Stan Miller and I rode the DC Randonneurs 600 together back in early June. We didn't finish, mostly due to the heat. But Stan was determined to do a full SR series this year, and emailed me a couple of days later, asking if I wanted to ride the New Jersey Randonneurs 600 with him in late June. I wanted to, but I couldn't make it because our family vacation was already planned for that week, and I wished to remain married more than I wanted to do the ride. So we decided to do the ROMA 600 in late September instead.
And then Stan was killed by a drunk SUV driver, near home, a few hours before the start of the NJ 600. If only I'd been able to do that ride with him then he would have been hundreds of miles away from that drunk driver on that day…
Of course, that's the kind of irrationally warped negative thinking that leads people to quit riding, sit on the couch watching TV and eating Doritos instead, and die of a heart attack in their fifties. So I got off the couch and signed up for the Old Rag 200. Since I hadn't done a ride longer than 30 miles in a couple of months, I had no idea how I'd do, but it was only a 200k and the weather forecast looked nice, so I wasn't too worried.
I made it to the HoJos in Warrenton just a few minutes before the brevet was supposed to start. I managed to leave with the main group, which was only 17 riders, not the 30 or 40 we usually get. (It's vacation season, plus a bunch of folks are doing big event rides this month.) The group quickly sped up to about 20 mph, and most of it passed me on the first big descent as usual. If it had been a longer or harder ride I probably would have just let the group go early to spare my legs, but this time I decided to hang on as long as I reasonably could without frying myself. We had a secret control about 20 miles in, which briefly fragmented the group, but things came back together and we still had a group of 12 at mile 40. Then I started slipping off the back, and clawing back up, and slipping back again. I wanted to keep the group in sight until the first control at mile 56, but then I really needed to pee, and that eventually (at mile 49) became more important than my pride, so I stopped, and didn't even try to chase back. I averaged 18.2 mph to that point, pretty fast for me. During that stretch I ate one Macadamia Nut Clif Bar, one orange Gu packet with double caffeine, and drank about 35 ounces of strong Gatorade.
I pulled into the control at Yoder's Country Store at mile 56 as the first two riders were pulling out. Yoder's is a great control — good food plus a clean bathroom. So I stopped to get a sandwich and refill my empty bottle with water that some nice faster rider had left. I left alone a few minutes later.
The next stretch went through the nice little town of Madison and up the Blue Ridge Turnpike. I reached the mile 71 control at Syria Mercantile still alone, riding about 16 mph, and feeling fine. I was starting to wonder if this would be the first brevet I ever finished without a wrong turn. I bought some cookies, refilled my bottle with more free water left by another nice rider, and put on some sunscreen. Bennett came into the control while I was there, and I talked to him briefly, then left and immediately went the wrong way. I mostly realized it within a half mile, but kept riding on in denial until I was really really sure before turning around. 2.6 bonus miles. At least they were flat ones, unlike the hilly bonus miles I rode on the 600. And the weather was nice, only about 78 degrees, about as cool as it gets in Virginia in August.
Leaving Syria for the second time I went up the short but steep climb. A big truck with a big trailer was unable to safely pass me, and I really didn't want him right behind me all the way up the hill, so I bailed off the side of the road to let him by. And then I got to the stop and went down the fun descent pretty fast. And a few rolling miles later I reached Round Hill Road, home of the Three Meanies. It's not really that big a hill, but it's split into roller, big hill, roller, big hill, roller, roller, big hill, roller. (Maybe I got the order slightly wrong; feel free to check Google Maps.) Lots of redundant grade, and the bigger hills twist so you can't see the top. More frustrating than truly difficult. The first time I rode this brevet in 2007, it broke my spirit and I actually stopped a couple of times to catch my breath. It's a bad idea to stop halfway up a steep hill because then you lose all your momentum and have to struggle to clip in before you fall over. This time, I rode it slowly but never even thought of stopping. So I guess I'm still a better rider than I was 3 years ago, even if I'm in awful shape this summer.
After I reached the top, the next few miles featured some heavy-but-polite traffic on 522, and then the third control at Laurel Mills Store at mile 94. I don't like this control because their selection of food and drink is subpar and they don't let us use their bathroom. But I bought some Gatorade (no free water this time) and headed back out. George rolled in as I rolled out.
It was about 20 miles of rollers to the next control. I was tiring but not doing too badly, down to about 15 mph. I needed another bathroom break but managed to reach the Orlean Store at mile 114 before needing to resort to the woods. The Orlean Store is a very nice control — clean public bathroom plus good food. Much fancier than most country stores. I wasn't really hungry and it was only ten miles to the finish so I just bought a Coke. Which I had a hard time drinking quickly — the carbonation didn't really agree with me. George rolled in at that point and told me he'd lost his wallet at the previous control. So he made some phone calls and I slowly drank my Coke, then we left the control together.
Even though I didn't feel really great, I looked at my time and realized that I could set a personal best time for a 200k if I pushed. So when we got to the start of Piney Mountain, the last big climb of the day, I hammered. George dropped behind — he always rides at a smart conservative pace, and often passes me after I overcook myself. But this wasn't one of those days. I made it over Piney Mountain in pretty good shape (though I got tricked by the false summit and thought I was done before I was), and rode pretty hard into Warrenton. I finished in 8:45, 14 minutes faster than my previous best, set on this same brevet in 2007. 15.7 mph moving average, 14.6 mph including stops. About 36 minutes spent stopped (Four store controls, one secret control, one pee break). So not exactly fast — a bunch of riders finished an hour ahead of me — but not too bad for a guy who hadn't done a long ride in two months.
I hung around the hotel room at the end for a bit, talking to the riders and volunteers, but still wasn't hungry enough for post-ride pizza. I left to go pick up my daughter, and right when I got my bike on the car, it started raining hard. Perfect timing. If I'd ridden my usual pace, I would have been soaked. Not that getting wet in August is the worst thing in the world, but it still felt nice to avoid it.
All in all it was a good day. Would have been a lot nicer if Stan were still around to ride with us, though.