The D.C. Randonneurs “Contrary Mother” 300K is an epic knee-breaking excursion through the sawteeth of eastern West Virginia. Rather than regale you with a blow-by-blow of our day-into-night trip, I jotted down some of the brevet lessons I learned over our 192-mile journey.
Pay no attention to the forecast. Just wear wool and hope for the best. Supposedly, the temperatures for our ride were to start in the low 40s and climb into the mid-50s. Ha ha ha ha! We spent the day in the 40s, with the high temperature barely reaching 47. The day felt even colder because it was damp and overcast. I was happy for the emergency toe warmers I packed.
Fog is the enemy. Hilly rides can be great because even though the climb may hurt, there is a payoff waiting for me at the top. Surveying the panorama and feeling the accomplishment of knowing that I climbed all the way up from down below is a cool feeling. The fog robbed me of that pleasure on Saturday.
A fellow rider mentioned that the fog was beautiful, and while I am glad he found it so, that was not the case for me. Where was my payoff? I could hardly see anything at the top of the climbs except Felkerino’s Camelbak and the road immediately in front of me. I like looking at Felkerino and the road, but it is nice to see other things, too. Fog, you won this time, but I’ll be back for those views on a sunny warm day!
Take the time to wrench it. Early in the ride, my seatpost began to slide down. We would stop to fix it and it would slip again. It was so frustrating. After four adjustments, I was too annoyed to deal with it. Turns out the saddle was more than ½ inch below my regular height. I now know this was a bad move, and we should have taken the time to resolve the case of the slipping seatpost. I thought the terrain was what was making my knees and back yell at me, but now I think my seatpost was an accomplice. (Editor’s note: MG’s mechanic/husband/randonneur spouse is to blame here. He has scratched a mark in the post so there is no guessing in the future!)
Dogs that don’t bark are trouble. This ride was chock full of dogs. I still think North Carolina might have more dogs than West Virginia, but it’s a tight contest. Most pups were pretty tuckered from terrifying other riders. By the time we rode past, they yelped a little, but stayed in their yards. (Thanks, fast riders!) Most, but not all. At least three stealthy canines silently awaited our approach, and sprinted out in the road at the last minute to scare me. In the end, though, the tandem proved too much for them, and they retreated.
Ascents on the tandem are tough, but the descents are incredible. We may have poked along on the many ascents of the day, but we rocketed on the downhills. The disc brakes (with brand new calipers) responded quickly and assuredly to any pressure we applied. We only maxed out at 49 m.p.h. on Saturday, but we enjoyed some fast descents throughout the day.
You can pedal at 2.9 miles per hour, but is it necessary? Felkerino and I rarely walk our bike. We prefer to ride it. However, the pitch at the top of Mill Gap at around mile 145 had the tandem rearing backwards and me begging for mercy. We decided to hop off and walk it, because: 1. We were climbing as fast as we could walk the bike; 2. we had no pop in our legs to pedal the tandem up and over that bad boy; and 3. by that point, we had no shame left.
I also want to apologize to John H. for telling him that Mill Gap is a mellow climb. I forgot about that hellacious segment at the top. Not mellow. Ouch.
PBP Anciens are everywhere. During this ride, I met two more PBP anciens. John H., from New York, is planning for his sixth trip to PBP this year. Max P., who I have seen before but never talked with until Saturday, is prepping for his fifth. According to John, “PBP is addicting!”
Hilly rides scatter the groups, but that does not mean you are alone. Because of the hilly terrain of this brevet, there were a lot of small groups distributed along the course. Felkerino and I rode much of the ride by ourselves, but occasionally met up with others. We leap-frogged a lot with six or seven people throughout the day, shared some pleasant miles riding and chatting with them (when we were not gasping for breath from the ascents), and exchanged brief updates with riders at the controls. The comeraderie helped motivate me and keep my spirits up.
The Branch Mountain United Methodist Church on Jersey Mountain Road has a lovely outhouse and slippery parking lot! Felkerino and I took a quick break at the church to refuel and refresh for our arrival in Romney. I was walking on the asphalt parking lot when my legs flew out from under me and I fell flat on my back. It bruised my pride as well as my body.
Just keep pedaling. I won’t lie. This ride tore me up. The saddle issues were maddening, the weather frustrating, and falling in the church parking lot was a bummer. Many moments on this ride I found myself wishing I was somewhere else. The clouds never dissipated and the temps did not warm up much (although we ended up with no rain and light winds, which was great). It never became a day where I thought “Wow, this is an awesome day for a bike ride!”
Fueling appropriately was difficult. I was working so hard that I needed to eat, but eating didn’t appeal to me because I was working so hard. I was glad I packed hummus sandwiches and ate them in increments throughout the ride. It helped minimize my crying jags.
Sometimes rides do not work out like I hope. Not every day is a sparkling sunny day in the 60s, stuff happens on the bike, and some days I pedal stronger than others. However, even though it was not my best day, I still felt lucky to be out on the ride and with my randonneur spouse/husband. Seeing Maile throughout the course, looking after us and taking pictures was a real boost and helped me feel like we were doing something special. Believe me, people, that ride is special. (Especially butt kicking!)
Felkerino’s positive attitude kept me going, too. We diligently worked together, one pedal stroke after the other, until we happily arrived at the glamourous Super 8. Relief and elation ran through me. I knew that we had completed a difficult course and that I did not have to pedal the bike any further. That felt great.
Two PBP qualifiers down, and two to go. