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.

Bicycles

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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)."

Ahem:

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.

Rant
Security

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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.

Bicycles

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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.

Programming

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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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ROMA Seneca Rocks 400km Brevet

I missed the DC Randonneurs 400k this spring (because the forecast said 95 degrees and I was worried about dying of heatstroke), but finished the 600k, so I needed a 400 to finish a Super Randonneur series. I was torn between doing the ROMA September 400 (close to home, but really hilly) or the North Carolina October 400 (farther away, but not as hilly). I eventually decided to do the ROMA ride, since if I failed to finish, I could always do the NC ride later.

I talked to Chris about this ride, since he does a lot of ROMA rides. He said the climb over Lost River State Park was much harder than Edinburg Gap, Wolf Gap, and Mill Gap. Also that the cue sheet was missing a street name near the end, and that it would take close to the 27-hour time limit to do the ride. Ugh.

The only thing I changed on my bike since the previous week's 200 was the bar tape. I'd meant to put on a chain catcher, since I dropped my chain once to the inside during the 200, but forgot. I pumped up the tires and lubed the chain and just threw everything in the car. The forecast said pleasant weather, but I brought some tights and arm warmers and full gloves and a rain jacket anyway, because it can get chilly overnight in the mountains, especially on the descents. I felt kind of silly packing such a heavy bag full of clothes, but it beats freezing.

The ride started at the Super 8 in Front Royal, Virginia. The Super 8 was cheap enough that I got a room for two nights. I always want a room the night after a 400 (unless it's *really* close to home like the Leesburg 400) because I get really sleepy after I ride for 20+ hours then stop, and I don't want to fall asleep at the wheel and kill someone. I don't always get a room the night before, but with the start at 4 a.m. it meant I could wake up at 3:30 instead of 2:30, a pretty big difference.

I set two alarms, woke up at 3:30, put on my bike clothes and reflective gear, and went outside. Ride organizer Matt was there (not riding this time), along with Chris from Maryland and Ed from South Carolina. John from Maryland showed up a bit later. So we had four, a pretty small turnout, until you consider that it's a really hard 400 in September. Chris told everyone about the missing street name on the cue sheet, and we left at 4. It was fairly warm so I had my warm clothes in the bag; my intent was to put them on before the descent down Edinburg Gap.

We rode together through Front Royal and then down Fort Valley Road. There was almost no traffic that early on a Saturday morning, and we made pretty good speed over the rollers, while checking out the stars when the clouds moved aside. Then, out of nowhere, we heard screeching brakes from some hooligan coming way too fast the other way, who must have freaked out when he saw our lights. At least he didn't hit any of us. Some time after that John dropped off the back, so our group was down to 3 riders.

At one point Ed warned me that my taillights were going out. I had checked both of them before the start and they were okay, but I guess the batteries were kind of marginal, because now one was dim and the other was almost out. The sun was coming up by then, though, so I decided to wait until the next time we stopped to change the batteries.

We went up Edinburg Gap, which was no big deal, and then down the other side, which was freezing. Ed's a much faster descender than me, and Chris is a bit faster, so I didn't want to stop to put on more clothes and fall even farther behind. They waited for me at the bottom, and we went into a non-control gas station in Edinburg to resupply. Even though it was just after dawn, there were already a bunch of guys out front socializing. I bought some Gatorade and a Crunch bar and then we headed toward Wolf Gap. We were still pretty fresh, so that climb wasn't a problem either. The descent down the West Virginia side of Wolf Gap is pretty straight so I didn't get dropped as badly, and we regrouped and headed for Mill Gap. That climb wasn't bad either, with fresh legs, and we reached the big highway WV 259 at mile 64.5 a bit before 9 a.m. Not an impressive average speed, but the ride had been all up and down.

We rode a mile down the shoulder of 259 to the Lost River Grill, which has surprisingly good food for an unassuming place in the middle of nowhere. Nobody was hungry enough for a full meal, so we all just got dessert and drinks. The quadruple chocolate cheesecake was really good, and I needed the calories. John came in while we were eating, but the three of us left before he was done.

We had to go about 5 more miles down 259, then turn into Lost River State Park. At first the road was only mildly hilly, but then it got serious. It climbed up and up and up. We took a break at one point while Chris re-affixed a broken bag to his bike, and then he pointed to a house way at the top of the mountain and said we'd be going past it. I'd thought we were done, but it turned out we had at least an hour to go. It was probably the longest climb I've ever done, but at least it wasn't super-steep.

Then we got to the top and had to go down the other side, and it was very switchbacked and very steep in places. I don't know how much brake pad material I wore off on that descent. Ed and Chris were long over the horizon while I carefully picked my way around the worst couple of corners. I didn't want to think about riding back up them later. They were waiting at the bottom, and we only needed to do about 35 miles of rollers to the turnaround point.

