Category Archives: Randonneuring

Devil’s Daughter 210K Permanent

Devil's Daughter 210K Permanent. Jerry and Andrea

The emerging warmth and green of spring days tempt us. Long days at the office interrupted by relatively brief spates of outdoor time urge us to spend weekends actively exploring.

This weekend Felkerino and I joined bicycling friends Andrea and Jerry to revisit the Devil’s Daughter 210K permanent, a ride carefully crafted by RUSA permanista Crista Borras.

Jerry on CR-12

Crista describes the Devil’s Daughter 210K as an “extremely scenic ride with five major climbs, including one ‘gut buster.’” Those familiar with Crista’s rides know that if she says scenic, she means it. Sure enough, our route offered plenty of vistas and almost 11,500 feet of climb over the full 131 miles. (See the Ride With GPS here.)

I don’t know that I would want to attempt a course akin to the Devil’s Daughter every weekend, but it suited my mood and ambitions Saturday. Cruising sections constituted about 40 miles, with the remainder of the ride rife with intense climbs, some longer than others, and lots of chop.

Forsythia and redbud. Devil's Daughter

While the ride starts and ends in Middletown, Virginia, the bulk of the course covers territory in West Virginia.

West Virginia is a spectacular place to spend the day, especially when weather is good and the forsythia and redbud are peeping out. It’s also a place where the road can be rather merciless.

You wonder how the road you traverse is even paved. You wonder when it will let up. It doesn’t let up. You wonder how that’s possible. Despite the unrelenting up, you still want to take a picture to try and remember it all.

Jerry and Felkerino on South Branch Mountain. Devil's Daughter

Felkerino and I spent the day in excellent company. Jerry and Andrea are such experienced and confident riders that they rode their own ride even as we all stayed within eyesight of each other throughout the day.

Andrea pedaled confidently away on the uphills while Jerry often would swoop by us on switchback descents. How are they doing that?

Felkerino and I smoothly managed every grade that took us up higher and higher and never relented on the pedals. I was so proud of us and our “Big Cat” tandem, which is really proving itself to be an excellent climber.


Perhaps another reason I enjoyed Saturday’s ride so much is because a ride with that kind of climbing obliges you to completely immerse yourself into it. Every up and down it throws at you requires focus. Distractions and worries of the day-to-day have no place.

Sometimes it’s good to go on a ride and mull life over. Other days, it’s an excellent reprieve to focus on nothing other than what’s coming your way.

Jerry's Independent

A delightful day in the mountains. Thank you, West Virginia. See you soon.

More photos where those came from. My full set here, and Andrea’s photos here.

Pure Bliss: D.C. Randonneurs 300K

Carol and D. Warrenton 300K Brevet 2014

The ride begins with warmth in the air. After a couple hours of darkness, the sun rises and bounces down the road with us. It must sense that we’re in for a 190-mile day of play.

The sun and I get along so well. The temperatures rise, but there are no uncomfortable flare-ups.

Carol, Bill. Warrenton 300K Brevet

I’m not sure how it happens, but Felkerino and I coalesce with other riders, forming a group that rides together through the first century.

We flow up and down the day’s rises. Everyone holds their space well and conversation is relaxed. We take photos. Of course.

Bill. 2014 Warrenton 300K Brevet

As energy levels change, the group disburses. Felkerino and I ride alone, basking in the glorious day. I almost wish we were riding a 400K so we could make the ride last longer. Almost.

Matt. Warrenton 300K brevet

My legs show up and urge us on throughout. Pedal pedal pedal. Let’s go! Felkerino and I are completely in tune with each other, both present in each pedal stroke and aware of the other.

At some points my feet say, “Hold on, legs, I need a break,” so we stop under the sunny skies and I sit in stocking feet while the breeze attends to my toes. Ahhh, so nice.

300K Brevet. Shoes and Camelbak

After miles of riding solo, we come upon another group of rando-buddies. We ride peacefully to the next control. Company makes the miles pass quickly.

Randonneur lifestyle. 2014 Warrenton 300K brevet

The cue sheet says 60 miles remain, and I have a moment of “Will we ever get to the end?” A helpful wind pushes us forward and says gently, “Of course you will.”

In the final miles, we reunite with Bill, who I was sure had already finished. We’ve spent many a good brevet mile with Bill over the years.  We ride in as a group while the late afternoon sun continues to keep us company.

Finished. Warrenton 300K Brevet 2014

To bookend this blissful day, I make sure to take one last photo. What a day.

More photos where those came from. Full set here.


Why Ride Brevets?

Randonneuring requires a certain level of commitment (no, not that kind of commitment). Early rises, car rides, bike maintenance and tuning, convenience store dining, and long days and even evenings in the saddle are all part of the randonneur lifestyle.

