Ringed by Severna Park Peloton super volunteers, BWI overnight control
This isn't a fancy writeup, just the facts (mostly).
At 0500 on 31 May 2018 my fellow riders and I launched from the Leesburg VA Best Western on day 1 of the inaugural edition of the DC Randonneurs Blue Ridge to Bay 1200K. 51 riders, including 5 females, attempted the ride, which had a time limit of 90 hours 27 minutes. Spoiler alert: all 5 females finished in time.
The weather at the start was foggy/misty, and only got worse as time went on. After a couple of turns I found myself in familiar territory – eastbound on the W&OD Trail, the final leg of my last 6 fleches and at one time my bike commute to the Pentagon. We moved at a rapid pace, which got me a bit overheated because sweat was not evaporating much. Soon we arrived at the Key Bridge Marriott, the “happiest place on Earth” for any DC Rand fleche rider as it has been the finish line for many years. For the first time in over 20 years I rode to it but did not pull into its parking lot.
We pressed on down the Mount Vernon Trail, made one quickly-corrected wrong turn that sent us under vice over the 14thStreet bridge and rolled onto the Washington Mall, still largely in one group. The first control was at the Washington Monument, where we were pleased to find Ed F. and Mary G. snapping photos of us and generally supporting us however needed. We then rolled on to the Lincoln Memorial, where we encountered Roger H. yelling directions on how to get headed towards Georgetown and Bill B. ready with the camera, as always.
We got to Georgetown, where I tossed my first cue sheet into a trash can and helped a couple of out-of-towners pick up the Capitol Crescent Trail. Once on the trail we encountered a detour, and I helped a large group ignore bogus directions from a construction worker and get headed in the right direction. We headed up the trail for several miles until we departed at a special control set up by the organizers (in case you needed anything to eat or drink at this point, which I did not).
Continuing north through the Montgomery County suburbs in light rain, we crossed the Beltway on the Bethesda Trolley Trail, which I had seen many times from my car, and through a mind-numbing series of residential neighborhoods with numerous turns. My open lunch control was a McDonalds in Olney MD, where I found Hamid A. Being still in contact with him, and having ridden to this point with Bill F. from PA Rand, I was wondering why I was in such fast company. Call it the starting surge, it didn’t last much longer.
Although we were pretty much one big group up to this point it was inevitable that, with this open control with people going various places and finishing up at different times, the big group would fragment - and it did. I headed out solo to continue northward, and recall seeing Gardner D., Theresa F., Steve S. and De’anna C. inbound for lunch as I left; all of whom I would end up behind later in the event. Northward I went, through the familiar Gettysburg area and then towards South Mountain. I rode with Jeff L. for a part of this, and eventually ended up in a larger group including Gardner and Theresa with whom I would ride for most of the rest of the event. It began raining harder as we started the climb to Big Flat, which was perfect for me because “my engine runs hot” and the rain kept me cool – just riding in shorts and a jersey. There is a false summit on this climb and several in our group were fooled by it and even by another descent before it. At the summit many stopped to put on more clothes to warm them for the long descent, but I just bombed it wearing what I had on. I was happy to be almost cold. At the bottom we controlled at the Shippensburg PA McDonalds for dinner.
As darkness fell upon us enroute to the overnight control in Shepherdstown WV our group grew to about 10 riders, and I spend much time talking to Jeff N. from Texas. Somewhere along this stretch Theresa stopped suddenly and we all slowed until she caught up. She said she saw a kitten on the side of the road. Once we got going again I heard a loud “MEOW” in the group, and a fellow rider told me she had it in her vest. For the next hour or so we heard from the cat periodically. Arriving at the Shepherdstown overnight control at the Quality Inn, we were met by “super volunteers” like Shab M. and John M. who could not do enough to get us settled and fed. I was assigned a room with Jeff L., who let me know that he was dropping out and that I’d have the room by myself the next night, which was convenient. That next night when I returned I found a nice note from him wishing me luck on the rest of the ride.
Gardner, Theresa, and I departed for day 2 at 0630, having gotten 2.5 hours of sleep. They almost left without me – having been told (erroneously) by several people that I was already gone. They left the kitten behind in their room, but it was gone (to Theresa’s surprise) on our return later that day. While we were riding the housekeeping staff heard the cat meowing and reported it to management, who contacted the volunteers for an animal fee. The volunteers resolved the situation by finding the kitten a good home, which was what Theresa was intending to do all along.
I wasn’t feeling all that strong that morning as we headed south. The stop in Berryville VA for snacks helped a little. We continued south into Front Royal, rolling into town down a steep descent which ended with Gardner and I at the bottom without Theresa. I told Gardner I saw a small turtle in the road fly past my field of view and guessed that she stopped to rescue it. She did. We ate lunch at a BP station, where I tried a three-pronged approach to nutrition: something substantial (tuna sandwich), something sugary (ice cream), and a sugary drink. For the rest of the event this “holy trinity” of nutrition worked great to keep my energy level high. The tuna sandwich was a risk. It was pre-made, with no “sell-by” date on the package, but I needed it and chanced coming down with food poisoning while climbing to nearly 3400 feet on Skyline Drive. Unlike the day before, this climb was going to be in bright sunshine. To stay cool, I filled both my drink bottles with ice cubes as much as possible, the topped off with Gatorade. I filled my 3 liter Camelbak with ice cubes, which melt over time to provide a constant flow of ice water. We finished up lunch, rode to the Shenandoah National Park entrance, paid our $15 apiece, and started our ascent.