After that climb we all wanted lunch, so we stopped at a Hardee's in Moorefield. I had a large Swiss-burger (which wasn't that good), along with fries and an Oreo ice cream sandwich (which were excellent). I also remembered to change my taillight batteries, since I'd need them later. We got going again for a 22-mile stretch down freshly paved US 33. There was some traffic but the road was wide enough for everyone (the lack of lines after the recent paving actually helped here), and the rollers were easy compared to the real hills we'd done before. I hit 41 mph on one of the long straight downhills, which was fun.

We finally reached the turnaround point at Yokum's Market. It was filled with swarms of excessively loud motorcycles. I got a Cherry Coke and some Mint M&Ms (which taste just like Andie's Candies) and we turned around and did the same roads in reverse. It was getting late in the afternoon, and our main concern was making it back over the big climb before it got dark. I wasn't too tired yet, but I knew the next climb would be hard.

The western side of Lost River State Park is steeper and windier than the eastern side. My chain started popping off the biggest cog in the back, and I had to think about which barrel adjuster to use and which way to turn it, but I eventually fixed the problem without having to stop. I was doing okay for a while, but then Ed stopped in front of me. I willed myself to keep pedaling for a bit farther, but then I had to stop too. It was about an 18% grade, too steep to get going again from a stop, so Ed and I walked a bit while Chris passed us on the bike. We remounted at the next flattish spot and started riding again, not so quickly. Eventually I ran out of gas and the others pulled away. It took forever (and one more stop) to reach the top, and then I went down the east side very carefully. There was still a bit of light left, but not much.

I caught up with Ed and Chris at a gas station off route 257, about 70 miles from the finish. It was getting chilly so we all put on some warm clothes along with our reflective gear. I worried that I'd get hot again as soon as we started climbing, but at least we were comfortable on the flat part. There was a bit of traffic on the dark highway, so we tried to get it done as fast as possible and get back on nearly-empty side roads. Chris, in the lead, didn't see the turn in time to make it, but he pointed and we waited for him. Then we started up Mill Gap.

Mill Gap starts pretty easy, but there are a couple of very steep bits. Ed and I stopped again and I walked a bit until it was flat enough to get on the bike. I was feeling hot and wasted time stowing some clothes, right before the top, then had to put them on again. My stomach was feeling a bit sour — too much sugar to digest — so I laid off the Gatorade for a while and hoped I wouldn't bonk. And my saddle area was extremely unhappy. Chris and Ed were well ahead of me, but I just kept plodding along, up and over Wolf Gap, then very cautiously down its dark descent. I was surprised to see Ed and Chris at the penultimate control when I finally got there — I figured they'd be farther ahead. But I didn't ask them to wait for me, since I didn't think I'd be able to stick to them over the last climb.

I put on more warm clothes, then rode through Edinburg, then took some of them off before climbing Edinburg Gap, then put everything back on at the top for the last big descent of the day. The descent wasn't too bad, and it was a simple matter of riding 30 miles of rollers. With my sour stomach and dead legs, it took about 2.5 hours, but I didn't miss any turns and got to the hotel around 3:30 a.m. The hotel clerk didn't really want to sign my brevet card, but I eventually talked him into it (I didn't want to go to sleep without proof that I finished within the time limit), and then found Matt a few minutes later. 23.5 hours is a pretty slow time for a normal 400, but for this one I thought it was okay.

Overall it was a good day. We got very nice weather (ranging from about 50 to about 80, with no rain). The drivers were mostly excellent. No serious mechanical problems — I dropped my chain a couple of times (still need that chain catcher), and Chris broke a strap on his bag and had to improvise with zip ties. I didn't quite get the nutrition right — maybe a bit less sugar and a bit more protein would have digested better. Of course the climbing would have gone a lot easier if I'd been lighter, something I'll try to address before the next hilly 400. I was a bit disappointed to have to get off and walk a few times at the end, something I hadn't needed to do in a while, but these were much worse hills than I was used to.

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DC Randonneurs Civil War Tour 200k brevet

I didn't do any long rides in July or August. So I was really looking forward to a nice scenic 200 in relatively cool September weather. Unfortunately there were some big thunderstorms in the forecast, but the weatherman is often wrong…

I woke up at 4:45 a.m., packed my stuff, and pumped up my tires. I didn't bother with a rain jacket because I figured it would be too hot to wear one, but I did bring a cycling cap to keep rain out of my eyes. Otherwise I just brought a spare tire, 3 tubes, a few Gu packets and Clif Bars, and two Magnum bottles of Gatorade. I decided against a Camelbak because it was only 200k and the high was forecast to only be in mid 80s.

Got to Frederick early enough that there were only a handful of people there. That gave me time to replace the battery in my bike computer, which had been intermittently cutting out for a couple of weeks. The sun came up well before the 7 a.m. start, so we didn't need lights, though many of the riders had them anyway. I decided to stow my reflective vest (because it would get hot later), but kept my ankle bands on.