Photo by Bill Beck

Photo by Bill Beck

Given that most of us do not have unlimited leisure time, what is it about the brevets that appeals enough that we’re willing to dedicate so much of our spring and summer (for some, even more) to it?

Pre-planned weekend escapes. You know those conversations “What should we do this weekend?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Sign up for brevets and you will significantly reduce the frequency with which you have these kinds of talks. Instead, you will have an immediate answer that covers many weekends from late February through June, either “I’m doing a training ride” or “I’m riding x brevet. See? Here’s the cue sheet.”

Training rides require some planning, but go for some rides, hit some hills, and get your miles in and you are set when it comes time for the brevet. Follow whatever the cue sheet says until it tells you that you’re done. The brevet drives the planning for you.

Many of the brevet courses I’ve ridden have been quite scenic and pleasant. We have some gorgeous riding in our area, including the Catoctins and the Blue Ridge. Brevets give me an excellent excuse to explore them a little more.

Strength. Successful completion of brevet distances requires both mental and physical strength. Over the last several years of doing brevets, I have seen my strength build as the year goes on.

Over the winter, I was talking with one of my riding friends about the surreality of knowing that your body is capable to doing a 400K distance when, in January, you’re happy to stop after grinding out a century.

Every year, though, I see my body’s response to the increase in miles. The early wake-ups never get easy, but eventually they become another part of the event. Going longer seems less of an overall effort. My ability to mentally break down the ride into manageable pieces becomes easier.

There is also something about the steady effort of a brevet that makes other parts of life seem more manageable. Maybe randonneuring imparts patience, helps us expand our limits, or teaches us strategies that apply to other facets of our lives.

Camaraderie. It’s always interesting to see who you will end up riding with on brevets and what types of conversations you’ll have. Randonneur conversation potpourri!

Often I end up discussing rides gone by or current randonneuring and riding plans with others, but you never know what interesting topics may arise. Randonneurs are a rather eclectic bunch.

2011 D.C. Randonneurs 400K finish. Yay! (c) Bill Beck

2011 D.C. Randonneurs 400K finish. Yay! (c) Bill Beck

Time with my randonneur spouse. I ride almost all brevets on tandem with my husband. I suppose this is somewhat unusual, as I hear stories of people who have to negotiate time on the bike with their non-randonneuring partners.

Over the years Felkerino and I have become pretty in tune with each other. He’s more of an early bird. I like the later miles.

I often wonder if I would ride brevets solo if Felkerino and I had not met. Maybe, but I am not generally the type of person who likes to do solo rides longer than a century.

I prefer a social component and Felkerino’s and my team of two works quite nicely in that regard. We like sharing the ride experience and spending the weekend outdoors together.

Figuring out the puzzle. Even though I have been riding brevets off and on since 2005, I still find myself tweaking my system. For example, what I used to eat on brevets (lots more sugary food) my stomach no longer tolerates. Over time, I have become better at riding longer without a break and have learned how to take active breaks on the bike.

In a weird way, I like seeing how my body has changed over time. What works to successfully complete a brevet is never an exact formula.

Customization. In her On Writing & Riding interview, fellow randonneur mmmmbike! discussed how randonneuring’s non-competitive foundation allows people to interpret it in their own ways.

You can ride a brevet like a race. You can treat it as a long group ride, or you can approach it as a more solitary experience. In the end, it’s all randonneuring.

I know this list of why we ride brevets is far from comprehensive. Please, all you randos out there, help me fill in the gaps.

Old Rag 200K Permanent: Hills, Vistas, and Math Word Problems

This weekend Felkerino and I hightailed it out of the city to escape the crowds that have descended on Washington, D.C., and arranged to do the lovely Old Rag 200K out of Warrenton, Virginia, with bicycling buddies Andrea and Mike.


The D.C. Randonneurs site describes the Old Rag 200K as follows:

From Warrenton we head generally southwest passing through rolling horse farm country with the Blue Ridge Mountains as our backdrop. We parallel the Blue Ridge as far south as Madison where we begin our return to Warrenton after a stop at the friendly, well-stocked Yoder’s Country Market.

The route is fairly gentle as we wind our way to Syria in the shadow of Grave’s Mountain. A moderate climb followed by a 3-mile descent puts us up and over the Old Rag Grinder.

A series of steep and unrelenting rollers–lovingly known as The Three Kings and The Meanies–will consume us for the next hour or so prompting many to re-fuel at the Laurel Mills store with the sweet, spring water that flows nearby.

Country roads bordered by stone fences carry us through Ben Venue and into Flint Hill and the final control at the reopened Orlean Store. A final climb over Piney Mountain brings us back to Warrenton.

Estimated total elevation gain : 8,000 feet.

This course is an old friend to Felkerino and me. It was the first 200K brevet course he ever rode (in 1996), and my second (in 2005). Saturday’s temperatures were good for riding, the wind swirled around in its springtime way, and the sun shone. Felkerino and I had great company.