The climb was challenging and pretty constant. The annoying bit was that on several occasions, after gaining many hundreds of feet of elevation, the road pitched down and we would give back a couple hundred hard-won feet. I was getting low on fluids as the summit approached, and eyed the many springs pouring out water along the road. Much as I wanted to drink from them I stayed away, only realizing later that I could have taken advantage of them not to drink but to cool off by letting the gushing water pour over me. Eventually we arrived at the highest point of the ride, Hogback Overlook, where Bill B. and Nick B. were waiting with water and Bill’s camera.
Gardner and me climbing Skyline Drive
After a short stop to enjoy the view we did the long, wild descent into Luray VA for the next control, followed by the climb over Edith Gap into Fort Valley. This was probably the longest steep climb of the whole event, and we all ended up pushing our bikes up the grade. While doing so the skies just opened up in a torrential downpour, which kept up during the steep descent into Fort Valley, making it very challenging. The rain continued as we rode through the valley, and at one point was so heavy we could not see or brake. At that point we stopped briefly to take shelter but found none, and donned additional clothing. A few miles down the road we found a covered picnic area where we sheltered for a few minutes while Gardner called the Shepherdstown control to ask about weather (it was bone dry up there), then continued to the Front Royal control and points north.
It was during this stretch that I briefly considered dropping out of the event. We had done a hell of a lot of climbing that day, and now were getting dumped on mercilessly in the dark. The fun had just about drained out of it. At one point I saw a sign that told me I was closer to my car (at the start in Leesburg) than I was to the overnight control, and I indulged myself in thinking about riding to my car, driving home, and sleeping in my dry, warm bed. I felt like I needed a small sheltered break to get my stuff together. We found it on the picnic table on the covered front porch of the Locke Store in Millwood VA. The place was closed and darkened, but when we sat down a lady came out and asked what she could do for us. After we refused several offers, it seemed she would not take no for an answer, so we accepted a bag of potato chips. I took a 10 minute nap to clear my head while the others chatted. During this time the skies really opened up and I was glad we were there. When the rain subsided, we rode the final 38 miles back to Shepherdstown control. The elevator was busted, so the super volunteers carried our bikes up to our rooms.
I got really lucky on my day 3 wakeup. The alarm clock in the room went off at 0700, but my iPhone did not. After investigating I found that I had set my iPhone to PM vice AM, and my former bunkie Jeff must have set the room alarm clock before he left. My bar tape was unravelling pretty badly after all that climbing and rain, so I did an emergency repair with duct tape. Gardner, Theresa, and I departed at 0730 after 3 hours of sleep. I didn’t have time for breakfast, so I stuffed a pocket with bananas and bars and ate breakfast during the first hour in the saddle. There was comical moment just a few blocks from the control when Gardner and I turned left on Duke Street to cross into Maryland while Theresa turned right to head back to Front Royal. It turned out that the control staff had inadvertently given her the previous day’s cue sheet. We rode through familiar spots like Gapland and MarLu Ridge and headed for the Chesapeake Bay. I have yet to find a flat east-west bike route through central Maryland, and this one was really hilly. Mid-day we got dumped on again, but it envigorated me by cooling off my engine. I felt it rev up and I was off the front of a fairly large group in pouring rain until I stopped to wait. One of my Planet Bike tail lights went into my cassette at this point and was shredded, but it had gone bonkers the night before because of water intrusion (a design problem), so I didn’t really care. That night I had texted my wife Christine, who was volunteering at the next night’s control, to ask her to put an extra tail light in my drop bag. We rode across the state, and eventually found ourselves departing the BWI trail enroute Annapolis when a car suddenly appeared honking its horn. It was Christine with John and Janet B., who had tracked my iPhone on the “Find Friends” app.
Theresa, me, Kelly S., and Gardner. Tracked down by my phone
After a quick roadside conversation we headed to the bay. These roads were our “home field” as Gardner put it, but after 3 days riding my rear end was feeling rough spots I had not noticed on local roads before, like the road just after the Eastport Bridge. It was a real hoot to ride our local everyday roads as part of a 1200K. We did the loop around Bay Ridge, crashing a big party that was food on one side of the road, live band on the other.
