Category Archives: Randonneuring

Theresa, AA1000K

The Overnight Ferris Wheel: Mile 418 on the Appalachian Adventure 1000K

Felkerino and I returned to the Appalachian Adventure (AA) 1000K course this past weekend to staff the second night of the actual event.

Front group AA1000K

Having ridden the pre-ride exactly the week before, I had a fairly vivid memory of my own shattered mile 418 arrival. The second day took more out of me than I bargained for, and it was only through redemption under the sweet crescent moon during our night ride that I mustered the desire to continue.

Kelly AA1000K

With that as the background, I was curious to see how others would experience this part of the ride. I was also excited about sharing their progress with the outside world.

Lothar AA1000K

Staffing the overnight control was like watching a ferris wheel. The early riders arrived around 8:00 p.m. and people arrived steadily until 12:40 a.m.

Tim AA1000K

Riders staggered their arrivals and departures into four- to six-hour increments. Those arriving at 8 p.m. got off the overnight ferris wheel at 2 a.m. Most who arrived between 10:30 and 11 p.m. departed between 3:30 and 4 a.m.

Nicolas AA1000K

Certain groups chatted more than others. Some had a bit of the randonneur loopies, and everything anybody said resulted in laughter. More than a few people made an arrow straight to the cooler of beer, their reward for more than 200 miles of riding that day.

Riders experienced rough spots during the second day, including mechanicals (a crankarm falling off, for example!), uncharacteristic heat in the region, and passing thunderstorms.

Eoghan AA1000K

Some woke after a shower and a rando-nap and took off into the early hours looking like it was nothing. As one person told me, “Even though you have only slept for 90 minutes, it feels like a new day.”

Riders spent between 3-6 hours on the mile 418 ferris wheel, everyone making sure to keep themselves safely within the control window while bagging as much sleep as they felt they could get away with.

Mike AA1000K

Knowing what the course had delivered over the past two days, I was impressed by the determination of these randonneurs. All committed to finishing, no one lingered past 5 a.m. at mile 418.

As fellow overnight volunteer Matt H. said, I “kept the internet alive” by updating people’s times on the Google Drive Rider Tracking Sheet and posting photos of riders, their bikes, as well as their comings and goings on the club’s Facebook page.

I felt like the town crier, wanting everyone to know about the 1000K participants’ progress. In turn, Matt (who works at a bike shop, which makes him the best kind of volunteer) made sure everyone’s chains were lubed and addressed any mechanical issues that arose.

Matt AA1000K

All had endured 418 miles of challenging terrain and they all did whatever necessary to keep moving and complete the challenge.

Even though their bodies were physically worn and in various sleep-starved states, everyone left mile 418 committed to the full 1000K journey, no matter when it ended. And everyone who rode out that final day successfully completed the ride.

Theresa, AA1000K

I told Felkerino that, as I saw them leave, part of me want to go with them. Instead I thanked Felkerino for making all the chili and keeping the control well-stocked, and went to bed to dream about their progress.

Congratulations to everyone who rode the inaugural D.C. Randonneurs Appalachian Adventure 1000K. You inspire me.

AA1000K North River Store

A Post-1000K Conversation With “Future Me”

Immediately after Felkerino’s and my 1000K ride, I was proud of our accomplishment, relieved that we completed what I felt was an extremely challenging course, and happy that we rode within ourselves from beginning to end.

There were several tough parts, but we did not come close to timing out and, and our bodies held strong. We took time to recover and re-hydrate during hot segments, and smartly navigated thunderstorms on the final day.

We stayed in touch with the other pre-riders to make sure we were all moving along okay. Felkerino and I were able to sleep some each night, and finished in high spirits after three of the most beautiful night rides I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. To top it off, Felkerino put together what I thought was a helpful ride report for those who would be taking on this same challenge the following weekend.

In the immediate days after our finish, I caught up on laundry and sleep, and ran the 1000K through my head a few times. Each time, I determined we could not have done much more to have a better ride.

A week passed and Future Me paid a visit. Never a welcome guest, she just shows up and expects me to listen to her. And I always do.