Andrea and Mike, and a dog we surprised as it was out for a stroll

Andrea and Mike, and a dog we surprised as it was out for a stroll

I was glad for the urban reprieve, but unprepared for how mentally challenging this ride would prove for me. I have not been logging the bike miles like I hoped this year (although my running miles are up, woo!). Dispirited by the colder weather, getting sick on a couple of weekends I hoped to spend on the bike, blah blah blah. I’m full of good excuses, but the bottom line is that my confidence going into this ride was not where I wanted it.

My mind also kept wandering back to personal concerns. I forget how the things going on in our lives can affect our energy levels and focus. Usually, I can shake stuff, but it wasn’t happening on Saturday. I’d chew on things for a while and then refocus on the ride for a bit, only to be distracted again by all the thoughts banging around in my brain.

Heading toward Etlan Road

Heading toward Etlan Road

My usual mental approach to a 200K is fairly simple.

  1. Divide the ride into two main parts, the first 60+ miles and the last 60+.
  2. Knock off the first 25 miles and get the ride down to a conceptually manageable century distance (easy peasy!).
  3. Pedal steadily with minimal breaks until the halfway point, eating out of the back-pocket cafe as needed.
  4. Eat something more substantial at the halfway mark, like a sandwich.
  5. Ride steadily from lunch and stop once more for a little snack at around mile 100 or so. Only 25 miles left (Surely you’ve ridden 25 miles before?).
  6. The end!

This ride required the use of these ride management strategies and more to push through. I rode the first half or so according to plan, but struggled mightily after the first 60 miles. It was strange because my body felt fine, but my brain wanted to be back in bed, resting on my pillow.

The delicious Etlan Road is just past this red barn, and so is a steep climb.

The delicious Etlan Road is just past this red barn, and so is a steep climb.

After much scrutiny of the cue sheet, I ended up breaking the ride down into 10-15 mile segments. I spent a lot of time challenging myself to basic math word problems, and compared the distances we covered to the everyday riding I do.

Three rides to Whole Foods and back until we reach the next control. Two trips to work until we are at X miles. Two trips to the doctor, taking the long way. This made the distances easier to conceptualize, while also taking my mind off other things.

Ride management strategy: time for math.

Ride management strategy: time for math.

I also rewarded myself at mile 94 with homemade monster cookies I purchased earlier in the day. I try to avoid rewarding myself with food, especially during rides. Not this ride. This ride needed a dose of monster cookies!

Strangely, my legs felt decent throughout the day. At some points they fatigued (particularly during parts of what we call the three kings), but overall my physical output felt solid.

It was my head that was out of sorts. I struggled to be present in the ride. I don’t know if this is worse to experience on a tandem or a single bike. On one hand, you can start to think about how you are dragging the other person down, how much faster they could go if you were not there. On the other hand, your teamwork can be a source of encouragement. Fortunately for me, Felkerino was a good tandem partner on this ride.

Laurel Mills Store, where I rewarded myself by devouring monster cookies.

Laurel Mills Store, where I rewarded myself by devouring monster cookies.

Despite my difficulties focusing, I’m still glad we got out. I had to get away from the District. It felt good to meet up with others and pedal our way over the choppy and scenic Virginia countryside, with all of its trees poised to blossom.

One day after the ride, my legs are tired, but I am far from wiped out. This ride built my confidence that we can handle hills and go further than 200K if/when we need to do so.

My head was not in the space I wanted it during the ride, but I feel much better about life today. Nothing like a 200K in the spring sunshine and lots of made-up math story problems to clear the head.

Thanks to Mike and Andrea for riding with us. And Felkerino, you’re the best.

On Naming Your Bike: The Baby Post of Bike Names

One of the posts people read frequently on this blog is Say My (Bike’s) Name: On Naming Your Bike, in which I described my  tandem partner’s affinity for naming bikes and my own tendency not to do so.

Bike collage

That bike naming post received great comments about people’s processes for naming bikes as well as their bikes’ names. I liked them so much that I thought they deserved their own post, rather than being an addendum to my original remarks.

Below you will find the “Baby Post of Bike Names,” a first attempt at capturing the bike names shared on Chasing Mailboxes. Thanks to all contributors.

Enjoy, and if you have a name to add please do so in the comments. I will update the post accordingly.

By the way, the name The Big Cat stuck so our Co-Motion Java Tandem is frequently referred to as such. Meow? Rawr!

