with another rider in tow.  At first I figured I'd just let them go, but they weren't really going much faster than me, so I tucked in behind.  I was still cold, and less wind made things more comfortable.  Russ pulled in behind me, and we had a nice train with a tandem and 3 wheelsuckers for the next several miles.  Around mile 17, Russ got bored with our speed, and pulled away from the rest of the group.  That left 3.  A couple miles later, the rider in front of me decided the tandem was a bit too fast, pulled off to the left, then shot out the back.  That left me as the last surviving parasite.  We stopped briefly at the Elk Run store at mile 21.  I remembered I hadn't had any breakfast, and ate a Clif Bar.  I jumped back onto John and Cindy's wheel for a couple more miles, then decided that they were going too fast for me and slowly dropped behind.  I was happy to have finished the first 20% of the ride averaging 16 mph, since I knew I'd be much slower later.

We went through the very familiar low-traffic roads around Kelly's Ford.  The roads are a bit rough in places, but the pretty scenery and light traffic more than compensate for the bumps.  I plowed along at around 14 mph for a while.  At one point Dave S. caught me and we rode together for a bit, but then he made a pit stop and I got to ride alone again.  Just before reaching high-speed high-traffic VA Route 3 at mile 40, I decided to stop for a Gu packet and stow my balaclava.  In the minute I was stopped, 4 riders passed me.  More evidence that moving slowly is much faster than not moving.

The sugar and caffeine plus nearby fast traffic motivated me to speed up to about 18 mph for the 2.4 miles on Route 3, then I slowed right back down to 14 mph after exiting onto more bike-friendly roads.  I pulled into the first control at an Exxon in Locust Grove averaging about 15 mph (and dropping).  I wasn't really sure what I wanted to eat, so I grabbed some Twizzlers and Gatorade, figuring the unaccustomed sugar rush would keep me zipping along like a kid on Halloween.  (The Twizzlers were good, but I didn't finish the whole pack by the end of the ride, so my daughter got the leftovers.)  I also took off my shoe covers, but kept the rest of the winter ensemble on for a bit longer.  There was an older guy riding an adult-sized delta trike at the control, which put a smile on my face.  (Did I mention I saw a guy riding a penny-farthing on the W&OD Trail last weekend?  I thought he was on a huge unicycle at first, until he came close enough for me to see the frame and back wheel.)

The 3 miles from the control to Wilderness Battlefield were on VA 20, another busy highway, but not as fast as VA 3.  I rode them at normal speed rather than getaway speed this time; my turbo boost was already exhausted for the day, less than halfway through the ride.  The entrance sign to Wilderness Battlefield was very welcome, as it meant a few miles with pretty trees and no traffic.  There was a lot of snow remaining in the woods, but none on the road, even in shady areas, so it was nice easy riding.

The 9 miles between Wilderness and Spotsylvania Battlefields on Brock Road are already a blur.  Some hills but nothing difficult, some traffic but nothing horrible.  Your basic filler section.  The ride because memorable again once it entered Spotsylvania Battlefield, which features the usual pretty woods, historical signs about salients and wounded officers, and quaintly non-standard road signs of Virginia battlefields.  The battlefield featured the first information control of the day, and while I reading the sign, a new rider showed up, giving me a chance to cross-check my answer (never want to be disqualified due to inability to read a sign correctly) and him a chance to borrow my pen.

After leaving Spotsylvania Battlefield it was only a short distance to the halfway control in Spotsylvania.  It involves crossing a couple of lanes of busy highway to make a left turn, but there was an extremely courteous pickup-truck driver who slowed way down to let me over, which made it easy.  I wasn't very hungry, and was concerned about how slowly I was riding and whether I'd finish before dark, so I decided to stop at 7-11 rather than a proper lunch spot.  I bought some more Gatorade and a slice of 7-11 pepperoni pizza.  It wasn't *good* pizza, but it didn't make me sick either, and it was only about a dollar.  I chased it with a couple more Twizzlers from my earlier purchase, removed my long-sleeve jersey, swapped lobster claws for light gloves, pulled the bottom of my tights up so they covered my knees but not my shins, put on some sunscreen, and took off having spent only about 10 minutes at the control.

I needed all the time I saved, as even after lunch kicked in, I wasn't very energetic and was still plodding along at 13-14 mph.  The section after Spotsylvania isn't very exciting, so I spent a lot of time staring at my cue sheet and odometer to make sure I didn't start daydreaming and miss a turn.  I got passed by three riders, but didn't bother trying to speed up and hang with any of them.  My halfway-pulled-up tights were bothering me, and my feet (which still had two pairs of socks) were getting warm, but I saw there was another information control approaching and decided to wait until I got there rather than making an extra stop.  I reached the Chancellorsville Battlefield information control right behind another rider, and then Ed and Mary came in on their tandem right behind us.  I stripped off my excess socks and tights, applied more sunscreen, and left while everyone else was still chatting.  I remembered running out of energy last year around this spot, and wanted to give myself a nice head start so they wouldn't catch me for a while.  Maybe by then I'd have more energy and would be able to latch on.

I rode through the very nice section around Kelly's Ford hoping the energy would appear.  Nope.  Still 13-14 mph.  After about 8 miles the tandem did catch me, but I was in no shape to chase them and just said hi as they sailed by.  I stopped briefly at Myers Grocery at mile 93 to get a Vanilla Coke (for the caffeine, plus I wanted something different after drinking several liters of Gatorade) and 270 glorious calories of kettle-cooked Jalapeno potato chips.  (Mmmm, salt.)  Two cyclists sailed by while I was eating, and two more came into the grocery while I was there, proof that, no matter how slow I felt, there were still others around my pace.

The century mark felt like a significant achievement (both because I hadn't ridden a century in almost a year and because it meant the ride was over 75% done), and from then on I started treating every 5 miles ridden as a milestone.  That kind of numerological silliness shouldn't be necessary on a 200k, but my knee was starting to ache and I was trying to keep my mind off it.  There were snowmelt puddles here and there along the road, and every time I hit one, I got noise and splashes from my front wheel, like my brake was dragging a wee bit on a high spot on the rim, only enough to notice when the rim was wet.  I didn't think it was worth stopping and trying to true the wheel since the drag, if not completely imaginary, was very slight.

The 107-mile control at Elk Run snuck up on me — I'd forgotten about it, until I flipped to the bottom half of my cue sheet, and there it was.  One of my rules is to always eat at the penultimate control, because bonking in the last 10 miles of a ride is embarrassing, and I've done it a couple of times.  So I had my first ice cream of 2014, a small cup of Hershey's Dulce de Leche, which was pretty great by the standards of things you eat with a disposable wooden spoon.  The 3 other cyclists who were at the control left before I was done, and I probably couldn't have kept up with them anyway, so I was happy to push off at my own slow pace.  My primary goal was to finish, my secondary goal was to finish before dark, and my tertiary goal was to finish faster than last year.

