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.)