Baby Post of Bike Names

Amelia — Cannondale Quick 3. Named after Amelia Earhart, she flies far and fast. @astridbear

Archie, short for Archaeopteryx –  Blue 1974 Raleigh Professional set up as a fixed gear. Because I used that as my animal totem in the Furnace Creek 508 years ago, and somehow that became the bike’s name. Emily O’B

Audrey – Mixte named after Audrey Hepburn because she is a pretty little mixte that I ride to work or to the coffee shop/pub in my street attire/makeup. She even has a woven basket. @Vic_toria

Baby – Circe Helios Duo tandem. @velovoice

Battleship Stupid – Surly Big Dummy @I_am_Dirt

The Beast – Salsa Mukluk fatbike. It’s big and likes to roll over things. Christopher T.

The Beast – Specialized Crossroads Sport (very heavy)
. Laura

Betty – Electra Cruiser. Because that’s the name she comes with (it’s model). @girlonabikedc

Big Blue – Blue Raleigh Grand Prix: Big Blue. Rootchopper

Big Nellie – Tour Easy Recumbent. So named because I yelled “Whoa Nellie!!” as I passed 45 miles per hour fully loaded on Big Savage Mountain. Rootchopper

Birte – Koga  Named after the person who signed off on the QC tag checklist…but I just call it, My Traveller. @mujozen

Blackie – 
Black Trek 1200. Rootchopper

Bluey – Jamis commuter. @jerdlngr

Blue – Jamis. Her name is Blue because, well, she’s BLUE. pencilfox

Bridget – 2010 Surly Cross Check. @velovoice

Casper the Little White Moulton – Moulton. Judith S.

Clover – Surly Disc Trucker, dark green. Named after one of the workhorses in Animal Farm for color, dependability and ability to haul lots of stuff. Sally H.

Demon - 2010 cannondale F5. robyn

Doris – Specialized mixte. Named after the BMW satNav system, Drive On Roads Intelligent System. Take the bike rather than the car, any day. LisaEmms

My Dumpster Bike – rando/commute bike. Because that’s where my wife found it and insisted I go dumpster-diving to get it. Andy

Electric Dream Machine – Felt ZW5. EDM for short. Laura

Esmeralda – Surly Long Haul Trucker. Iron Rider

Esmeralda – Brompton. @MrTinDC

Esmerelda – 2010 Raleigh Venture 3.0. The 2008 Raleigh Venture 3.0. James R.

Essie – Raleigh SC30. James R.

The Fixie – Raleigh Super Course. An admittedly unoriginal name that reflects its conversion. MT Cyclist

Fleur – Linus Dutchi @seven2seven8

Frankie – Handbuilt frame from tube steel. @josephlrc

Frankie – Red 80s steel frame with lots of replacement parts including crazy mustache bars with black-and-white zebra tape. Named after Frankenstein, but androgynous. Sally H.

Free Spirit – Schwinn Free Spirit. Laura

Giant – Giant Innova. Pronounced: gee-aunt but with more of a French accent to make it sound fancier. Renee Christine

Giddyup - Salsa Vaya. Because it’s light and quick. Christopher T.

Greased Lightning – Jamis Ventura Race. @TurtleDub616

The Great White – Santana Noventa tandem. Named such due to its pearl white color, and also my penchant for singing the Jaws theme as we overtake an unsuspecting half-bike. - pearl white Santana Noventa tandem. Paul

Gregor – a stupidly big bike named for the mountain that rides (Gregor Clegane). TheAirgonaut

Idéefixe – Bianchi San Jose, a fixed-gear. Named as an homage to Idéfix, Astérix’s dog and as a quasi-joke about fixation with bicycles. @ricksva

Ivan – Dahon folder. Tim

Jealousy, the Green Dragon – Lemond Ventoux, repainted British racing green. @josephlrc

Jon Snow – Specialized Allez. He knows he’ll never inherit the title and lands, but he is noble and strong nonetheless and goes off to join the Black Watch, and does an honourable job defending the kingdom. @Vic_toria

Julek – Trek 8000 mountain bike. @seven2seven8

Julius – Peugeot folder, named after its color. “Orange Julius,” get it? MT Cyclist

Kermit – Velo Orange Polyvalent. Because he’s green and has an affinity for swamps. @girlonabikedc

Lady Raincorn – 
Peugeot Versailles (white with rainbow accents)
. Laura

The Lead Sled – Cannondale mountain tandem, charcoal gray in color. Another bike Felkerino succeeded in naming.

Leela – Takara Tribute, 80s steel frame. Smart, sturdy, light purple, one eyed (headlight) so named after the Futurama character. Sally H.

Liesl – 1950s Puch Rugby Sport. @velovoice

Lil Bleu - 2008 cannondale six13. robyn

Little Nellie – Bike Friday New World Tourist. Named after James Bond’s kit helicopter in You Only Live Twice.