The miles from Elk Run to Nokesville were on flat and reasonably low-traffic roads.  But there was a small but noticeable headwind much of the way.  At least that's what I told myself, to justify the 12s and 13s I kept seeing on my speedometer.  There was a brief stretch on Hazelwood Drive where I caught a tailwind and zipped along at what felt like a decent clip, but that only lasted a couple of miles and then I had to turn into the wind again.  I reached Nokesville, and followed a car through the light at 28 (I remembered the sensor not picking up my bike last time), and then it was only about 5 miles to the finish.

Unfortunately my cue sheet ended at mile 127.5, meaning I needed to stop and flip it to see the last turn or two.  This annoyed me way more than it should have.  I was pretty sure I needed to make a right on Sudley Manor and that would take me to the strip mall with the finish, but not sure enough to not check, so I pulled over to confirm it.  And, while I was stopped, I turned on all my lights since it was less than an hour from dusk and some of the cars had their lights on.  Sure enough, that was my right turn.  Oh well.  I finished in 10:20, 14 minutes faster than last year but 83 minutes slower than two years ago (when I was bike commuting 100+ miles per week).

I had two slices of post-ride pepperoni pizza.  I also had half a cookie and some other sweet baked thing I can't remember.  More than I needed; with all the Gatorade, this was definitely a calorie-surplus ride.  I chatted with people for a bit, but then started getting cold (I was still in shorts and a summer jersey, comfortable for riding in 60F temperatures, but not for sitting around) and headed for the warmth of my car.  My knee wasn't hurting that badly, so I considered the ride a success.

After riding the Wilderness Campaign 200 for three years in a row, it's still not one of my favorites.  I like the lack of climbing in the first 200 of the year, as it lets riders ease back into shape.  I like the start/finish location in Bristow.  I don't like the heavy traffic on several roads.  The battlefields are scenic, but because they've got trees overhead and don't get much traffic, they're always a threat to be snowy even if the rest of the route is clear.  Overall, I think I prefer Tappahannock for an early-season flattish ride.  Though that's farther away from most of our riders, so we'd probably get a worse turnout.  Tough call.

Only 3 weeks to get ready for the next 200, Paul's Paradise, which includes some actual climbing.  Modest goals: don't get hurt, finish within the time limit, and ride rather than walk up Harp Hill.  (Mike W. said it's 18%.  I really should ride the bike with the triple.  But I probably won't.)


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DC Randonneurs Glen Echo 106k Populaire Ride Report

DC Randonneurs' first ride of 2014, a mere 106 km (66.2 mile) populaire, was scheduled for January 25.  It snowed.  They wisely rescheduled for February 1.  It didn't snow; it was just cold.  Not even horribly cold, compared to what we'd had lately; the forecast said about 28F at the start and 50F at the finish.  I hadn't done an organized ride since I hurt my knee on the Fleche last April, and I hadn't ridden at all in January (because it was cold and lack of bike commuting has turned me into a wuss), but I figured even I could handle that.

It was the same route as last year: start at Glen Echo Town Hall, west on MacArthur to River Road, then west on River Road for about 10 miles, then various back roads to the halfway control in Hyattstown.  Then other back roads to the 2/3 distance control in Poolesville.  Then back roads to River Road, Glen Echo, and pizza.  All very pleasant, except for River Road, which is a popular bike route despite being infested with rollers and cars.

We got 36 people, not bad at all considering the cold weather and the postponement.  I thought about what to wear for a while, then went with the winter boots and winter helmet, figuring I was not acclimated to the cold.  I also had tights, my thickest jersey, a light balaclava (am I the only person who owns 3 different balaclavas?), and a reflective vest, but those could come off if I got too warm.

Made it to the parking lot at Glen Echo Park (a nice little park run by the National Park Service, with a historic ballroom and an old carousel plus some trees).  I was about an hour early, so I rode over to the park to check out the carousel (which I vaguely remember riding as a kid 30-some years ago) and use the bathroom.  Then I meandered over to the Town Hall for the start.  There were signs saying to take off bike shoes to avoid scuffing the floor, but the organizers had thoughtfully put down cardboard to make this unnecessary.  I got my brevet card and some food, then still had time to kill, so I went back to my bike until I got cold, then took a seat downstairs where I could chat with people without being in the way.

About 15 minutes before the start I decided it was time to stop cowering and start getting used to the cold, so I went out and double-checked my bike.  We got a warning about bad road edges due to construction, and to watch out for leftover snow and ice, and then it was time to go.  Unfortunately, my winter boots are much harder to clip in than my summer shoes, so it took me multiple tries to get my left foot in for the uphill start.  Fortunately, this didn't cause anyone behind me to crash.

I started off near the front, like I always do, but knew I wouldn't last there.  So I just settled in at a gentle pace and let everyone gradually pass me.  The first few miles of the route are pretty flat, but the first decent hill told me that I didn't have my climbing legs.  I'd done heavy squats the day before, but I think the lack of riding for the last month had more to do with it.  Luckily, 8 hours to do 106k meant I didn't need any climbing legs.  As long as I didn't stop and take a long nap, I'd make it.

We had an information control at mile 14, right after leaving River Road.  Surprisingly, I was still wearing everything I started the ride with, even though it had warmed up to a bit above freezing.  My pen (which is the kind with 4 different colors, so that if one runs out of ink I have 3 backups) didn't work, probably because of the cold, but I had a golf pencil for backup.  Right after the info control, we turned onto Montevideo, which is an extremely small road by just-outside-the-Beltway standards — well-worn pavement, lots of shade, very little traffic, and thus the first unmelted snow and ice of the ride.  I was paying attention and dodged it easily enough.

A couple miles later, my head started getting warm.  And my helmet felt super-tight.  So I briefly stopped to remove my balaclava, solving both problems.  Of course, this happened just a couple miles after the info control so that I could make an extra stop.  No big deal, since I was riding alone and a minute didn't matter.  I just objected to the inefficiency on general principles.  I partially unzipped my reflective vest and my winter jersey but decided it wasn't quite warm enough yet to remove either one; I would pull those zippers up and down a few inches on most of the big downhills and uphills for the rest of the day, giving me at least the illusion of a bit of temperature control.

A pack of five more riders passed me right before the halfway control to remind me that I should ride more in the winter.  Then I reached the stop at Denise Bakery and Deli in Hyattstown.  There were a bunch of people there eating real food, but I wasn't that hungry and wanted to get going again, so I just bought a Cherry Coke (with HFCS for extra calories, my first non-diet soda in months) and got my card signed.  There was a bit of drama because the brevet card said the control closed at 10:24, making most of us still at the control disqualified by a few minutes, but we figured it was a typo.  (It was; someone later noticed that the cue sheet had the correct time of 11:24.)  I ate a Clif Bar for some more calories, swapped my lobster claws for my lighter full-finger gloves, and got back on the bike.