By start time, we had 34 riders plus a couple of volunteers named Bill. Nobody went hard at the start, so we ended up with a big pack of about 25 riders ambling along at the front. This makes it hard for cars to pass, so I prefer to get into a smaller group for safety, but it was only 12 miles until the first big hill and there weren't a lot of cars, so I just stuck with the pack.

After waiting forever for the light at Route 15 to change, we went up Mar-Lu Ridge. I started near the front of the swarm, which was a mistake because it meant more people had to pass me as I went up the hill at 5.5 mph. I was actually pretty happy to be going that fast, since I did the ride at 218 pounds, or about 20 pounds over my usual September weight. Luckily it was still early and cool, so going up the hill wasn't that uncomfortable. Mar-Lu is steep but not that long, so we were up and over pretty quickly. It split the big group up nicely, and then we got to enjoy the nice view at the top followed by the fast descent.

I went down the first half of the descent pretty fast, until I saw the first sharp curve. Then my cowardly lizard brain decided it would be a good time to brake really hard, and I lost all my momentum and went down the rest of the hill at a boring pace. It flattened out, and I followed a couple of riders into the little town of Jefferson. The riders were all strung out after the hill, and my usual early-morning delusions of strength kicked in and I started riding faster than I really should with over a century to go, and passed several people. The weather was looking ominous, with a wall of dark clouds over the mountains, and I wanted to be as far along as possible before having to seek shelter.

After going through Burkittsville, it was time for the second big climb of the day on Gapland Road. Gapland isn't quite as steep as Mar-Lu, but it's longer. A handful of riders who I'd passed on the flats passed me back on the hill, but I was still reasonably happy with my climbing when I reached the top. A bunch of riders (some on our brevet, some not) were stopped at the top to rest, but I kept going (because downhill is free) and hit the wooded descent down Thompson Road. I kept my speed moderate in case of deer or potholes, but hit neither, and rolled into the 30-mile control in Sharpsburg feeling good. I bought a bottle of Gatorade and a Crunch bar, then left quickly while most of the fast riders were still hanging around. The dark clouds had mostly stayed on the other side of the mountains, and it looked like we might get a nice day after all.

The route went into Antietam Battlefield Park, which, like every other battlefield in the area, has awful street signs. I stopped for a second to make sure I was turning in the right place, and Chris came up behind me, so I figured he knew the way and followed him. We went through the first information control of the day, writing down some private's name from a sign. Then, just a couple of minutes later, we hit the Secret Control. After 3 controls in about 2 miles, we left the battlefield and climbed up the shoulder of Route 40A for approximately 6 miles. It's not a steep climb, but it goes on forever, and there's no tree cover so it tends to get hot. Luckily it was a cloudy day so it wasn't too bad. At some point Mark caught us from behind, and the three of us made the turn onto Mountain Laurel Road, probably the prettiest part of the route.

Suddenly, without warning, on a fairly steep downhill, I felt my bike start braking by itself. Not a good feeling. I got it under control and then got off the bike and started looking for the problem. My Carradice bag was sitting on top of my rear wheel, and the tire had worn a groove through the canvas. Nothing was broken; I just hadn't properly secured the bag in the SQR mount. Oops. I fixed it, then flipped my cue sheet. When I was ready to get going again, I saw Chris coming back to check on me. He was glad to see I hadn't crashed, and had to fiddle with something on his bike too, then we were off again. We crossed into Pennsylvania on Harbaugh Valley Road, then went down the shoulder of 16 and up another hill on Jacks Mountain Road. About halfway through the ride, I was still feeling pretty good. I'd told myself before the ride that I'd ride a 400 next weekend if I finished this 200 strong, and now it looked like I'd have to live up to that.

We started seeing a bunch of fast riders not affiliated with our group — the leaders of the Civil War Century, held on the same day and some of the same roads. RUSA rules say that you can't ride with people who aren't doing the same ride. So we avoided matching speeds with them, and tried to avoid following them off our course or leading them off their course. We came up to a one-lane covered bridge with a traffic light that can't sense bikes, behind a CWC rider. He ran it, cutting it a lot closer to an oncoming car than I would have. After waiting for about 5 cars going the other way, we finally got a car behind us to trip the light, and we rode into Fairfield. We stopped at the non-control Foodmart there at mile 69; I got more Gatorade and some Pretzel M&Ms.

The route then went into the beautiful and historic (but badly signed and often infested with bad drivers) Gettysburg Battlefield. I always worry about getting lost, doored, or run over there, but Chris seemed to know the way, and car traffic was light and sane. Another CWC rider tucked on behind me, and when we had to turn left he asked if we were on the metric or the 100. I told him we were on the 125, which confused him (I didn't have time for a longer explanation), but kept him from following us off-course.

We made it through the battlefield, into the town, and to the 7-11 control at mile 81. Lane and Bennett and Maile and Mark were there, and Chris and I went through the control fast enough to leave with them. We just had to circle through the battlefield for a couple more info controls, then ride about 40 miles of mostly downhill back to Frederick, with a group of 6 to provide a draft. Perfect.

