Monday, January 11, 2010

Tappahannock 200k - 01/09/2010

On Saturday, I finished the Tappahannock 200k bicycle ride sponsored by the DC Randonneurs. This particular brevet was described as "a mellow ride" through the river country of Virginia. Reading the ride reports from other riders, and talking to Severna Park Peloton members that have previously done this ride, all indications were that this would in fact be an "easy" ride. Now, I put 'easy' in quotes, because as my riding buddy and I discovered during this ride, there are a LOT of relative terms in cycling, and "easy" happens to be one of them. What is 'easy' for one person, is not necessarily 'easy' for the next, and I will even go one step further and say, what is 'easy' at mile 20 in not necessarily 'easy' for the same person at mile 114. More about that later.

        Saturday morning came early and after gearing up, checking out of the hotel and breakfast at the local Waffle House we were off to the start of the ride. No one wanted to verbalize what the temperature actually was, but I later found out that it was 15 degree at 0700, which was start time. There were 33 riders at the start which included 15 from Severna Park Peloton. It was nice to have a bunch of familiar faces around for my first brevet. When the clock struck 0700, everyone was off. We headed down Rte 54 in Ashland as a massive train of bicycles and flashing red tail lights. Only 129 miles to go.

        In hind sight, if I had to put my finger on one thing that made the brevet a success for me, it would be my decision to ride with a buddy. Mike Binnix and I had decided before the event that we would stick together throughout the ride. For me, this proved to be critical throughout the entire day. So, as the group began to break up, Mike and I set out towards the first control. Prior to reaching the first control we had to make a quick stop at an Exxon Station to put hot water into our frozen water bottles. The caps full of bourbon that we put in them prior to the start did not keep them from freezing like we had hoped. We walked into the gas station and there were couches and a fire in the fireplace... I could have very easily stayed right there for the rest of the day. We didn't. Hot water in the bottles and it was back on the road.

       At the first control, Court House Market, we got our control sheets signed, picked up some hot chocolate and some more hot water for the bottle. We arrived just as a group of SPP riders were leaving. Like I said before, it was nice to have familiar faces around, and EVERY TIME I saw someone from SPP, they always asked how we were doing. They are a VERY supportive and encouraging group.

      On the road again, headed to control # 2 at Java Jacks in Tappahannock, VA. This was only a 27.4 mile leg in the journey, but it proved to be a very trying leg. A couple miles out from the first control, we discovered that the wind was no longer at our backs. Mike and I took turns riding in front to cut through the wind just enough to give the other person just enough of a break to recover so that they could take their turn in the front. In addition to the wind, we encountered many sections of the road that still had ice and snow on them. For the most part, if we were careful we could coast over them. It seemed  that these patches were mostly on the downward side of the rolling hills, so what little reprise we would garner from the downhills was thwarted by having to slow down considerable to navigate the ice and snow patches. I am happy to report that neither of us fell off our bikes. A few miles before the second control, I began feeling the first signs of physical pain. It was in my shoulders and at the base of my neck, from supporting the weight of my upper body for so many miles. I moved my hands from the top off the handlebars, to the brake hoods and into the drops, but could not find much relief. I made it to Java Jacks ready for a break.

        Lunch at Java Jacks was good. Turkey Rueben with fries and a mocha latte. The service was a little slow, and we spent more time at that control than I think anyone would have liked. Janet, Bill, Gardner and Theresa had just sat down and ordered, so we sat at a table next to them. Java Jacks is an old house converted into a coffee house/restaurant. They have tables set up in the different "rooms" of the house. There were 4 table in the room we were in. Mike and I were at one and the other 4 bikers were at another. The 2 other tables were filled with Tappahannock towns folk. As they were leaving they told us that we needed to get scooters or something. If it was under 70 degrees it was too cold to be outside riding a bike. They then wished us well on our ride and they were gone... probably wondering in the back of their minds "...what is wrong with these people?"

         While at Java Jacks I texted the 3 girls to give them a progress report on where I was and how I was doing. I was surprised to get replies from all 3 of them and the words of encouragement really did help me through the last part of the ride. Thanks girls!