The 14-mile section between controls was very pleasant, with Peach Tree and Comus and Barnesville and Cattail all being reasonable cycling roads without too much Saturday morning traffic.  I got passed by the same group of 5 riders (who were riding a bit faster than me but controlling a bit slower), but reached Cugini's Pizza in Poolesville in good spirits, probably buoyed by the sugar and caffeine.  I decided to repeat my successful meal experiment with another Cherry Coke (identical to the previous one but costing about a quarter more — I guess Poolesville is the posh part of western Montgomery County), and headed out without getting any pizza.  I knew there'd be pizza at the end of the ride when the clock would no longer be ticking.

The 7 miles from Poolesville back to River Road were fine, but I was definitely slowing, despite the temperatures warming into the high 40s.  Clearly the fault was with my lack of endurance, not the weather.  My attention wandered at one point and I found myself going right over a patch of unmelted snow that I didn't see until it was too late, but it wasn't that slippery and I was going straight so there was no drama.  River Road was once again hilly and once again somewhat full of cars, but most of them were pretty polite and gave me a wide berth.  (The double-yellow line has noise grooves in it to prevent head-on collisions, and I got used to hearing the noise of cars crossing it to give me more space.)  It seemed like that road went on forever, but just as it made the transition from semi-rural to suburban, the turn onto Persimmon Tree arrived.

The last few miles of the ride were easy.  3.5 miles on Persimmon Tree, a mile and a half on MacArthur (quite torn up by construction but still fine if you took the lane), and then done.  My time was 6 hours, an embarrassing 11 mph.  That's a 600 km pace, including a sleep stop, and there was no sleeping on this ride.  So clearly I have a lot of work to do this spring to get the pace up.  But no injuries, no mean dogs or really bad drivers, nice weather (no mean feat this winter, which has been very cold and pretty snowy), and a chance to see a bunch of friends I hadn't seen in a while.

Next ride is the Wilderness Campaign 200 on March 8.  I did it in 8:57 two-years ago (in hardcore year-round bike commuter shape) and 10:34 last year (in soft telecommuter occasional weekend cyclist shape).  My modest goal is to finish faster than last year.


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Why I Just Closed my LinkedIn Account

So I just got an email from LinkedIn saying that someone wanted to connect. About half of these are spam from recruiters who I have no connection to, and the other half are actual people I've worked with. This one was an actual person who works on the same open source project as me, so I added him.

And then the LinkedIn site said (roughly) "Add your email password! So we can manage your contacts for you! It's secure (picture of padlock)."


1. This is phishing. You should never give your email password to any site (except your actual email provider, since you need it there to login). Your email password is the key to your entire online identity — if someone has your email password then he can, for example, look for emails from your bank to know which bank you use, then reset your online banking password and loot your bank account. (Of course LinkedIn is not actually planning to do that — but a rogue employee or someone who hacks into their systems might.)

Of course I'm not stupid enough to give them my password, but many people are. It's ridiculously irresponsible for them to ask for it.

2. Secure my ass. LinkedIn leaked 8 million users' passwords less than a year ago, because they were storing them in the database unsalted. Which is seriously negligent. They've probably fixed that particular bug, but there are probably plenty more.

3. They should know better than to put their marketing plans ahead of their users' security. They're not going to learn about security until it costs them users. So, scratch one user.


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Team Blues Fleche Report

I'd never ridden a fleche, because it had always conflicted with my daughter's birthday. This year the fleche was a week earlier, finally giving me a chance to ride it, so I started looking for a team. (Then my wife moved my daughter's party up a week until it conflicted with the fleche, but at that point I was committed. Can't win.) The first team to accept me was Team Blue, captained by RBA Nick and featuring George, Christian, and Dave. I'd ridden with all of them before, and I knew Nick was super-organized and had a well-tested route, so the only problem was riding 233 miles in 24 hours.

After losing my bike commute in September, not riding enough all winter, and being very slow in both 200 km brevets I'd ridden in the early spring, I was pretty worried about finishing in time. Luckily fleche pace is pretty slow, a bit under 10 mph, so as long as I kept pedaling I should be okay. I did a bunch of short rides between the Urbana 200 and the fleche, but still felt undertrained. And I was a bit worried about my right knee, which had been sore since Urbana. I had figured it was just spring knee from ramping up mileage too quickly, but the pain was on the outside like ITBS. It wasn't that bad the week before the fleche, though, so I packed some Ibuprofin and figured I'd just deal with it.

The weather forecast said it would be dry, with lows in the mid-30s and highs in the mid-50s. Not bad for early April. It was about 39 degrees at 5 a.m. at the 7-11 in Arlington when we started the ride. Warm enough that I didn't put on my jacket or shoe covers. Dave agreed and said he was getting a bit warm a few miles into the ride, so I thought I got it right. But then it started getting colder, as we descended into the moist valley between Reston and Vienna on the W&OD trail. I didn't really feel like stopping to put on more clothes, though, so I just lived with being chilly, as the temperature dropped to 34 degrees. Luckily it was still above freezing, so the puddles in low spots were water not ice. Having commuted on the W&OD trail for years, I enjoyed not having to worry about navigation for once, just deer and early-morning joggers.

As we approached the end of the trail in Purcellville, we were a few minutes behind schedule. Nick didn't want to speed up and burn energy early in the day, so instead we decided to control at the 7-11 instead of the McDonalds, and try to get through the control fast. But that ended up not happening, and impatience split the group, as Nick and George took off, followed by Dave, then me, as Christian was still putting his gloves and helmet. I saw Dave up the road and sprinted to catch up, but Christian was out of sight, so I rode to the front to ask George to slow down a bit, then we waited for Christian to catch us. He eventually did, though not until Nick and I were starting to worry that he had a flat or something, and I dropped back to ride with Christian and make sure he was okay. Unfortunately we soon missed a turn while chatting and rode a bonus mile, not what you want to do when you're behind.

Nick took a pit stop, so we caught him, and I decided to ride ahead to catch Dave and George and make sure they weren't too far ahead of us. But I heard a clicking from my rear wheel on a downhill, and stopped to diagnose the problem. One of my seatstay-mounted taillights was a bit loose. Two of the pre-ride rules I've learned through painful experience are not to mess with the bike the night before a long ride, and to replace taillight batteries before a long ride. Unfortunately it's impossible to obey both of these simultaneously: it appears that when replacing the batteries I dislodged the taillight a bit.

My initial hurried taillight tightening didn't stick, and when the light came loose again I got off the bike, ate a Clif Bar, took off a layer of clothes, and tightened the light better. This put me behind everyone, so I burned some energy riding back quickly. At that point I was approaching Middleburg alone. I made another wrong turn (626 north is two blocks away from 626 south, not directly across from it like you'd expect if highway design made sense) and rode another 1.2 bonus miles, then corrected my course and got onto Halfway Road toward the plains farther behind my teammates and more annoyed at myself. I rode harder, and eventually saw Nick and Christian stopped ahead next to a closed store. I pulled in next to them to remove the taillight that had just come loose yet again, intending to reinstall it before nightfall. (Though I always use two taillights in case one fails, so I'd be okay even without doing so.) Christian had just told Nick that his hip injury from last year's Cascade 1200 had come back, and that he needed to abort the ride and head back for Arlington before he got too far away to do so. We were about 60 miles into the ride. Nick gave me a Ziploc bag to keep the little taillight hardware from getting lost under all the jujnk in handlebar bag, and we said goodbye to Christian and resumed riding, hoping that George and Dave had the patience to wait for us at the 75-mile control. We continued down Halfway (very pretty road, with occasional traffic) to the Plains, then east on VA 55 (fast two-lane highway, moderate traffic) for a few miles, then off south toward Warrenton.