The little stretch through the town back to the battlefield was fine, with no traffic problems. Our group was split by a red light but we got back together. We eventually found the Virginia Memorial and wrote down the answer to the question of how much the fine was for defacing the memorial. ($500.) Then we continued on toward the next info control at Auto Stop 7, when the dark skies that had been threatening us all day erupted. It went from dry to ridiculous in about two minutes. We got 35 mph side gusts that required serious leaning to stay upright, sheets of water coming between the trees, big drops that really hurt when they hit you in the eye, falling branches, etc. It would have made sense to seek shelter, but there really wasn't any, so we just kept going. Eventually we found Auto Stop 7 and stopped to find the answer (the attack started at 4 p.m.), but nobody wanted to soak their brevet cards writing it down, so we just decided to remember it. While we were stopped I turned on all my lights and put on my reflective vest and cycling cap. I needed to flip my cue sheet, but it would have gotten soaked, so I decided to not bother until the rain stopped and just let someone else navigate.

We continued through the heavy rain and debris, and got a bit of thunder and lightning, and then the worst of the storm was past and the rain diminished from painful to merely wet. Most of us didn't have fenders (and Lane's bike with fenders lacked a flap), so drafting meant taking a stream of water off another bike's wheel in the face, so our formation loosened up and our speed diminished. Mark eventually went off the front, and Maile (who had ridden a 1200 the week before and wasn't quite recovered) started slowing down. I decided to slow down to Maile's pace to preserve my legs for next week's 400. We missed one turn, but otherwise the rest of the ride was pretty easy. Except for the short steep hill on Ball Road at mile 125, right near the finish.

We finished in 9:38, and I ate way too much post-ride pizza. I had done the ride on about a gallon of Gatorade plus one Gu packet, one Crunch bar, and one bag of Pretzel M&Ms, probably not enough calories. Not the fastest time, but considering the weather and the deliberate slow-down for the last 20 miles, I was happy with it. Good enough to do the 400 next weekend, anyway.

Gear review #1: my little cycling cap fits under my helmet and has enough of a visor to keep some of the rain out of my eyes. (Not as much as a baseball cap, but my baseball caps aren't very compatible with my helmet.) It was less than $5 at Nashbar. Glad I brought it. I really should just buy a MTB helmet with a visor, though, so there's one less thing to remember to pack.

Gear review #2: my brevet card and cue sheet were both dry at the end of the ride. The card was in my Ortlieb handlebar bag and the sheet was in my Ortlieb cue sheet holder. "Ortlieb" is apparently German for "waterproof." Many of the other riders had soaked brevet cards, so I was pretty happy about this. (I almost got disqualified from the 400 two years ago, when my brevet card got so soaked that one signature that was done in water-based ink completely washed away. Luckily about ten people remembered seeing me at that control so they let it slide.)

Gear review #3: my shoes and socks were completely soaked at the end of the ride. My feet looked like prunes. (I was very happy that I had dry shoes in the car.) Maile was wearing Shimano cycling sandals (with no socks) and her feet were a lot happier than mine at the end of the ride. I'm not really a sandal person (they go with recumbents and gigantic beards, right?) but it's hard to argue with results: on a wet ride, drainage is nice.

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DC Randonneurs Many Rivers and Fords 600 km Brevet

A very brief history of my previous experience with 600 km brevets, in case you haven't memorized all my old ride reports:

In 2010 I rode the inaugural version of this brevet, and it reached 95 degrees on the first day, and I melted like an exceptionally wicked witch. Stan and I made it back to Warrenton about 3:30 a.m., and my hands and butt hurt so much I just couldn't bear to start riding again, let alone on very little sleep.

In 2011 I changed an excessively worn chain the night before the 600, not realizing that it had worn the cassette and chainrings to the point where a new chain would skip constantly, and quit in disgust about 20 miles into the ride.

So, basically, 0-for-2.

In 2012, I haven't had a good cycling year. I've already driven to work 5 times (after biking all 234 work days last year), I've gained back half the weight I lost last year (and feel it on every hill), and I've only taken two rides over 25 miles: a 200 km brevet and a 300 km brevet. I couldn't make myself ride the 400 with forecast temperatures in the 90s, two weeks after dehydrating myself on the 300. Yet I felt so lame after skipping it, I was compelled to at least attempt the 600.

My completely inadequate on-bike preparation complete, I turned to off-bike preparation. Most of that consisted of frantically checking the weather forecast every couple of hours, hoping it would be cooler. And I also registered for Twitter so that I could theoretically tell the rest of the club where I was at each control, in the unlikely event that I remembered how to type "#dcr600k" on a dumb phone where the '#' key does not actually make a '#' character. And because I'd run out of water on the recent 300, I brought two 33-ounce Zefal Magnum bottles full of Gatorade and a 70 ounce Camelbak almost full of water.

For my non-Randonneur American reader(s) (if any), 600 km is 372.8 miles. Unfortunately VDOT doesn't build roads with exact brevet distances in mind, so our route was 378.1 miles. There's a course map here.