         Before leaving Java Jacks, I did a conscious 'self' check to try and identify anything that I could do to make the remaining 57 more miles any more comfortable. My glove liners were keeping the moisture off my hands, my layers of Under Armour were  keeping my dry and warm, my toes were not cold, my full hood was pretty wet and I knew it would be cold putting that back on, so I put on my spare, dry hood. We were ready to go, and the 6 of us decided to leave together top help battle the winds as a group. After fixing a flat on Bill's bike in the parking lot, we were on our way. We all stayed in loose contact to the next control. On this leg of the ride, my neck and shoulder pain increased. I was also beginning to doubt my lunch choice. I knew that I needed to eat (take in calories) to compensate for the calories I was expending, but while riding after eating such a big lunch, the thought of eating anything was now repulsive. (I know, can you believe I said that?) I was doing my best to drink the water in my water bottles, but I knew I wasn't drinking enough of that either.

         Mile 98, and we were at Sparta Fastmart, the third control. Janet was there first, and was walking out as we were walking in. She asked if anyone wanted a fig-newtons.  That sounded really good to me, so I set off into the Fast Mart to find a package of fig-newtons. To save my life, I couldn't find the damn figs. The woman at the Fast Mart was so helpful...she was on the phone... deep in conversation... and when I asked her where the fig-newtons were she pointed in the general direction of the entire store and promptly continued her phone conversation. No figs in my future. I settled for peanut butter crackers. I ate one as we were leaving the third control. It tasted horrible and I am not sure if it was because after 98 miles of riding ANYTHING would have tasted horrible, or if it was because I REALLY wanted Fig-newtons.

         Headed to Control #4. 16.3 miles ahead. My neck is still hurting and I need to eat and drink. By the time we reach the 4th control it is dark, and as previously agreed upon, we were not going to linger at ALL at this control. Get the card signed, and move on. I managed to eat another peanut butter cracker and drink some water, and we were on our way.

          Next stop... Ashland Tea and Coffee shop... aka The End. We were 14 miles from the finish. As I was leaving Control #4, in my mind I was thinking... 14 miles is not so bad. That's what we normally do on our 5:45 rides. WRONG!  Remember when I told you that 'easy' is a relative term? after 114 miles, 14 MORE miles is not so 'easy'. With the sun down, I was starting to get a little cold and I struggled with my neck and shoulders the rest of the way. I was trying every conceivable position that I could to try and get comfortable for just a few minutes. I was more restless during the last 14 miles than a 2 year old in church on a Sunday morning.

          As we approached the metropolis of Ashland (the center of the universe) we could hear the train whistles blowing, and we could see a couple of traffic signals ahead. The end was in sight. We rode through the intersections, and just as we were about to arrive at Ashland Tea and Coffee shop, the railroad crossing lights start blinking and the crossing arms go across the road. We can literally see the end, but we are forced to wait another 5 minutes while the Amtrak takes on and discharges passengers. Finally, the arms go up, and we pull into the Coffee shop parking lot. We made it. 128.8 miles, 11 hours and 57 minutes.

         We entered the coffee shop to a round of applause from our Severna Park Peloton friends as well as other randonneurs that were still there. I signed and turned in my control sheet and was congratulated by several people... at this point I can't really remember who they all were. I was done... on so many levels.

         It was very emotional for me when I finished. One year ago, I couldn't climb the stairs at home without being out of breath, yet here I was cycling 129 miles in one day. I think that's pretty good improvement.

         After we changed into dry, normal clothes the 9 remaining SPP folks headed out for pizza and beer. A great ending to a great day. Check out Clint's photos of the entire event.

         I am STILL analyzing the good and bad of this ride. What would I do differently, what would I keep the same etc. That list is not complete yet, but I have come up with a few things that I am quite sure of.
             1. The buddy system is a great way to go.
             2. Solid foods... not so much on the rides. I might even have to try the Gu food (sorry Emily)
             3. I am not ready to start an R-12 (one brevet a months for 12 consecutive months), but I do know that this was not my last brevet.

Thanks for checking out my blog. Keep coming back.


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