Lorelei – 1979 Puch Princess mixte. @velovoice

Lucy – 2012 Brompton custom S8L. @velovoice

Miss Persimmon Pimpernel — Electra Townie. With her deep orange paint, white fenders and rack, and a flower bedecked front basket, she is every inch a lady. @astridbear

Mongo – Surly Big Dummy. Tim

The Mule - Heavy as hell old Specialized Sequoia, a corruption of Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer that only he can lift. Rootchopper

Old Faithful – Specialized Expedition (mountain-y hybrid). Laura

Ole Red - 1995 Cannondale Super V-900. robyn

Old Ironsides – Specialized hybrid. Named to note its substantial weight and steel-like qualities, but in truth rarely use the term. Steve

Pauline – Surly Long Haul Trucker, because the silver screen like smoggy pearl color reminded me of old silent movies like “The Perils of Pauline,” in which the heroine goes on many adventures, as I plan for the bike to do. James R.

Pearl – Cyclepro Mixte. My husband rescued and rebuilt it for me. True love, my commuter! @JenBrenneman

Pig, short for Iron Pig – Novara Randonnee. Originally named for how it handles with a 60 pound load, it’s kept its name (fondly) for the way it got me across the country. Pat L.

Pilot Vanishing Point – Custom Fast Boy Cycles mixte. Named Pilot Vanishing Point (a certain type of fountain pen), after the lugwork. @justshinyorg

Puck – Jamis 26″ mountain bike. Tim

Rachel – 1996 Specialized Rockhopper. James R.

Riley – 2014 custom Enigma Etape.

The Radish – 70s Motobecane 10-speed. @seven2seven8

Resolute Ruby – 2007/2008 Cannondale Quick. The story of how she got her name is here. russtyred

Robin – 2011 Surly Pacer. @velovoice

Rocinante – CCM. This bike somehow made its way south of the border to Washington, Illinois in the late 1970s. Every part was worn out, I eventually added a third wheel to it so I could compete in a high-school tricycle race, and shortly thereafter, I retired it. It was politely exotic and pretty much shot. 16incheswestofpeoria

RocketGirl – Titanium Seven  @LDMay, who also works for NASA)

Rollie – ’75 Raleigh Sprite, the bike that launched my bike-wrenching obsession. MT Cyclist

Rootie – Trek mountain bike, because of its root beer color scheme. MT Cyclist

Ruby – a ruby-red 2010 9:Zero:7 fat bike. Michael L.

Sandy – Bianchi Volpe. @TurtleDub616

Silver Bullet – anodized silver Santana Sovereign. The frame looks like it’s made out of aluminum (Coors) beer cans and it’s fast! MikeC

Speedy - 2007 Cannondale Supersix. robyn

Sweetpea – ANT mixte. Nancy L.S.

Sweetpea – Surly Long Haul Trucker. Because it’s an apt description of her nature and color. @kfront

The Tank – Specialized Sirrus. @WilyMouse

“Taxman Craig” (or simply “Craig”) – Shogun Ninja I bought off Craigslist the very day I received my tax return. Jordan L.

Thorp – Custom road bike (named after Jim Thorpe). Tim

Tiny – Bike Friday Pocket Rocket. Bob T.

Tropical Gail and Storm - 2008 Cannondale road tandem. Captain half is Tropical Gail; stoker half is Storm. robyn

Venture, short for Aventurine – Surly Disc Trucker in matte green. Julie S.

Veronica – 2008 Raleigh Venture 3.0. James R.

Violet – Specialized road bike. Because the first road bike I test rode was purple, and the name stuck. Apparently there really are reddish violets.  @jerdlngr

Woody Anne – 2000 Surly Cross Check, named after a bar down on Winnebago Street. Michael L.

Yellow Submarine – Dahon Speed Pro folder, due to an unfortunate episode involving a (surprisingly deep) river, back when I lived on the Isle of Man. @WilyMouse

Zwijn – Schwinn World Tourist. Zwijn is Dutch for hog, sounds like “sfwain.” I’m Dutch by birth, as are most of the people in my corner of Iowa. Plus, the Netherlands is solid bikes from one end to the other, so it works. Nathan

D.C. Randonneurs Wilderness Campaign 200K Brevet

A summary by the miles of the D.C. Randonneurs Wilderness Campaign ACP 200K Brevet.

You, too, can lead the glamorous life of a randonneur.

You, too, can lead the glamorous life of a randonneur.

Miles 1-40

Morning miles. Cold and sunny

Morning miles. Cold and sunny

Hand-throbs from the sub-freezing start.
I must take photos of the group in this beautiful morning light as soon as the hand-throbs fade!
I am riding a brevet.
I feel like an athlete!

Early miles outside Bristow

Early miles outside Bristow

Miles 40-70

Get it right, Felkerino!

Felkerino, doing his paperwork.

Did I say I was an athlete?
Totally not true!
I’m just on a morning ride to dine with my husband.
Yes, we take the scenic route and it requires a little paperwork, but really, just a ride to breakfast.
I love a bike ride to breakfast, and I love grits bathed in butter.