Back Road on the AA1000K. Photo by Felkerino
Back Road on the AA1000K. Photo by Felkerino

The well-rested, introspective Future Me had a different view of last week’s ride. Without so much as a “good job,” Future Me bored into the many ways I could have improved my ride and our overall time.

“You shouldn’t have had that sit-down lunch on the first day. Lost at least 30 minutes by doing that. Why did you stop at that convenience store 40 miles from the overnight? At least 20 minutes down the drain.

“That second morning—what was your problem? It’s called riding a bicycle. It’s not that hard. The rain showers the final day? Seriously, they weren’t that bad. One downed tree is no excuse for a midnight finish.

“I looked at your training and your overall weekday miles were way too low. No wonder your couldn’t finish earlier. No wonder you suffered when you did.”

On and on Future Me talked. Past Me scrambled to respond to the criticism.

“Future Me, you’re living in a vaccuum. You have no recollection of the ride’s terrain, of the heat we encountered during the ride, of the rainstorms that delayed our finish on the final day, the effects of sleep deprivation, of the extra time it takes to do a pre-ride. Who are you to talk down my ride?”

Present Me watched these two Me’s go back and forth like a tennis match. Finally, she started talking too, and the others went quiet for a moment.

“It’s good to reflect on the ride and helpful to identify areas where training or the ride experience could be improved. But nothing looks the same in retrospect.

“It’s easy to look back and criticize Past Me, and to forget all the elements in play as the ride happened. It’s easy to forget the discomfort of the moment, and the feel of unrelenting hills unfurling over a layer of shortened sleep and heat. It’s easy to say more time should have been dedicated to training when you don’t consider everything else that competes for your attention.

“Like Felkerino would say, You have to trust the people who did that ride. You have to trust they did the best they could in that moment.

“You have to see your ride as just that—your ride. Honor and savor it accordingly. Don’t compare it to what others did, or to what could have been.”

Future Me went quiet and Past Me sighed in relief. Present Me showed Future Me the door, and said farewell to her with a smile. She then began to ponder the next adventure.

Sunrise on Day 3. AA1000K

Enduring the Pain Point

Mile 250 of our 625-mile ride. Fatigue courses through my body. My skin has that beat-up feeling from multi-day endurance riding. The sun is shrouded in fog and the road keeps going up.

Mile 372. Crawling through Douthat State Park. It’s peaceful and wooded, but night is falling. And the road keeps going up. And did I mention? We’re crawling.

I’m sick of it all. Sick of pedaling. Sick of riding so many miles and feeling as though I’m making no progress. Sure, the hills make it pretty, but I’m pretty sure they’re killing me. Why am I out here?

I am swallowed by the pain point. Every endurance event has at least one– that segment in the ride where the mind rejects the physical endeavor, and pesters with distracting questions and frustrations.

Why am I doing this? I’ve come a long way, but still so much is left. This is not fun. In fact, I don’t even like it. What would happen if I stopped? The pain point’s questions consume.

I shout down the negative self-talk. Every second I pedal will take me further through the pain point. Every pedal stroke matters. Endure. Endure. I repeat the word over and over, in between the mind’s insistent whispers to stop.

I convince myself the pain point will pass. I tell myself the only way to reach the sublime is through the discomfort that has enveloped me. I must endure it.

The pain point may be relatively short, or it may last hours. But in my experience, it always passes. As long as I keep fighting the mental battle with an unrelenting determination to move forward, I will endure the pain point and I will reach a new place.

Eventually, I claw away from the pain point. I escape its nagging questions and vexations, and a weight is lifted. My cluttered and conflicted mind empties. The present moment and the turns ahead are what matter now.

My head comes up and I appreciate the beauty of the ride experience again. Hello, ride, it’s me. I’m back. I’m free from the pain point. Let’s go.

Walking under the fallen tree after the rainstorm.

Appalachian Adventure 1000K Pre-ride Report

Felkerino wrote a day-by-day summary of our weekend 1000K pre-ride. It was intended for those who will be riding the event this upcoming weekend, but I thought others might enjoy reading it, too.