When we got to the Sheetz they were indeed waiting for us. They said they'd only been there for a couple of minutes, because they'd stopped briefly in The Plains and sent Nick a text (which Nick didn't notice). We all grabbed some food; mine was a large yogurt concoction, which Dave said didn't look like enough lunch for me, but it was really only elevensies not lunch, and I had lots of Clif Bars and Gu packets on the bike if I got hungry before the next stop.

The four of us rode together through the hilly old downtown part of Warrenton, which was a bit crowded, and then down nice suburban highways. George had been leading the whole previous section and didn't want to set the pace for a while, so the other three of us switched off. My previously-injured knee started to ache a bit, and at noon I stopped for a second to take two Ibuprofin. Traffic was light and friendly, until out of nowhere a crazy SUV came flying past us at about double the speed limit, despite an oncoming car. I was in third position and slowed down, fearing that the psyco would swerve right into us to avoid the head-on crash. Luckily the oncoming car had a good driver, who stopped (despite having the right of way) to give the psycho more room, and he made it around everyone without impact. But rather than continuing on his deranged way, he stopped and waited for us to catch up so that he could scream at us for a while. Dave backed way off, fearing that the guy might turn around and try to run us over, while Nick and George discussed the Virginia highway code with the nut job, and I memorized his plate number in case he ran one of them over and I needed to call the cops. Luckily his passengers talked him down and he eventually left without any real harm, but a nut case with a two-ton weapon can ruin the mood even if he doesn't actually hit you.

So we watched carefully for the psycho in case he came back at us and we needed to bail off the road, and discussed the multi-time drunk driver who killed our friend Stan a couple of years ago and was up for parole. The only silver lining was that my knee had stopped hurting; either the Ibuprofin from earlier had finally kicked in or the adrenaline from almost being run over was helping. We made it to the 104-mile control at Tolliver's Grocery / Sonny's BBQ, and everyone ordered a pork barbecue sandwich. Unfortunately there were a bunch of customers and only a few people working there, so it took a long time to get our food, and while we waited my knee tightened up again. The sandwich was good, though. I did some stretches to try to loosen up my knee, and then everyone needed to use the bathroom but the store didn't have one, so we all headed off down the road in search of secluded trees.

When we all got on our bikes again after the nature break, George had broken away. The other three of us rode at moderate pace while digesting, and didn't see him for a long time. Nick needed to stop to adjust his bike, but I told him that since I was worried about my sore knee making me slow, I'd keep going. He agreed and then we were all split up, with George then me then Dave then Nick all out of sight of each other. Dave eventually caught me as I approached Reva, and we saw George waiting ahead on the porch of a closed store. I got off my bike to stretch my knee, and after Nick didn't catch us for a few minutes, George called him. It turned out that Nick's chain had broken. He asked us to wait for him. But then George suggested that I go ahead since my knee was slowing me. I did so, and rode ahead pretty slowly. Eventually the others caught me, but then Nick had to stop again to adjust his bike's shifting, and asked George to stop with him and Dave and me to keep going. My knee was warmed up and feeling a lot better, and there were no steep hills for a while, so I started riding faster, until Dave told me to slow down so Nick and George could catch us. At that point I was much more optimistic that I could finish, though a bit worried about Nick since he kept having mechanical problems.

Nick and George finally caught us, and Nick mentioned that he thought I was rocking my hips. I was pretty sure my saddle height was good, but it was possible that I was using a different position to favor the sore knee, so I lowered my saddle a couple of millimeters. It didn't really help, though. As we approached the 125-mile control, it started hurting again. We stopped for dinner at a McDonalds in Madison. I had a Southern Chicken Sandwich (basically McDonald's imitation of Chick-Fil-A) and a vanilla shake. While we were there, Nick got a call from Christian, who'd made it back to his car in Arlington.

The next 24 miles got progressively worse for me. The road was a bit rough, and there were some hills, and the knee got worse, and I started falling off the back of the group. George noticed and dropped back to ride with me and provide encouragement. I did my best to tough it out, but about mile 140 I decided there was no way I could finish the ride in time, and that if I kept trying I would slow down the team and possibly cause them to miss the time limit. So I continued to the mile 148 control at Baker's Store, then told the team I was DNFing, and tried calling for a ride. My wife was hosting my daughter's sleepover, so she couldn't come pick me up, but my parents could. My cell phone was acting flaky, so I ended up using George's phone to call them. They weren't home yet so I left a message and decided I'd continue along the course, slowly, aiming for a nice spot to be picked up like the Inn at Kelly's Ford (mile 165) or M&P Pizza (mile 171), if I could make it that far.

While I was making phone calls, the Hamid's fleche team, which was using the same route as us but started an hour later, rode into the control. We chatted a bit with them, then rode off before they did. My knee was pain-free for about half a mile, and I briefly had delusions of finishing the ride, before I remembered that I hadn't bothered getting my card signed at the last control so I was a DNF regardless. A bit later, the knee pain returned. A couple miles after that, my phone rung, and I said goodbye to the team so I could arrange a ride.

While I was on the side of the road chatting, Hamid's team rode by. They asked if I needed help but I waved them on, since none of them seemed to have a bag big enough to carry a motor vehicle inside. My parents were able to pick me up, but we had to arrange a rendezvous point and I'd rather ride slowly toward a better landmark than sit on the side of a highway getting cold. So we agreed that I'd ride to the Inn at Kelly's Ford, and if they got there before me they'd call again. They ended up calling again when I was in Lignum, about 10 miles from the previous control. I saw the closed but well-lit Lignum Main Post Office ahead, and asked them to meet me there. It was fully dark by then, and getting cold, so once I got to the post office I put on all my warm clothes, and paced back and forth rather than sitting on the cold metal bench.

George and Nick and Dave did manage to finish the fleche in time, and 3 riders is enough to count as a team finish, so bravo to them. I wish I'd been able to finish with them, but dropping out was clearly the right decision. Stairs were really hard for a day, and the knee's still sore. I'm pretty sure it's ITBS, which I had in the other knee after a long off-road ride years ago. The treatment is rest and some specific stretches to loosen the tendon on the outside of the knee. So no long rides for me for a month or two. I'll certainly enjoy volunteering the 600 more than I would have enjoyed riding it.


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Life With Gerrit Code Review

Gerrit is a code review tool, based on Git, originally written for the Android project. It's the center of our workflow on the OpenStack project. In every other programming job I've had, every programmer in the company has had commit rights to the central repository, and code review has been an occasional ad hoc practice, mostly ignored in the name of expediency. On OpenStack, only Gerrit has commit rights to the main branches of the central repository, and if your code isn't reviewed, it doesn't get in. This is a very different way to work, and wanting to try it was part of the reason I decided to work on OpenStack.