Randonneur meetup at the info control

Randonneur meetup at the info control

Miles 70-108

K/Curt and Matt

Kurt and Matt

We ride a few miles with Matt and Kurt, who have driven up from Harrisonburg, Virginia, for the ride.
Matt made his bike, and Kurt wears an Earth, Wind, and Rider jersey with a color combination I can’t stop admiring.
The day has warmed to sixty (sixty!) and the sun shines.
Who wants to hurry on a day like this?
We reach the info control at mile 78, and our friend Eric is there.
Matt and Kurt glide away from us, and Eric, Felkerino, and I settle into riding together.
It’s a fun day ride with bicycling buddies.

Another info control.. and Eric!

Another info control.. and Eric!

Miles 108-129

Eric in the last miles

Eric in the last miles

When did this ride start to feel like trudging?
I am trudging.
When will this ride end?
What happened to my fun day ride?
I have get-there-itis.
Yes, it is still warm.
Yes, the sun still shines.
Yes, Eric is excellent riding company.
Alright, it’s not so bad.
Even so, I still want to get there.

The Finish

We ride for pizza

We ride for pizza

We’re back.
We FINALLY made it.
Okay, it didn’t really take as long as I thought.
Felkerino and I chat with other riders outside the Caribou Coffee.
It’s so much fun to talk about events gone by and adventures yet to come.
We all swap stories and discuss big plans as the sun sets and riders come and go.

Thanks for the ride, D.C. Randonneurs. More photos here, and see Felkerino’s here.

Repast at Rocco’s 200K Permanent: A Winter Ride that Felt Like Spring

Heading toward the stone bridge over the Monocacy River

Heading toward the stone bridge over the Monocacy River

With temperatures taking an unusual leap into the 50s this weekend, Felkerino and I committed to our first 200K distance of 2014, meeting up with a few others in Urbana, Maryland, on Saturday for the Repast at Rocco’s RUSA permanent.

Welcome to Frederick County

Welcome to Frederick County

Repast at Rocco’s (Ride With GPS track here) is an out-and-back 126.6-mile course that begins by see-sawing through some big rollers, levels out on valley roads through Frederick County, Maryland, and goes into Adams County, Pennsylvania, for lunch in East Berlin (at a pizza placed named Rocco’s, incidentally) before it turns to retrace the first 60-plus miles.

Looks like winter over there. Feels like spring where I'm riding.

Looks like winter over there. Feels like spring where I’m riding.

The rolling morning miles took us through some cold dips, and we pedaled cautiously over a few icy patches remaining on some segments the sun has trouble reaching.

One of the things I love about riding in Frederick County is checking out the old barns that pepper the countryside. Many are wood, and some are a brick and wood combination. More than a few have fallen into disrepair, but others still stand strong. Their weathered exterior intrigues and gives them vivid texture.

One of my favorite old barns on the route

One of my favorite old barns on the route

The warmth of the day enveloped us, but the countryside was still dressed up in winter. It was odd to be outfitted for a spring ride while winter landscapes surrounded us.

Roads were fairly calm, and sun and tailwind made for a fast first half of our 200K day. I was reminded of some sound advice my father imparted: take the headwind first. Why don’t we listen to our parents’ advice more often, I ask you.

While about 10 of us showed up for the ride, Felkerino and I spent much of the time by ourselves. Midway through the morning we met up with Tom, who was in the process of completing his 99th consecutive monthly ride of at least 200K, and rode and chatted together for a bit.

Riding with Tom

Riding with Tom

There was some serious talk about the direction the flags were waving and how the wind had picked up over the course of the morning, but I tried not to sweat the headwind blasts sure to come after lunch.

I rationalized that I would rather ride in sunny 50-degree temperatures with some spirited headwinds than spend my day doing a ride under threatening skies with no wind and temps in the 30s. See? Always a bright side to be found.

Bikes at Rocco's

Bikes at Rocco’s

We refueled on pizza at the 63-mile midway point and I mentally prepped for headwind headwind headwind. Inevitably, it battered us around for the next 30 miles, making talking difficult (What did you say?! What?!) and altering my mood so that I put my camera away and stopped looking around and taking photos. Oh Dad, I should have listened to you about taking the headwinds first!

Eventually we rode our way into more wooded segments and took favorable turns so that the wind was behind us or at least not directly in our faces. Yippee.

A look at the old stone bridge over the Monocacy River

A look at the old stone bridge over the Monocacy River

We also leap-frogged the last 30-plus with fellow rider Calista, which helped the miles pass.

This 200K is front- and back-loaded with hills, and the middle half is quite gentle. It’s an ideal winter century because you don’t sweat up too much on the uphills and then freeze going down. Steady rollers and gentle valley riding.

Calista during the last 10 miles. Bare legs and snow.

Calista during the last 10 miles. Bare legs and snow.