Throughout the ride, I shared our progress on Instagram. It was a new experience for me to share photos of the ride as it happened, and I’ve included those (as well as the captions) along with Felkerino’s report to give you a flavor of our experience.

Thanks, Felkerino!

Liberty Gas in Middletown

Liberty Gas in Middletown

Appalachian Adventure 1000K Preride Report
by Felkerino

A group of six volunteer pre-riders started the Appalachian Adventure 1000K on Friday morning, Aug. 29, under clear skies and warm temperatures.

Three of us — Mary Gersemalina and me on tandem and Barry Benson — rode on ahead to check out the route.

Nick B., George W., and Mike W. formed their own group as they expected to take more time to get around the course.

Don't miss this turn like we did. Kabletown
Don’t miss this turn like we did. Kabletown

The Short Version

This ride is gorgeous throughout, coursing along tree-lined back roads, rising to breathtaking mountain views and descending to lush valleys.

You are challenged by long sections of rolling hills and extended climbs, but rewarded by fast sections where you can reclaim some time.

Have brevet pencil, will travel
Have brevet pencil, will travel

Most roads have minimal traffic. That said, there is some fast traffic leaving town on the first day.

In terms of pacing, the majority of the big climbs are complete after the ascent over Peters Mountain at mile 322.

You will need to keep moving diligently all through the first day to Lexington, Va., and then on to the control at Covington at mile 300, which closes at 12:12 on day two.

Covington is the only timed control of the second day and the challenging hills in the section before that control require riders to leave Lexington with enough of a cushion to get there on time.

Finally! The Covington Control
Finally! The Covington Control

After that the next hurdle is to get over Rockfish Gap and the hills on the first part of day three to mile 500.

The last 200K takes care of itself over mostly-moderate terrain, with the exception of a 13-mile segment of little hills on Snickersville Turnpike to Purcellville at mile 600. By this point in the ride, those little hills feel like mountains.

If you haven’t already, look over the profile at the RidewithGPS page for the event.

I’ve posted my photos, and here are Mary’s photos.

Living the randonneur life with Barry
Living the randonneur life with Barry

Full Ride Report

Day One: Leesburg to Lexington, Virginia. 
Miles 0 – 215.3

The initial section consists of rolling roads to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We saw a lot of Friday morning commuter traffic headed against us on Charles Town Pike in the pre-dawn hours. Watch for cars in your direction trying to edge past against the oncoming flow. Also, the brief section on 340 is full of fast traffic and many trucks.

We saw deer along and crossing the roads until the sun came up — keep a sharp eye out for them.

We made good time to the Liberty Store control at mile 79, arriving at 9:48 and had tasty breakfast sandwiches. You’ll want to be fueled for the next section as the rollers gain intensity and steepness over Middle Road, Back Road and Liberty Furnace.

Back Road, mile 106 or so
Back Road, mile 106 or so

All six of us ate at the control at Basye, mile 121 at Hot Plates, a cute cafe; the food was excellent. We were famished and hot after the previous section, as the climbing and warmth of the day did its work.

There is a market nearby (noted on the cue sheet) that I presume is faster.

Lunch on Day 1 of the checkout ride. Hot  Plates
Lunch on Day 1 of the checkout ride. Hot Plates

After a little dip to mile 135 we started a 55-mile section that mostly ascended. Watch for cars in Rockingham County around Singers Glen. Drivers in the area were true to our past experience in not waiting long nor moving over much as they passed.

North River Store mile 162
North River Store mile 162

We refueled and bought ice at the North River store at mile 163 and again at the Jakes Convenience at mile 176, the last store still open for us. We found out Mike wasn’t recovered from being ill earlier in the week and was withdrawing.

Ride a little, stop a little. 40 miles left
Ride a little, stop a little. 40 miles left

A welcome descent at mile 190 brought us to our home road for next day, VA39/Maury River Road and the climb over the ridge to Lexington. We arrived at the Best Western hotel at 10 p.m.