On OpenStack Nova, we have Gerrit configured to require a +2 vote from two core reviewers, plus a +1 vote by our Jenkins automated test system. So, basically, you have to impress two senior programmers and one robot. Non-core-reviewers can and do review code as well, but they can only vote +1 not +2, and their approval isn't enough to get your code in.

On a nuts-and-bolts level, using Gerrit like this requires a ton of work by a talented infrastructure team, who configure the central Git/Gerrit server and the Jenkins server with all its automated test jobs. I'm not on that team, though, so that's all magic to me. The thing that every single programmer on the team has to deal with is a particular workflow in Git reflecting that changes go to Gerrit rather than directly being pushed to origin:master, plus using the Gerrit web interface to review code and to view feedback from others.

On the Git side, we use the git-review tool to simplify submitting local Git branches to Gerrit. Basically, a user has to follow a few steps, nicely documented in a wiki page, to setup his local repository to communicate with Gerrit. Some of these are things you'd already do with the average centralized Git setup, like configuring your username and email address and ssh keys and cloning the central repository to your local computer. Luckily, most of the extra setup is a one-time thing. The things that are different day-to-day is that we always develop in a local branch, never on master; that instead of using "git push" to send our local changes up to the server, we use "git review" to send them to Gerrit, and that most branches are a single commit rather than a series of commits, so if you need to make changes to appease a reviewer you do "git commit –amend" to modify the last commit, rather than a normal "git commit" to make a new one.

When you run "git review", it sticks an ugly line like "Change-Id: Ie4a59eeb7e3895f5d35471377c3bea462c690210″ at the end of your commit message. This is Gerrit's change id, and it's separate from the Git commit id because Git's id will change if you rebase or amend your commit (which we do often), while Gerrit's id needs to remain constant. A few seconds after you run "git review", your commit shows up in the Gerrit web interface, in our case at review.openstack.org (If it's a modification of an existing commit with the same Change-Id, then the new change shows up as a new Patch Set under the existing change.)

After code is submitted for review, you're at the mercy of two classes of reviewers. The human ones are busy with other reviews, writing their own code, attending meetings, playing Foosball, whatever. We have a large enough team on some OpenStack projects that you'll usually get your first human review within a few hours, but if it's a weekend or holiday then you might have to wait. And of course you don't just need one review, you need two +2 reviews from core reviewers, so if there's some back-and-forth about the quality of your change, it can take a few days to get everything through the system.

And then there are the bots. Bots are tireless and ready to review code 24/7/365, but we have lots of tests to run and finite hardware to run them on, so in practice it can sometimes take about an hour for your commit to get to the front of the queue and have the tests run. (This depends on how many other commits are going in; you get faster test runs during off-peak hours.) Our tests consist of a bunch of core OpenStack functional tests like starting virtual machines, plus running the project's entire Python unit test suite, plus a customized version of the pep8 tool to enforce the project's coding standards. (The latter is, in my opinion, the best thing ever because it means I never need to look at 250-column-wide OpenStack code that doesn't fit in my xterm, and because it frees up human reviewers from needing to deal with style so they can focus on substance.)

If all the automated tests pass and two core reviewers like your code enough to vote +2, then you're done, and your commit eventually gets into the project's master branch. That sometimes happens on the first try, for very simple changes. Usually, it takes a few revisions. You go over 80 columns in one place and get dinged by pep8, some unit test fails, or some reviewer thinks you have a bug in your logic or a typo in your commit message or need a comment to describe some hairy logic. In cases where it's clear what the problem is, the solution is pretty simple: you modify the code, run "git commit –amend" to modify your commit, and run "git review" to push the new patch set to Gerrit and hope they like it better this time. Sometimes spurious test failures happen, and you have to tell Gerrit to "recheck" or "reverify" your existing commit. Eventually, everyone is happy and your code gets in, and then you can delete your local Git branch and go work on something new.

How does this change your day-to-day routine as a programmer? First, it takes longer to get small changes in. Something small that might take 5 minutes to code and then 1 minute to commit and push now takes 10 minutes to code (because you're being more careful to avoid being dinged by a reviewer) and a couple of hours to get reviewed. Second, as with any project that has centralized test infrastructure, you spend a lot of time saying "but that test passed on my machine!" and then digging through logs, figuring out why it fails for the Jenkins bot. Third, you spend a lot of time reviewing other people's changes.

What do you get for all that effort? First, all the code in the project's master branch has been reviewed by at least two senior people besides its author, and has made it through a pretty comprehensive test suite. In short, obvious junk with syntax errors doesn't get in at all. Buggy code can of course still get in (you can't test for everything), but the bugs have to be more subtle. Second, because of the way we continually amend a single commit during the review process, each change in the master repository tends to be a "perfect patch", with mostly correct code and a mostly useful commit message, adding one feature or fixing one bug. When later reviewing project history, you don't usually need to look at the one commit that adds most of the feature, then two more later that day that fix bugs in it. (That, in turn, makes it easier to backport fixes to other branches, since they're more likely to be self-contained.) OpenStack's code isn't perfect, but it's a lot better than on any other project of similar size that I've worked on. Third, because you spend a lot of time reviewing other people's code, you accidentally learn about parts of the project that you haven't directly worked on yet.

Would I choose to use Gerrit on a new project? Yes, with a few reservations. First, you need a solid enough infrastructure team to set it up and maintain it well. If all commits are gated by Gerrit and Gerrit breaks, you need to fix it right now or integration of new changes will stop. Second, you need a big enough team that some code reviewers are just about always available (at least during the team's core business hours), to keep work from grinding to a halt while waiting for reviews. Third, you need people who are willing to constructively criticize other people's code, and people who are willing to accept constructive criticism. If everyone just says "+1″ or "+2″ all the time without really looking hard, then you're just wasting your time. Fourth, you need an out-of-band way to communicate when authors and reviewers have a major disagreement and they need to have a ten-minute interactive conversation rather than just slowly throwing one-liners back and forth in the code review tool. If you're in the same office, that's easy. OpenStack is a global multi-company team, so we use IRC, which works fine.


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DC Randonneurs Urbana 200 km Brevet

The Urbana 200 is one of the hardest 200s I've done. The first half of the ride is just constant rollers, with the big climb up MD77 through Catoctin Mountain Park thrown in for fun. And the second half has Townsend / Gapland / Mar-Lu Ridge, albeit in the easier direction. Normally that means a fun day, but since I'm really out of shape this winter after losing my bike commute, it meant worrying about finishing in time.

It was sunny and cold at the start in Urbana, about freezing, but with forecasts predicting 50s later. I wore my full winter ensemble minus the winter boots and winter helmet, since those are too bulky to cram into my Carradice when it warms up. I even brought my shoe covers for the descents.