The ride profile says Repast at Rocco’s has around 5,500 feet of climbing, which really is not much for a ride of that distance, but it still tuckered me out by the end. I suppose that’s how you’re supposed to feel at the end of your first 200K of the year.

Sorry I don’t have any photos of the wind for you. I’m still working on ways to document that largely invisible beast that has such power over one’s ride. Sometimes it’s your friend and other times you can’t wait for it to go away (What?! What did you say?!).

On Writing & Riding: Kent’s Bike Blog

If you read blogs about bicycling, it is quite likely that you know of Kent’s Bike Blog. Kent is based in Issaquah, Washington, and his was one of the first blogs I turned to when I first became interested in long-distance riding. I wanted to read others’ stories of long rides and learn from their experiences.

At the time I began reading his blog, Kent was writing reports of his randonneuring rides as well as his time riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race (on a single speed, no less). Kent’s Bike Blog inspired me.

Later I discovered that he also loves to read and I’ve actually read a few books based on his recommendations. He has even put together an extensive list of bicycling books that you may want to peruse, 50 Good Bicycle Books and 50 More Good Bicycle Books. I am thrilled he agreed to be part of this On Writing & Riding series.

Kent Peterson

1. If you were to send out a Tweet summarizing your blog, what would it say?

Sporadic thoughts and ride reports from a guy who thinks a lot about bikes. Includes various digressions, beware!

2. You were an early adopter of blogging, and started writing in 2005. Your blog was the first I read that included posts about randonneuring. It’s also how I first learned about the Great Divide Race. What made you start blogging about bicycling and what inspires you to keep writing about it?

I actually started posting ride reports in 1999, effectively blogging before blogging was a thing. I got into randonneuring that year and decided to write about it. It was interesting to me and I guess others found it interesting as well. Those old posts still live on at Kent Peterson’s Randonneuring Page.

3. You named your blog Kent’s Bike Blog. Have you ever looked back and wondered if you should have titled it something else? If so, what would you have re-named it?

I spent about half a second coming up with the name. Occasionally I think if I’d named it something broader, more vague or clever I wouldn’t feel bad about diversions into things like the books of Ray Bradbuy (hey, he rode a bike!). But mostly I’m happy with the name, it conveys my possession, for better or worse,of what is up there.

4. Who are you writing for? Do you have a particular audience in mind when you write your posts?

I don’t write for a particular audience. I write about things that interest me. Sometimes I write to remember and other times I write to help me figure out what I think about something.

Kent Peterson

5. What aspects of bicycling do you enjoy writing about? Have those aspects changed since you first began your blog and, if so, how?

My favorites are when I find something simple and cool. It can be mechanical trick, a nifty place to ride, a gadget, a great cafe or some great story a pal told me. I guess all those things are kind of timeless, except for the gadgets.

And the gadget posts are the ones that don’t age well. I think that says something and maybe someday I’ll figure a bit more about what I might want to say about that.

6. You live car-free so you use your bike for transportation and utility cycling. You have ridden huge rides like the Great Divide, and you also did randonneuring rides for many years. In addition, you also go bike touring. You work at a bike shop. And now you ride a scooter, too! Are there common threads across all these types of bike riding activities that you find yourself writing about or do you see them all distinctly?

I think the common thread is a kind of simplicity. I like paring things down, figuring out how little is needed to do something.

Editor’s note: And thus, my five-line question is answered in two succinct sentences. :)

7. In addition to being a bike rider who writes you are an avid reader. What writers have influenced you in your own writing and why?

Thoreau is a big influence, as is Ed Abbey. Both guys who were kind of cranky critics of society.

But I’m by nature quite cheerful and positive so I love guys who really love life, folks like Christopher Morley, Ray Bradbury and Daniel Pinkwater.

Right now Ruth Ozeki’s books are making me think a lot. Her latest, A Tale for the Time Being, is terrific.

8. What are the best parts of being a blogger?

What I love is the full creative control. If I don’t have something to say, I don’t say it. If I want to post in haiku, I can.

9. Was there anything about maintaining a blog that surprised you?

I’m surprised at what gets a lot of hits and links. If I wanted to get a bunch of traffic, I’d be a lot crankier online!

Kent Peterson

10. Do you have any favorite posts or posts that you find yourself going back to? What are they and why (send links, too!)?

Here are a few:


11. What tips do you have for someone who wants to start writing a blog, particularly a blog about bicycling?

Go for it. If you write about what interests you, you may find other folks find it interesting as well. Don’t write if you don’t think you have something worth saying.

12. What did I forget to ask you that I should have?

Why aren’t you posting as much these days?”

Twitter is where all the “hey look at that!” things go now so I no longer do little “hey look at that!” posts. I only post when I’ve got something new to say and since I’ve been at this since 1999, I’ve already said a lot. And I’m spending more time writing things that aren’t blog posts.