Day Two: Lexington – Paint Bank – Lexington
Miles 215.3 – 417.7

Barry’s wife Amy generously brought drop bags to the hotel so our things were waiting. After showers and three hours of sleep, Mary, Barry, and I ate at the next-door Waffle House and rode out just after 3 a.m. The day was more humid than Friday.

Waffle House
Waffle House

Making the Covington control, 85 miles away, was the first goal of the day, with lots of climbing ahead. After climbing out of Lexington, the road gradually rose past Goshen Pass and then pitched up to the information control at mile 257.

We all got drowsy just before the control and took a 15-minute nap on a paved driveway which did the trick.

After a rest at the Oak Ridge Store, mile 266, to fuel up for the major climb over Warm Springs Mountain, we rolled over and down to Hot Springs.

Day 2. Outside Covington. It sure is hilly and pretty out here
Day 2. Outside Covington. It sure is hilly and pretty out here

With the clock ticking we pushed on to the pretty descending run to the Callaghan Market control in Covington, mile 300, arriving at 11:10, a little more than an hour to spare.

Nick and George arrived about 11:40 in high spirits. We traded notes for a few minutes, our last visit of the ride together.

Gradual climbing took us to Peters Mountain, the high point of the event at 3,004 feet. This is a tough, hot climb on a tandem; we were glad to get it done. The descent was fast and steep with some loose gravel from recent repaving, requiring close attention.

Paint Bank. Slow going today
Paint Bank. Slow going today

At Paint Bank General Store, mile 326, our plans for a big lunch were dashed by a long wait at the restaurant — 25 minutes to get a table — when we arrived at 2:23 p.m.

Nick tells me he hopes there is less demand for tables during the event and that the crowd was big because of the holiday weekend.

We ate snacks (the store has a small snack supply) and rode out for the 40-mile descending section through Covington and Clifton Forge, stopping for grilled ham and cheese sandwiches at the modest Snack Shack, mile 339.

Hi Barry. And happy birthday Shannon
Snack Shack. Hi Barry. And happy birthday Shannon

We stopped again at the BP store in Clifton Forge for one last calorie infusion for the day as the sun started to dip. We knew there was climbing ahead and we wanted to make sure we had ample fuel in the tank.

Barry was fixing a mechanical off route in Covington and we unknowingly passed him, separating us for the rest of the day.

A moderate climb through wooded Douthat State Park to the information control brought us back to VA39 in the dark. After the little grunt over Panther Gap we made good time through Goshen again, and got back to the hotel at 10:46 p.m. The road was mostly deserted and it was just us, the stars and the bugs.

Day Three: Lexington – Leesburg
Miles 417.7 – 623.5

We regrouped at the Waffle House again with Barry and left at 4 a.m.

The route began with ascending roads to Vesuvius before easy riding to Waynesboro. All of the life was gone out of our legs by this point and we plodded through this section, but the fields were pretty as the sun rose. It was another humid day.

15 minute rando-nap on the picnic table. So nice!
15 minute rando-nap on the picnic table. So nice!

Another attack of the drowsies led to a stop at the park pavilion on the outskirts of Stuarts Draft for a 15-minute picnic table nap. The local horseshoe club volunteers noisily arrived right at 7:30, just as we got up.

In Waynesboro, the route avoids downtown. We stopped at the Sunoco, mile 464, for snacks. I think we should have stopped at the nearby Hess store — it looked a little nicer as gas station stores go.

The climb over Rockfish Gap is mercifully short and the descent long and fast. The heat came on strong as we tackled the narrow, twisty Greenwood Station Rd.

Outside Crozet. Good riding here.
Outside Crozet. Good riding here.

Take care here: there is a sharp corkscrew turn at mile 474 that is easy to overcook. We nearly came to a stop to navigate it.

Our breakfast stop at the Mudhouse Coffee in quaint Crozet gave us a break from the heat. The service was fast enough and they nicely refilled our Camelbaks.

Mile 479. In Crozet and I'm having a soy latte. Yay on all counts!
Mile 479. In Crozet and I’m having a soy latte. Yay on all counts!

The food stop was the right move, as the next section features a number of spiky rollers to the information control at Dyke, mile 500. The hills are lovely in all directions.