I started off pretty slow and watched the fast riders sail away. We had a gravel descent through a construction zone about 2 miles in, and I took it very slowly, not wanting a flat tire. George on his fat-tired 650B bike blew by me like a downhill racer, and I was jealous but kept my hands on the brakes. After we got back on pavement, I caught up with him and chatted a bit, but he was too fast for me, as was everyone else in the area, and I was quickly alone. I had no problem getting up any of the hills, but I was climbing a lot of them at 3-5 mph, which meant I was falling way behind.

It took quite a while to get to the 28-mile control in Union Bridge. I had some M&Ms then took off, not wanting to waste any precious time. The next 15 miles weren't bad, but then the eternal climb up MD77 through Catoctin Mountain Park started, and I didn't see another cyclist the whole time. There was a new "bikes can use entire width of road" sign, which was nice but I preferred staying to the right and making it easier for cars to pass. The bright sun seemed to make lots of wind (all of it directly in my face) but no warmth, and I kept all my winter clothes except my rain jacket on for the whole climb. Got to the top what felt like hours later, and slogged to the halfway control in State Line PA in time for a late lunch. There were 4 cyclists there, but two of them were abandoning and John and Lynne on their tandem were not sure they'd finish in time, not so comforting. I was tired enough that, despite the time pressure, I sat down and chatted and ate a hoagie (once you get a mile over the border into PA people talk like they're in Pittsburgh) and some macaroni salad and drank a full 20-oz. HFCS/caffeine Vanilla Coke.

I hoped the lunch would give me a burst of energy, but no such luck. The first few miles after the control saw a bunch of 11-mph riding. I checked my clock and realized that I needed to push harder to avoid missing the cutoff at the next control, so I started pushing into the 13-14 mph range. I got to the KOA camp store with what I thought was 10 minutes to spare, but it turned out my clock was a few minutes slow so I really had a bit less. Oops. But I made it by 4 minutes, which was good enough. At that point I was really sure that I was going to fail to make the time limit, and not sure I'd make it to the end at all, but I took on some more sugar and caffeine and decided to push hard and see what happened. John and Lynne left the control just in front of me, but I thought their pace was too slow to finish in time (turns out their pace was just right and they just made it — congrats guys) so I dropped them and kept going.

Fortunately, the wind was still blowing out of the northwest, so what had been a headwind all morning was now a tailwind (at least some of the time — the route isn't quite straight). And the stretch from 78 miles until 104 miles, while far from flat, featured mostly benign rollers rather than nasty hills. My right knee was getting sore, but I optimistically self-diagnosed it as spring knee (overuse from ramping up intensity too fast) rather than a "real" injury where continuing to pedal would make it worse, and took a couple of Ibuprofin (and drank way more Gatorade than I wanted on the cool day, since dehydration plus Ibuprofin is really bad for you). The normally pleasant ride through Antietam Battlefield was much harder than usual (maybe because we usually go the other direction and the hills are usually in our favor?), and the unavoidable information control was a welcome 1-minute break rather than an annoyance. I got to the 97-mile control in Sharpsburg with half an hour to spare, and felt a lot better about my chance of finishing.

The 8 miles from the control to Townsend Road wasn't too bad, but then the final big climbs and descents of the day had arrived. I'd done this route a bunch of times the other way (which is hard) but only a couple of times this way, which I remembered was easier, but not exactly how much easier. Turned out it was a lot easier — even in my out-of-shape, tired, sore, and stressed state I was able to get up Townsend easily. I visited the port-a-potty in the park at the top, then made really sure I was going down the right way (there are three roads to the top, all of them steep, and going down the wrong one would crush me) before flying down Arnoldstown Road. The next ten miles were mostly downhill, with only a couple of scary steep parts and a whole bunch of straight easy descents. I shamelessly coasted whenever possible and banked the free miles and (slightly) improved average speed. But Mar-Lu Ridge was next.

Luckily, the easy side of Mar-Lu was also easier than I remembered. It's a climb, but I was prepared for a worse one, and made it to the top quickly. The descent is pretty steep (15% at the top and 11% at the bottom, according to the runaway truck signs) and there's a traffic light and busy highway at the bottom, so you want to make very sure your brakes work. I was also worried about getting cold on the way down, but didn't want to stop to put my jacket back on, so I just zipped my jerseys all the way up and tucked my gloves into my sleeves. I dragged my brakes way more than I should have on the 15% part (there's a false summit in the middle so it's safe to fly down the top part and only brake on the bottom part, if you're braver than I am), but made it to the bottom quickly, just missing a green light. There were no cars going my way and I was worried the sensor wouldn't pick up my bike and I'd be stuck waiting forever to cross Route 15, but just as I started looking for gaps between cars wide enough to safely run the light, it changed for me.

I only had 13 miles to go, and all the big climbs were done, but dusk was approaching. So I put on the headlights and reflective vest and stowed the sunglasses and got going. Knowing I was no longer in severe time pressure, I slacked off a bit and took almost an hour to do the next 10 miles. That meant it got dark (defined as needing a light to read a cue sheet) about three miles from the finish. That annoyed me more than it should have, which made me think I might be bonking, so I had a caffeinated Gu packet even though there were only 3 miles to go, just to be extra-super-sure. There were a few annoying hills near the end, but I finished with 22 minutes to spare.

My time was 13:08, versus 10:10 last time I rode this route in 2011. (I was *30* pounds lighter then, and carrying an extra touring bike weight crushes you on the climbs.) It was windier today, but I made some wrong turns that time, which might even out. Anyway, I'm happy I finished, but I have a lot of work to do before the Fleche. The knee is still sore and snow is in the forecast, so I get a couple of days off the bike to recover before it's time to start riding hard.


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DC Randonneurs Wilderness Campaign 200 km Brevet

Don't quit your bike commute. I think I've told that to 50 people by now.

Last September I got a job offer I couldn't refuse. Full-time telecommute, interesting project, great company. The big drawback was losing my 22-mile bike commute. Sure, I told myself, I could go for a 20-mile ride at lunchtime every day to make up for it. And I really did that, some of the time, when the weather was nice. Not so much in January when it was 36 degrees and raining sideways.

I gained 20 pounds in 3 months and my legs turned from iron into jello. Pretty much what you expect to happen when you go from riding 150 miles per week to 30.

I did a 100 km populaire on an unseasonably warm January day, and finished without problems, but was ridiculously slow from the very first hill (Grant Peterson says you lose 1 mph for each 12 pounds you gain, and this seemed about right) and had dead legs for the whole ride. And 100 km isn't far at all, basically just a long commute. Uh oh.

The first brevet of the season in early February got postponed due to dangerous weather, and I had a conflict that kept me from riding the make-up the next weekend when the weather was merely crummy. So the Wilderness Campaign 200 would be my first long ride in months, and my first since losing all my fitness. Even though it's a pretty easy ride, I was kind of worried about finishing.

We got a few inches of snow the week before the Wilderness Campaign 200, but it melted fast, and we expected the roads to be clear, except maybe in the wooded battlefield parks. The organizers added detours around the parks to the cue sheet, just in case.