PBP Memories: Drew Buck and his 1900 Peugeot

This week BBC News ran a feature about Drew Buck, a long-distance cyclist from Somerset, England, who is famous in the randonneuring community for completing Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) multiple times on vintage bicycles.

Drew Buck arrives at PBP. Love this shot. Photo by Felkerino

Drew Buck arrives at PBP on his vintage retrodrive Peugeot. Love this shot. Photo by Felkerino

The article prompted me to search through my own set of photos from the 2011 edition of PBP, and I realized that Felkerino I had the pleasure of encountering Drew Buck at various points throughout the ride.

Making his way to the start

Making his way to the start

Drew completed the event riding a 1900 Peugeot bicycle and wearing clothes representative of that time period as well.

The 1900 Peugeot at the finish of 2011 PBP

The 1900 Peugeot at the finish of 2011 PBP

Here is Drew arriving at the 90-hour start, where his presence caused quite a stir.

Drew Buck arrives amid a sea of modern bikes

Drew Buck arrives amid a sea of modern bikes

Felkerino and I watched him ride past as the 90-hour riders began their journey.

Drew Buck-PBP 2011

Because we opted for the 84-hour start we were able to take part in the 90-hour festivities as observers. Energy was bouncing around every corner of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines that day.

Drew Buck-PBP 2011

Drew Buck at the beginning of PBP

We crossed paths on Roc Travezel (Roc’h Trévézel!) as we were pedaling our way toward Brest and he was on the return. Brest is the midway point of PBP.

Drew Buck outside of Brest on PBP 2011

Drew Buck outside of Brest on PBP 2011

I was snapping photos of riders as we passed them going in the opposite direction and did not even realize that I captured Drew as he was remounting his bike.

Drew Buck-PBP 2011

Drew Buck and others (including Judith Swallow) at the finish of PBP 2011

I also have a few shots of him at the finish. Drew is looking away in this photo, but it gives you another idea of his ensemble. Avid randonneur and mile-eater Judith Swallow is also in the background of this shot.

And finally, a last look at Drew’s Peugeot after its long journey. Great job, bike!

Drew Buck's 1900 Peugeot PBP 2011

I was so caught up in my own ride and how Felkerino and I were doing during PBP that I did not give much thought to how cool it was to encounter Drew Buck at these various points. We just happened to cross paths with him at the beginning, middle, and the very end of the ride. Now I see these times again in my photos and it’s really quite amazing.

PBP was an incredibly intense experience. So much was happening, it was hard to soak it all in as one complete experience. I have loved the tangible memories of my photo sets because they have helped me unpack other moments from this great ride, like these of Drew Buck. Thanks for revisiting them with me.

Harvest Time and 200K Brevets

Ye Olde Barn Shot

Growing up in rural Iowa, the harvest was always an intense and busy time. Tractors constantly moved through the fields, and it was not unusual to catch sight of the lights of a tractor shining over the dirt clouds raised up by someone working into darkness. Kids missed school to help their families. Crops had to come out before the cold winter days arrived.

Hard at work on a Saturday

Living in D.C. now, I’m pretty removed from that life. Instead of cornfields in the backyard, someone else’s backyard is my backyard and I have to ride about 40 miles in any given direction for a glimpse of the country.

Gavin and Bill in the early miles

Gavin and Bill in the early miles

This weekend, the beauty and busyness of the harvest came back to me during Felkerino’s and my ride with the Pennsylvania Randonneurs on the Silver Spring 200K. This brevet spends many miles in Lancaster County, the heart of Amish country.

Tobacco drying in the barn on the PA 200K

Amish country is an amazing place to ride. People use a horse and buggy for transportation. Kids ride kickbikes to get places. Lawns are cut with a manual push mower. Horses are instrumental in working the farm.

Riding by the tall corn

The corn has grown tall in Lancaster County and people work vigorously to prepare for colder months. There are the normal weekend chores of mowing and feeding livestock, but the crops grown over the past three months are primed to come out. Tobacco is being harvested and dried.

Tobacco drying in the barn on the PA 200K

I had never seen tobacco harvested before. I confess it is a beautiful sight to see all those leaves lined up and hung from barn ceilings as the symmetrical wood slats flare out to help the drying process. And the subtly sweet smell wafting from the leaves signals that fall is arriving soon.

I longed to get off the bike and linger in various spots along the way, soaking in the earthy odor and the season, but I knew we would never finish our ride if I started doing that.

CJ and Clair ride by the tall corn

CJ and Clair ride by the tall corn

Felkerino wrote a summary of our day including a link to our route. As you will see from his story, we enjoyed an ideal day in the companionship of our fellow riders, and traversed a spectacular route.

Lancaster County on the PA 200K

Thanks to the Pennsylvania Randonneurs Silver Spring 200K, I had a front seat to the harvest for a few glorious hours this past Saturday. I savored every moment.