At this point it's all ridiculous. Wish you were here. Mile 500
At this point it’s all ridiculous. Wish you were here. Mile 500

Barry was climbing faster than us, and we missed him after he pulled off to tend to his bike again. At the Sheetz in Madison, mile 519, we bought everything in sight as we considered it our lunch stop.

Barry rolled in and waved us on — his crankarm kept loosening and he was going to have to tend to it periodically the rest of the way.

I wouldn't be here on this 1000K "bike date" if it wasn't for @dailyrandonneur
I wouldn’t be here on this 1000K “bike date” if it wasn’t for @dailyrandonneur

The final 200K were slow and eventful.

A thunderstorm hit hard within a mile of us leaving the Shell store on US211 just before Washington, and it drenched us before we found shelter.

There were downed trees near the Orlean Market information control, with local fire and sheriffs responders driving about. We slowed to navigate debris-strewn hills and descents. Luckily there was lingering daylight which made it easier to see the way.

Walking under the fallen tree after the rainstorm.
Walking under the fallen tree after the rainstorm.

Rain fell again at Marshall as night fell; we were tired and hungry, and ate at a Subway just off route before finally leaving under clearing skies at 9 p.m.

The route descends from Marshall, thankfully, and our spirits picked up.

After navigating the dark but deserted rolling hills to Philomont and Purcellville, with heat lightning streaking across the skies to our south, we motored back to Lexington, arrival at 12:19 a.m.

We have arrived. Eating a coconut macaroon to celebrate.
We have arrived. Eating a coconut macaroon to celebrate.

Epilogue

In terms of difficulty, I’d rate this in the same vein as the Pennsylvania Randonneurs Endless Mountains 1000K. On a tandem it’s a real challenge, with lots of shifting and standing up on the climbs.

Stay hydrated, fed, and keep moving, especially on the first two days. Make sure to get to Covington on time on day two.

Mary and I are staffing the second overnight control. We look forward to seeing you all there and bonne route!

Sunrise cows

Melting Time Under the Moonlight

A self-confessed person of routine, I don’t stay out late and I don’t rise before the sun most days. I eat three meals a day, work Monday through Friday, and try to sleep seven to eight hours a night. I’m a huge fan of sleep.

Randonneuring appeals to my affinity for routine. I select the events I want to ride, put them on the calendar, and map out a loose training plan for the year. Fitness becomes an additional routine and life continues.

This weekend Felkerino and I rode a 1000K (625 miles) checkout ride for the D.C. Randonneurs and, for a brief moment in time, my daylight-driven routine life was thrown out the window.

The ride consumed us– three 200-plus mile rides in three days. Completing the overall distance within the time permitted, rather than starting after sunrise or stopping when darkness fell, became primary.

We had gone into the event with a plan– make the most of the daylight and focus on constant forward progress– but could not avoid riding many miles through the night.

Each evening, the sun set, and I would curse my inability to ride stronger and faster. The challenging terrain, increasing humidity, unexpected heat of the final day, a flat tire, and a rain squall conspired to make our overall pace slower than I wished. I had also set slightly unrealistic expectations for myself.

As if to help me through the night hours, the waxing crescent moon rose into the sky, painted in peach. The temperatures dropped from toasty to perfect.

Car traffic vanished. Everyone but us went home. We saw lights glimmering in farmhouses, but human life was practically invisible on the roads during the wee hours.

The overnight finish was still miles away, but with the sliver of moon by my side and Felkerino steering steadily in front of me and blocking the bugs, everything felt alright.

Night is a different world. Deer came out with their babies to feed and run about. Other small critters were as surprised to see us as we were them.

Little frogs, excited by the rainstorms on the final night, could be seen hopping across the roads. Our headlight lit up their curious, leaping bodies.

Time as I knew it melted away. There was no bedtime and there was no proper time to be indoors. We sliced our sleep hours in half, if not more. Our minds and bodies focused only on the next milestone of the ride.

I thought of the rare pleasure it is to enjoy a night ride on quiet roads with my real-life and randonneur spouse. Him and me, the moon and stars, wildlife, and the peaceful hum of evening.