I usually don't get a hotel room before a local ride, preferring to just get up way too early and drive to the start, but since I might not get to sleep much Saturday night, I figured getting an extra hour of sleep before the ride was worth the money. I dropped off my daughter at her grandparents' Friday night, stayed for dinner (carbo loading his been pretty thoroughly debunked in the scientific literature lately, but my Mom made both stuffing and mashed potatoes anyway), and got to the Hampton Inn around 6:30. I showed my lights and stylish reflective gear to the tech inspectors, signed some waivers, got my brevet card, and went upstairs to sleep. But of course I couldn't actually fall asleep at 7 p.m., so I watched the US national soccer team play Antigua and Barbuda, hoping for a boring blowout that would put me right to sleep. Unfortunately the game was more interesting than expected (though nowhere near as good as Poland vs. Greece earlier in the day), so I didn't fall asleep until about 10.

I set my alarm clock to 3:30, plenty of time to make it to the 4:00 start, since the commute was about 50 feet and the paperwork and my bike were all ready. Unfortunately, the hotel alarm clock didn't work. Fortunately, I woke up at 3:35 anyway. The hotel's complimentary hot breakfast didn't start until 6, so I ate a piece of bread with some peanut butter on it, made sure my bike worked, and listened to ride organizer Lynn's pre-ride spiel. She said we should start the second day's loop by 4 a.m. Saturday to avoid traffic and heat. Remembering two years ago when I barely got back to the hotel before 4 a.m., this sounded unlikely.

My plan at the start was to find a group that was going about 16-17 mph: fast enough to make some progress while I was fresh and there was no heat or traffic to worry about, but not fast enough to use much energy. And fast enough to maybe get in front of some strong riders who decided to take it slower at first, who I might end up riding with later. Surprisingly, all the fast people were being very conservative at the start, so the front group turned out to be slow enough for me. Except on the downhills: I'm a pretty cautious descender, especially in the dark, so I kept almost getting dropped on the downhills then pulling back up. At some point, Lothar (who's way, way, way faster than me but was sandbagging at the back of the group behind me, saving energy in preparation for taking off at warp speed and finishing the two-day ride in one day), pulled out and passed me, leaving me last in the group. He must have figured out that I was about to fall off the lead pack before I did, because five minutes later a big enough gap opened after a downhill that I realized resistance was futile, and let the front group go. It was mile 24, there were 10 riders in front of me and 20-some riders behind me, and it was just bright enough to read my cue sheet without a light.

With the group gone, my primary concern went from hanging on to navigation: 378 miles are quite enough and I didn't need any extra, thanks. My secondary concern was nutrition: don't forget to eat and drink early, potentially leading to dehydration or bonk later. My third concern was the Dog Alert mentioned on the cue sheet at mile 37. So I double-checked the cue sheet, drank a bunch of Gatorade even though I wasn't thirsty yet, and kept my eyes open for big mean fast uphill dogs. I didn't see any dogs, but I did see a huge (for a fox) red fox bounding across a field and the road and another field, well in front of me. Made me wish I carried a camera, but I know that if I tried to take pictures while riding I'd crash, and that if I stopped to take pictures I'd lose too much time, so I resist the urge to bring one. (I guess I could use a helmet-cam for the full-on Borg nerd effect, but I don't trust anything invented after 1995.)

I heard some riders coming up behind me, just as I saw a bunch of deer (still not dogs) off in a field beside the road. So I started giving deer alerts to riders who were probably still too far behind to actually hear what I was saying. Luckily the deer stayed off the road. The group eventually caught me and turned out to be Bill, Maile, Jose, George W., Rick, and Rick. I had ridden with all of them before except for one of the Ricks, but I didn't recognize the other Rick until I saw him with his helmet off at a control later in the day. George disappeared soon after; I guess the group was too fast for his liking. I thought this was also too fast a group for me to stick with long-term, but I could ride with them for a while and cover some extra miles before it got hot.

A few miles later, we went down a hill fast with Bill leading and me second, and a deer jumped out of the woods and ran across the road in front of Bill. It looked really close to me, but he told me it wasn't that close, so I must have been the victim of parallax or Phantom Dog Alert Fever or something. Luckily that deer didn't have any friends following it to collect us, and we rolled into the 53 mile control at Wolftown Mercantile without incident. Ed and Mary were still there, but the rest of the front group that had dropped me had just left. I was pretty happy with my pace, but then I'm always still irrationally happy 53 miles into a ride. Woo-hoo, almost 20% done and not even in pain yet.