Night was falling, as was some moderate rain, as we departed Annapolis for Crownsville, when I noticed that my helmet “map light” was dead. I couldn’t find spare AAA batteries in my Camelbak (I found them there after the event), and the convenience store at Crownsville Rd and Defense Highway was closed. Some teenagers in search of cigarettes were equally disappointed, but were impressed that I was riding in the dark in the rain. As our group of about 6 rode Bell Branch Road eastbound the skies dumped on us yet again, but it just made me feel better again by cooling me down so I rode on wearing just jersey and shorts. At the summit I told Gardner I’d ride ahead in search of batteries. He pointed out that the High’s on Muddy Creek Road was a few miles ahead and told me to try it. He also asked if they should look for me there, and I said yes. Headed south on Rutland Rd I found Tom and Mark from MN sheltered under the Route 50 overpass. I set a fast pace for the High’s store, and found what I was looking for there. I waited about 25 minutes for the rest of the group, but only Tom and Mark showed up. I decided to continue on with just them. Just before we left an ambulance went by, headed back up the road we had just come down. I found out later that the other three – Gardner, Theresa, and Kelly S. had stopped for a flat and someone who saw them had mistaken their roadside activity as a medical emergency and called for help. Tom, Mark, and I hit the final controls for the day and arrived at the BWI overnight control around 0400. I was expecting the easy approach that I was familiar with, but the routing instead was towards Patapsco State park and over challenging terrain. Christine watched the maneuver on Find Friends and thought I was lost at that point - I was not happy on arrival. I hung out with my Severna Park Peloton buddies staffing the control and stayed up sharing stories later than I should have. The store-bought lasagna was out-of-this-world good, as was the beer. Until this point I had skipped the nightly beer offered at the controls, but during this day I was told that drinks along the route were common during Paris-Brest-Paris, so I decided to start getting used to it.
The next morning I was a little rushed, after only 2.5 hours sleep. After getting dumped on so many times I decided to lube my chain in my hotel room bathroom before heading out. While doing so I was called by Mike B., one of my buddies staffing the control, checking to see if I was awake. I was one of the last riders still there, and had not made an appearance yet. He had already called Christine to ask if he should wake me at that point of let me sleep, but she didn’t know. When I got to breakfast I found out Theresa and Gardner had come in so late that they just showered and headed back out onto the course, a little ahead of me. I departed solo at 0845 in light rain, blowing through both a stop sign and a red light closely monitored by policemen (who didn’t react to my traffic violations). After a few hours I spotted a familiar figure on the side of the road – it was Gardner, having just abandoned due to a couple injuries. He had a car on its way to pick him up, so I gave him a couple of Janet's homemade chocolate chip cookies to munch on while he waited. Shortly after I left him the skies opened up yet again, so I called Gardner to tell him I had spotted a house under construction near his location without garage doors – a perfect spot to shelter. This day – the final day of the ride – was cooler and I immediately donned my rain jacket at this point. Charging down the road I caught a group of about 6 with Theresa, De’anna, Rudi M., Jimmy A., Emily R., and maybe others. They told me the forecast was for falling temperatures all day, and I wished at this point that I had brought my rain pants instead of leaving them in my drop bag as I had the rest of the event (check the weather next time!) We went to a Burger King in Damascus MD as the open control, on our way to hypothermia, and adjusted our rain gear for the rest of the ride. I asked the staff for plastic garbage bags with which to fashion rain pants with my duct tape, but they did not give me any. We helped Rudi adjust his clothing to keep him dryer/warmer, and headed on. Theresa and I ended up by ourselves by the time we got the Poolesville MD control, where I bought a box of small trash bags as a just-in-case. We also saw a sign that said White's Ferry was closed. We found out later that was due to flooding on the Potomac River. We eventually caught the rest of the group, and also spotted Andrea M. from DC Rand pacing riders in her minivan with the window rolled down to talk. I remember asking her opinion about the Volagi she owned as I am in the market for a new bike. She stopped at one point to give Theresa and me hugs and to offer me rain pants she had in the van, but they were impossibly small in the waist.
Later that afternoon Theresa disappeared from the group without my notice when she stopped to remove some rain gear. I saw a couple of guys associated with the event in an SUV along the side of the road and gave them her description so they could check on her, but they were unsuccessful. When I got to the Lovettsville VA control Gardner was there waiting for Theresa to arrive, which she did about 20 minutes after me. She had called him because her cue sheet had gotten pulped in the rain, and he had texted her a picture of the sheet and went to meet her with another. I promised him I would not lose her again. Theresa, Steve, and I departed together and stayed together from there to the finish, with night falling as we reached Purcellville VA. Near the end of the ride Theresa seemed to get really loopy, asking where the hotel was, so we adopted a formation with Steve in front, Theresa behind him following his steady red tail light, and me behind Theresa just watching her. We rolled down Dry Mill Road (not the W&OD) to Leesburg, and rolled up to the finish at 2235 (52 minutes to spare) to be met by a decent-sized crowd of volunteers and recent finishers. I immediately tossed my bike into my car and went inside to eat, drink beer, and party with the other riders until we shut the place down after midnight. Only 2 riders finished after us, but only 33 of 51 1000K/1200K starters finished this very challenging ride, so we were happy just to have made the time limit.
Steve and me. So glad to be done.