We got a big turnout at a Caribou Coffee in Bristow VA. It was below freezing outside, so most of them were huddled in the coffee shop drinking something warm. I figured it made more sense to get used to the cold so I stood outside freezing. I ended up starting the ride wearing almost everything I brought: jersey and shorts, heavy jersey and tights, rain jacket, balaclava, lobster claws, cotton and heavy wool socks, summer shoes. I considered wearing my lined winter helmet, but forecasts said it might warm up to 50 later and visions of sweating my head off deterred me, so I wore a regular summer helmet with the 'clava underneath. Didn't bring my big winter bike boots for the same reason.

It was full light by the 7 a.m. start so there was not a strict need for lights and reflective gear, but many of the riders had them anyway out of habit (or, in my case, fear of not finishing by dark). Better safe than run over. I fell out of the fast front group immediately, then out of the second group, then the third, and was soon riding by myself, slowly. I warmed up quickly with all those clothes on and started unzipping various zippers on the jacket and pulling at the balaclava to get some cool air, but about 10 miles in I stopped and stowed the jacket, not wanting to get sweaty then chilled. The good news was that I wasn't last; while I was stopped a bunch more riders passed me. Without the jacket and with temperatures still around freezing, I got really cold on the next couple of descents, but that sorted itself out pretty quickly and I was okay for the next few hours.

The route went from the exurbs of Bristow to the sod farms of Nokesville then down to Kelly's Ford. Having also gone that way on the hot second day of last year's 600, I was really tired of those roads, though they're honestly very nice. Rolling hills, pretty woods, and not too many cars. I got to the 48-mile control in Locust Grove alone, and was happy to see a bunch of riders still there. I was slow but not completely behind the ride. I went through the control really fast to try to keep it that way despite my slow progress. Way too much 11- and 12-mph riding on very gentle hills where I should be doing 14-15.

My least favorite part of the ride is the shoulder of busy VA 20 heading toward Wilderness Battlefield. It's one of those variable shoulders that's sometimes 5 feet wide and paved and perfect, then immediately turns to gravel without warning (possibly resulting in a rude awakening if you're cruising at high speed without paying attention), then shrinks to 6 inches wide dumping you into high-speed traffic, then widens again. I don't know if shoulders are actually planned to be this awful as a trap for cyclists, or they're just an afterthought built with leftover materials and they sometimes run out.

Luckily there was no snow on the roads in Wilderness Battlefield, though there was still plenty on the grass and trees. I was happy to get off the busy highway and onto empty roads. Of course every DC Randonneurs brevet that visits a battlefield always includes a historical information control — I will totally win on Jeopardy someday with knowledge about muleshoes in 1862. As I approached the info control I saw a group of 5 riders there in front of me. They told me the answer but I refused to write it down without double-checking for myself (not because I didn't trust them but because it felt like cheating), which meant leaving the nice pavement and slogging through melted snow and mud. I decided I was too slow to keep up with them and resumed riding alone out of the battlefield and onto crowded VA 208. (Totally different from VA 20, but with the same joyless feeling.) Luckily we were only on it for a couple of miles until the second control at a 7-11 in Spotsylvania at mile 68, about halfway. I caught the same 5 riders that I'd just seen there, and feeling a lot better after a bit of food and drink and rest, left at the tail of their train.

I felt great for the next few miles, riding and chatting and zooming down the little hills. (The only good thing about gaining weight is that you go downhill faster. This is mostly wasted on me because I feel the need to brake prematurely for every turn, stop sign, and squirrel, but sometimes the hill is straight enough that even I can just fly.) We had another info control at mile 78, and after people spent too much time chatting and I felt my legs getting cold, I took the command decision to start pedaling and get the group back on the road. Surprisingly, they all followed me, and then a few minutes later, they all started to pass me. My post-control burst of energy had worn out and I was back to being slow and tired. We went down Elys Ford Road for 11 miles again, and past Kellys Ford again, and down Sumerduck again, and I was tired of pedaling. It had warmed up to about 50 and felt hotter, but I hadn't brought any sunscreen (couldn't find any; guess my wife threw it all away over the winter), so I decided to keep my arm warmers on and only pull them down when I got really hot climbing, to minimize the sun exposure. That worked well enough — I didn't get too hot and I didn't burn.

By the 100-mile mark I was down to counting miles and figuring what percentage of the ride I had left. This is normal for me on 400+ km rides, but pretty sad on a 200. I had ice cream at the Elk Run control at mile 107, and rejoined Mike and Christian, who had been in the earlier group of 5. (The other guys had broken away.) The three of us rode together to the finish, faster than I would have ridden alone. Mike wanted to at least get his average speed up to 13.5 mph, which sounds really slow but felt pretty fast to me by then. I was able to hang on to the end of the line, though, and we finished in 10:34. For comparison, I did the same ride in 8:57 last year.

So really slow, despite a complete lack of excuses like wrong turns or flat tires. Just out of shape. But I finished before dark, and didn't hurt myself, so it was a successful ride. If I have the time and motivation to do a 200 every weekend, I'll probably be back in shape by May… Yeah, sounds unlikely to me too. It's going to be a hard spring. But even a hard ride can be fun. Okay, mostly after it's over.


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DC Randonneurs Old Rag 200km brevet

We usually ride Old Rag in the spring or summer, but this year we did it in the fall. Unfortunately we got record low temperatures, so it felt more like winter, at least early on. Having actually remembered to check the weather forecast, I knew it would be cold (forecast overnight low was 36F), so I packed a long-sleeve jersey, a rain jacket, tights, arm warmers, and a balaclava. But somehow I forgot my wool socks and my shoe covers. (I have this nice checklist to help me avoid forgetting things, but I sometimes forget to check the checklist.)

I broke the rear derailleur cable on my bike the weekend before the ride. It turns out that Campy shifter cables have a smaller head than Shimano cables, and my local bike shop doesn't stock the Campy version, which meant that I had to wait until the weekly shipment from QBP on Thursday, just two days before the brevet. Luckily nothing went wrong and my bike was ready on time.

I packed my stuff the night before so I wouldn't need to wake up until 5, which still felt way too early. I had a big bowl of cereal and left the house around 5:30, which got me to Warrenton by 6:30, in plenty of time for the 7:00 start. I was pre-registered so I just had to sign a waiver and get my brevet card, and drink some orange juice. We had a pretty small turnout, only 22 riders, probably because of the cold.

We left at 7. The group was immediately split by a red light, with two riders who beat the light several hundred yards out front, and the rest of us stuck behind. We all waited for it to turn green (really!) and then, with my usual early-morning silliness, I decided to ride across the gap and chase them down. They weren't going very fast, so I reached them right after the first turn of the day onto Culpeper Street, and then I came to my senses and decided to slow down and wait for reinforcements. Bill and Kelly caught and passed me on the first big downhill, which I descended with my usual lack of speed plus some extra braking to reduce the wind on my cold feet, and I chased back to form a front group of three. I went off the front briefly before the first small climb of the day, to test my legs, and the results were not encouraging. I was okay on the flats, but had no climbing power. I'm always slow in the cold, and the first cold ride of the season meant I wasn't acclimated. The power deficit, combined with the extra weight I'd been carrying all year, meant there was no way I'd be finishing with the front group.