I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, so I ate a Gu packet. (Mmmm, caffeinated sugary goop with artificial flavors.) I also bought more Gatorade, refilled my bottles, and forced myself to drink the rest. It was full daylight, so I turned off my lights and stowed my reflective gear and my arm warmers (which had been rolled down to wrist warmers for about 40 miles), and left with the same group a few minutes later. Since there were at least 3 Professional Randonneurs in the group (Bill's done multiple 1200s, Maile had ridden a 600 the previous weekend, one of the Ricks had done freaking RAAM, etc.) I figured I had no navigational or pace-setting responsibilities and just needed to keep eating, keep drinking, and avoid crashing until this group dropped me and I had to start thinking for myself again. At one point one of the Ricks dropped us all and I thought he was gone for good, but then we caught him again later. Traffic was light, it wasn't too hot yet, and we reached the 96 mile control at Plank Road Exchange in Batesville and sat down for lunch. I had an excellent sandwich and some ice cream. It was a very nice place to stop: good food, good service, clean bathroom, etc. Highly recommended if you're ever in that remote corner of Virginia.

Almost a century in, and nothing hurt at all. There was another Dog Alert on the cue sheet at mile 107, but again no dogs. It started to warm up (the high was 88 Saturday) and I started getting a wee bit tired. One of the Ricks slipped off the back, and then we reached the first big nasty hill of the ride, around mile 122 near Howardsville. I went up the hill at 3-4 mph and everyone else went up at skinny cyclist speed and dropped me. Normally that would be the last I'd see of the group, but there was a control right after that hill, which let me catch back up. We dawdled a bit at the store and Rick rejoined us, then I decided to change my gloves for clean ones right as everyone else left, so I had to chase for a bit. I was fine for about 10 more miles after that, then the heat started to take its toll and I started falling off the back of the group. I fought it for a while, falling off on uphills and catching up on downhills, but then I started slipping behind on the flats too, and decided to let the group go around the 135 mile mark, slow down to a pace I could comfortably sustain (only 13 mph), and force myself to eat and drink a lot in case I was dehydrated or bonked rather than just hot and tired.

I remembered a grocery store in Palmyra at the 151 mile mark, and decided I'd stop there to replace my warm water and Gatorade with ice water and cold Gatorade, and maybe eat something salty. But then I saw the group that had dropped me off on the side of the road with Dave S. and a cooler. We had been gifted a rest stop with cold water, Coke, and chips. Maile asked if I wanted them to wait for me, but I didn't think was recovered enough to match their speed, so I told them to go ahead. I spent about 15 minutes in the shade, which helped a bit, and then headed for the Louisa dinner control at slightly better speed (14 mph). No other riders caught up while I was there, so even though I was feeling slow and tired, at least I knew I was still in the middle of the pack not the rear.

I pulled into Louisa at dinnertime. Maile had said they'd probably be at Roma, and Italian is good bike food, so I checked there. I saw Bill's bike and Ed and Mary's tandem, but none of the rest. Turns out Bill had gone off the front of the group to catch the tandem, while the rest had decided to eat somewhere quicker. I got a way-too-big steak and cheese sandwich and managed to eat most of it, then (eventually) left following Ed and Mary and Bill. I didn't think I'd be able to stick to them for long, but every mile I could draft them 17 mph was a mile I wouldn't have to ride at 14 mph, which would get me to sleep earlier. (I was way too tired to do the actual math, but I understood the general concept.)

The next few hours are kind of a blur in my memory. We proceeded with the tandem in front, then Bill, then me bringing up the rear. Tandems go really fast downhill (even faster than fat cyclists), not quite so fast uphill. My body wanted to go 13-14 mph with a lot of coasting, but my mind wanted to stick to the faster riders as long as possible so I could finish faster so I could go to sleep earlier. And also so I could avoid having to navigate at night while tired and take a very very wrong turn and end up as an extra in Deliverance 2: Electric Banjoloo. I was afraid to draft Bill too closely out of fear that I was too tired to avoid hitting his wheel, so I wasn't saving as much energy as usual from the draft. But I just kept telling myself that I had to stick to the insanely fast cruel taskmaster wheels ahead for ten more miles, then I could drop off and ride slowly and coast the downhills. I asked if we could stop at Bakers Store at mile 202 (25 miles into the ordeal) to turn off our lights and put on our reflective gear and refill our bottles (and so that my legs could be blissfully free of having to push for five minutes, though I didn't say that part out loud) and Mary agreed as long as that was our only stop. Of course I was free to stop as much as I wanted after I dropped off the back, which I figured would be pretty soon, so I was happy with that and ate and drank and refilled and was just about to flip my cue sheet when the tandem started rolling. Oh well, I don't need to navigate, just pedal.

A few minutes later it got dark. Unfortunately, it didn't cool off right away, but it did eventually. I kept checking my odometer periodically to see when my ten-mile torture interval was up and I'd let myself fall off the group and proceed at a more reasonable pace. But whenever the ten miles were up, I somehow decided to re-enlist in the chain gang for another ten miles. All my pressure points were hurting, and I just wanted to be off the bike. I never saw the last page of Saturday's cue sheet, because we never stopped so I could flip it. I hoped every light would be red so that I could have a little break, and luckily most of them were. (One of them had a sensor that wouldn't detect our bikes at all, so we had to treat it as a stop sign and run it when it was clear. I was kind of tempted to suggest that we wait there until a car came up behind us to trip it, hopefully in an hour or two, but I figured that wouldn't go over well.) At some point I realized that I'd stopped eating and drinking and that this was a very bad idea, so I forced myself to choke down some warm Gatorade and eat half a Clif Bar. I think this is the first time I ever only ate half of a Clif Bar, but some wildlife probably appreciated the other half. But, even though I really really didn't want any food, I think it was just enough to keep the bonk away.