Regular routine life seemed so far away and unimportant. It feels good to melt time every once in a while.

Quickbeam at Memorial Bridge

Things to Do During Your Taper

Ah, the taper. Time to back away from the long efforts, rest the legs, eat good meals, and ready for the big day.

What’s a person to do with all this new-found spare time?

Ensure the bike is in good working order. Is anything showing wear and tear? Are any weird sounds coming from the direction of your bike? What do the tires look like? How does the saddle feel?

Figure it out. Tune the bike up. Do some parts searching on the internet just because. Somehow end up looking at running skorts and shoes.

Obsess about your training. Review your training log over and over. Ask it to tell you its secrets. If you are not maintaining a training log, try to recreate one from memory.

Compare your current training log to training logs of the past. See how they match up. If they don’t, what happened to make them different? Try to do all the math associated with this exercise without a calculator. It makes it more intense.

Make lists! You’ll need a list of what you’ll wear on the event. How many days is it? Three? Okay, that’s three separate lists. But wait, you need one more list for those items that you’ll have with you all three days, like shoes and rain gear.

What clothes will you want to wear all day and into the evening hours? Your tried and true pieces. But you just purchased new shorts and want to see how the chamois holds up on a long ride. Should you put these on your list? You know what to do.

Another group of lists should be made to cover food and nutrition. Yes, there will be stops for food along the way, but it’s always good to carry some essentials with you. What will they be? Go to the store and buy them. Don’t try anything new. Don’t do it!

Stock up on baggies. Randonneurs love baggies. Small baggies are useful for protecting cue sheets from rain. You can carry food in a quart-size baggie. Gallon baggies are perfect for parsing out each day’s clothing. It’s all baggies, all the time.

Bag some sleep. Knowing that the hours of shut-eye will be reduced during your event, focus on going to bed a little earlier.

When you get into bed, think about how over the next few days you will not be able to get this kind of sleep. No pressure!  Can you practice sleep deprivation? I say no, but it’s thoughts like this that are keeping me awake at night.

Check the weather. Where does your event take place? Towns 1, 2, and 3? Perfect. Enter each of these towns into your favorite weather website every few hours. What does the forecast say now? How about now? And now?

Look at the event listserv or Facebook to see if anyone has said anything annoying or foreboding about the weather. Wonder why no one but you knows the rule about never talking about the weather.

Adjust your event clothing selection, as appropriate. Prepare for the worst. Buy more baggies.

Write blog posts about your taper. Instead of twiddling your thumbs wishing your were out riding, publish a blog post. After posting, edit it a few times and check regularly to see if anyone commented or liked what you wrote.

Make a music mix to inspire you. Every event needs a soundtrack. Who will write yours? As for me, I’m going through a retro phase so I choose this.

What’d I miss? Surely I missed something? Make me a list of what I missed!

Felkerino and me. Photo by Jerry

Preparing for a 1000K Brevet

After a summer of bicycling, the Appalachain Adventure 1000K is fast approaching, and Felkerino and I will be riding it.

Given that the Appalachian Adventure is a late summer affair, Felkerino and I maintained a pretty big base of mileage since finishing the Super Randonneur series with the D.C. Randonneurs.

Felkerino and cornfield

Despite not tracking my cycling miles, I still have a good sense of our weekend rides throughout the summer. Continue reading

Quickbeam and the Potomac-summer

Bicycle as Escape

I never seem to tire of writing about bicycles. I love talking about them, dreaming about my next bike trip, figuring out the perfect bike commute setup, pondering the ins and outs of randonneuring… you get the idea.

This love of riding bikes led me to start Chasing Mailboxes. I was searching for an outlet to write more creatively, compared to the technical writing and editing I do in my work, and wanted to focus on a topic that I felt passionately about, but was not overly intimate.

Chasing Mailboxes is a platform to diary the sensations experienced while cycling, These may include moments of discomfort, jubilation, frustration, or even self-doubt. It’s remarkable how the simple act of riding a bicycle can serve as a petri dish for so many physical and emotional states. Continue reading