Now that I knew, I went back behind Bill and Kelly and tried to think warm thoughts. I was warm except for my feet. I considered putting on my rain jacket, thinking that an extra-warm core might cause my body to send more warm blood to my feet, but decided against it because I didn't want to overheat. The three of us were soon joined by four more riders, and we stayed together until the secret control around mile 20.

I went into the secret control at the back of the group, and decided to eat a Gu packet while volunteer Mark was signing my card, and by the time I was ready to start, 5 of the riders were already moving out in front of me. Knowing that I couldn't climb well enough to stay with the group all day anyway, I decided not to chase back. One rider passed me, but I kept my speed down, and ended up riding solo for about the next 20 miles. The temperature started to climb, with my feet going from frigid to slightly chilly, and the rest of me going from fine to a bit warm. At one point Dave J. caught me from behind. I rode with him for a bit, but then he needed to stop, and I was by myself again, focused on navigation and making it to the first control so I could eat some lunch and lose a layer of clothes.

Then I entered the dog-infested section of the route. Around mile 40, on route 607, I saw a medium-sized brown dog standing in the middle of the road glaring at me. I'm not very good at reading dogs' intentions, but this one was big enough that I really didn't want to hit it, so I juked left then cut right and sprinted. It didn't chase me, so it was probably all just a waste of effort. A couple of miles later, on the same road, a tiny little dog (I'm not a dog expert, but my guess is half chihuahua, half squirrel) came running out of its yard yipping at me. I know the motorcycle rule of thumb that if an animal is small enough to eat in one meal, just ride straight and let it dodge you. But this dog looked dumb enough to run right into my wheels, so I went to the effort of dodging it. Luckily it's hard to run fast on two-inch legs, so it never got within five feet of me. And I continued riding along, muttering to myself about people who are too dumb to keep their dogs in their yards…

…When suddenly I heard fast footsteps behind me. Dog number three was the sneaky type. I never saw it until after I passed it, and it never barked, but it was chasing me and having no problem keeping up. Since I hadn't got a good look I didn't know if it was a real threat, so I reflexively sprinted. Going from 14 mph to 28 mph on cold legs is not such a smart idea — I felt a twinge in my right calf, and ignored it and kept on pedaling. The dog matched my speed for a while, though it started panting with the effort. After about a quarter mile the footsteps and heavy breathing stopped, and I looked back over my shoulder to see the dog loping back home. I guess it wasn't a biter, because it had me totally by surprise and didn't strike, but it had scared me badly. And I was afraid I might have pulled something. I muttered some more about irresponsible dog owners, and rode more vigilantly, but didn't see any more dogs in the road for the rest of the day.

It turned out my calf was okay — it stopped hurting after a few minutes. But I slowed down a bit more just in case, and got caught by four riders right before the 56-mile control at Yoder's Country Market. I matched their speed and rode in at the back of their group. Yoder's is one of the best controls ever. They have a clean bathroom, good food, and friendly workers. Unfortunately on a nice Saturday in the fall they also have way too many customers, so it took a few minutes to get my roast beef and salami and Swiss on wheat, but I needed a break anyway. I went outside and ate at a picnic table, where several other riders were hanging out. It was still cold in the shade, but warming up in the sun. I took off my balaclava and long-sleeved jersey and put on my arm warmers and left, riding alone again. I still had a full bottle of water, so I didn't bother filling up the empty one, with only 14 miles to the next control.

The route went through the little town of Madison, then onto the Blue Ridge Turnpike (with traffic) for a bit, then off onto empty side roads. Dave S. was in front of me and I pretty much matched his speed, but didn't quite catch up with him. Then, as we curved back toward the Blue Ridge Turnpike again, we hit a minor traffic jam of about 20 vehicles. I'd never seen traffic in this area before, so I was worried that there was a crash, but didn't see one. Just a bunch of cars. We turned off Blue Ridge Turnpike onto 670 toward Syria (pronounced sigh-REE-uh, so there's no danger of confusion with the country), and all the cars followed us. I chased up to Dave's wheel so that they'd only have to pass once rather than twice, but it was still kind of hair-raising every time one of them passed us with oncoming traffic way too close. Apparently there was some kind of popular apple festival going on. None of them hit us, and we eventually made it to Syria Mercantile. I bought a Mounds and a Coke and used the rather rustic bathroom in the warehouse across the street. Some guys in the warehouse were listening to the Virginia Tech game on the radio, but I didn't want to hear the score because I was Tivoing it, so I rushed through humming to myself. Then I left with George to ride up Etlan Road, over the foothills of Old Rag. (The actual summit of Old Rag is a popular hike, but not so bike-friendly.)

Luckily, the apple festival traffic didn't follow us up the hill. George warned me that he was having a slow day and that I'd probably end up dropping him. I told him that I was having a slow day too and he might end up dropping me. We ended up being equally slow, going up the steep switchbacks at about 4 mph. It's a steep climb but not very long, and soon enough we were going down the other side, and George blew past me. We rode together for the next few miles, and several other guys caught and passed us. Then while I was talking to another rider, George disappeared backwards — I guess he was right and he was having a slower day than I was. I kept going with a couple of other riders until the start of the hard multi-part climb up Round Hill Road, then they dropped me and I went up it nice and slowly. They call it the Three Meanies, but I'm not sure why because I'm pretty sure there are five hills not three. (Maybe two of them are less mean?)

One advantage of a cool day is that I made it up all the climbs without getting hot. I was slow but feeling fine otherwise, and made it alone to the Laurel Mills Store at mile 94 with no problems. I had another Coke and a Choco Taco. (Basically an ice cream sandwich lightly disguised as a taco, for whatever reason.) The fact that I was eating ice cream definitely meant it wasn't cold anymore either — it was just right. I chatted with a couple of riders but left alone again, toward the small town of Flint Hill, then the next hill on Crest Hill Road. I'd forgotten about Crest Hill until George reminded me of it — it's a hill, but not a very long or steep one. It was followed by a long downhill to the Rappahannock River, then a bit of a climb up to Orlean.

I had ice cream again at Orlean Market, so clearly my body wanted more calories than I had been giving it. It's only 10 miles from Orlean to the end, but it's mostly uphill, and I really didn't want to bonk or dehydrate. The climb up Piney Mountain wasn't too bad this time, probably because it was cool and I was taking it slowly. But the last five miles into Warrenton felt like they took forever.

I finished in 10 hours and 55 minutes, a little more than two hours slower than last time I did this ride. The fastest rider (Bill) finished in 9:15, so it was a slow day all around. Some of that was temperature, some was traffic, but most of it was climbing like a slug. I would like to thank the dog that made me sprint, for keeping my time under 11 hours. Other than forgetting my wool socks and my shoe covers, I don't think I did anything very wrong on this ride. No bonking, no dehydration, no wrong turns. I was just slow.


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