We went through Brandy Station and Elkwood and Remington and then, finally, through Ye Olde Historic Downtowne Warrenton and down a screaming descent toward the hotel. Somehow I'd managed to hang on to the back of the pain train for 65 miles. We got to the hotel around 11. If I'd ridden alone from Louisa I probably would have got there around 12:30 or 1. So Ed and Mary and Bill probably got me at least an extra hour of sleep. Thanks guys. I was just happy to be done.

I got my card signed at the front desk, went up to my room, showered, remembered my alarm clock didn't work, and hit the "wake up call" button on the hotel phone. That didn't work either; it sent me to voice mail. So I dialed the front desk instead and asked for a 4:30 wake up call. I felt bad enough that I didn't know if 5.5 hours would be enough, but I was pretty sure that less would not, and waking up then going back to bed would just decrease the total amount of rest I got.

It was a very weird night's sleep. I was exhausted enough that I should have slept like a rock, but instead I woke up periodically with a weird recurring dream that I no longer remember. When the phone rang at 4:30 I got up and thought about whether to actually get going, or sleep some more. I felt a lot better, but was moving in slow motion, so it took me until 5:15 to get the bike and car packed and get on the road. I spent a while rereading the cue sheet and looking at gaps between controls and thinking about ditching the Camelbak, but there was a long stretch in the afternoon heat that had me worried so I wore it, but decided not to fill it up until the second control. The one nice part about such a late start was that it was already getting light, so while I needed the headlight and taillights and reflective gear for safety, I could leave my cue-sheet reading light in the car.

I hadn't coordinated start times with anyone, and when I started there were no other cyclists in sight. I didn't know if I was behind the entire field, or just most of them. But I was feeling surprisingly good. The sleep plus cool temperatures plus enough time for my digestion to sort itself out had me flying along the flats at 15-16 mph. Not exactly fast, but way faster than I thought I'd be doing after 240 miles. The first control at the Garrisonville 7-11 at mile 265 (25 miles from the hotel) had a closing time of 8:28, and I got there around 7:15. Better yet, there were a whole bunch of riders there when I arrived, so I wasn't that far off the back. And John Z. arrived after me, so I wasn't even quite the last to leave the hotel. I didn't get through the control quite fast enough to leave with the big herd, but I resolved to push a bit while it was cool and try to catch up with Nick, who I knew had a precisely calculated schedule that would get him to the end within the time limit. So as long as I was with him or ahead of him, I too would get to the end within the time limit, without doing any of my own math.

I caught and passed David J. before the next control. He looked pretty good, but he was behind Nick (and therefore not going fast enough to be guaranteed to finish in time) so I kept going and he didn't speed up to join me. I caught a big horde of riders at the 284-mile control at a 7-11 somewhere in a newly-yuppified area of Stafford County a few miles outside Fredericksburg, near the Leeland Station commuter train stop. I went through the control pretty fast and left before many of the riders who were there before me, the classic "passing in the pits" maneuver. Then I headed across the Rappahannock and through Fredericksburg, where we had a whole lot of turns packed close together. Luckily traffic was light and I managed to get out of town toward the battlefield park without getting lost or hit by a bus.

The road surface in Fredericksburg Battlefield Park is rough pavement with loose stones sprinkled on top. I'm not sure if this is some kind of low-bidder federal government thing, or if they actually hate road cyclists, but it's just awful to ride on with 25mm tires. It saps your energy, and the lack of traction is a bit scary on every downhill. The park is quite nice otherwise, shady and low-traffic. I got to the information control, and George M. was there, resting. I lent him my pen to fill out his card because he couldn't find his, and then I headed out. The route took the battlefield road until it dead-ended at a barrier, then went off-road down some singletrack. Now, we have our share of gravel roads on brevets, but actual singletrack was a first. It wasn't difficult singletrack, mind you; if I were on a mountain bike with fat tires and suspension and didn't have 295 miles worth of pain in my butt I might even call it leisurely beginner-friendly singletrack, but I was on a road bike and my butt wasn't in the mood for any hard bumps, so I took it really really slowly. (I didn't get off and walk, though. A man has to have standards.)

After a fifth of a mile of off-roading the route went back onto pavement, toward Caroline County. After leaving the shady park, the sunny roads were quite hot, and I was back into hating being on my bike mode. But I was near mile 300, and also near the halfway point of the second day's riding, so there was no point in turning around. I just kept doing math to make myself feel better "only 80 miles to go" or "80% done with the brevet" or "only 75 miles until I get to yell at Lynn for making me ride singletrack on my road bike." There was another information control at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, which featured a bathroom and water fountain. (And I got to write down the number of some regiment to prove I'd been there.) Then I got to ride a particularly bad 5 miles on VA 408 toward Spotsylvania Courthouse, with lots of traffic blowing by. My mood was getting surly enough that I feared I was dehydrating or bonking or heat exhausting, but I really didn't have much appetite. Luckily the control was coming up because I really needed a break.

I got confused about where I wanted to stop and ended up overshooting the Valero Fasmart at mile 317 a bit and pushing my bike back down the shoulder. It was a slightly faster crowd than the one I'd seen earlier in the day: Lloyd and Chris M. and John and Cindy on their tandem. All were leaving before me, and all left me free water and ice. I remembered to get a receipt since it was an open control, and drank a vile (but very cold) blue Slush Puppy, and ate something, and stood in the shade, and saw just how much free ice I could cram into my Camelbak, and my mouth, and my helmet. Basically I played with ice for about ten minutes, until the next riders (George W. and Mike W.) came up. Then I grudgingly let them have the rest of the precious ice (I seriously considered buying more bags of ice and swimming in them until they melted then repeating until someone called the cops; I guess I was kind of warm), and got back on my bike.

After leaving the wonderful oasis of Fasmart, I returned to the nasty road with too many cars and not enough shade. But at least I had ice in my Camelbak, which meant that my reward for sucking down warm plasticky-tasting water for a couple of seconds was tooth-freezing ice cold water for as long as I wanted. (Until it finally ran out, but then I had two big bottles of Gatorade to keep me from spontaneously combusting until I could find more ice.) I slowly rode along thinking about ice until George caught me from behind. We couldn't really talk because there was so much traffic, and then he pulled off into the park to get water, so I was alone again. I continued alone for a while longer and then George caught me again at a red light. Clearly I wasn't going very fast if I kept getting caught from behind, but at least I was moving. We got onto less busy roads so we could chat a bit, which distracted me from how miserable I felt. We stopped again at Myers Grocery at mile 343, and I got more free ice (left by an unknown previous rider) plus a Coke and some ice cream bars and a few minutes in the shade. I think that finally helped me recover, and I was a bit more clear-headed for the rest of the day. My hands and my saddle area hurt, but my legs and my stomach were fine.

We went down familiar roads past Kellys Ford and toward Warrenton. A truck carrying a wide load of straw bales passed George way too close (I think the driver probably didn't realize how wide his load was, rather than doing it on purpose, but that's no excuse) but didn't quite hit him. The last part of the ride was pretty hilly. I had more left in my legs than George, but he had more left in his brain than me, so I mostly stayed behind him so he could navigate. I had no appetite but forced myself to eat a Gu packet about 10 miles from the end, because bonking on the last hill would be embarrassing. We ran into Roger running an informal water stop a few miles from the finish, but we had enough water, so we chatted a bit then took off. The last few miles of the course were quite hilly and there was one last information control just in case we hadn't scribbled enough, then we were into Warrenton. We finished at 6:16 p.m., almost two hours ahead of the limit. A big group came in 45 minutes behind us, making it by an hour — that was probably Nick's exact planned schedule. I'd had no appetite for the last few couple hours of the ride, but a few minutes after stopping I was recovered enough to eat a slice of pizza.

Thanks to Lynn and her crew of excellent volunteers for running the ride, to everyone who rode with me, and to everyone who left ice behind for slower riders.

My reward for finishing the 600 is that I have to ride a fall 400 to get a Super Randonneur series in this year. I'll probably do Matt Settle's new ROMA fall 400 route in September, with a fallback option of the North Carolina 400 in early October.

Stuff to remember for next year's 600:

Don't ride 600 km in 90 degree weather at 215 pounds. If I'd been 20 pounds lighter (like I was for last year's 600), I would have finished a lot stronger. If it had been 5 degrees hotter (like it was two years ago), I probably wouldn't have finished at all. It's nice to climb faster, but not dying in the heat is a much more important reason to lose the extra insulation.

Get a haircut before a long hot ride. As short as possible without needing to worry about sunburn. (I do not like sunscreen above the eyes. It burns!) This helps with heat and avoids those embarrassing helmet hair photos.

Buy another white jersey. Okay, I'll admit I haven't actually covered myself in temperature sensors and measured the difference, but I'm convinced that the white jersey and white helmet help a bit.

Bring the Camelbak, but don't start the ride with it full. Fill it up around 11 a.m. to avoid carrying 4 unnecessary pounds on your back all morning. (Make a note on the cue sheet so you don't forget to fill it.)

Two alarm clocks.

Try Desitin for the sweat-induced skin irritation. (I did this 600 with no skin goop at all. I usually use Lantiseptic, which helps with the kind of abrasion you get from rubbing back and forth across your saddle, but not so much with sweat-induced problems.)

The extra pair of gloves was a good idea. Next year, go with even more spare gloves, and also try changing shorts halfway through each day. Clothes are light.

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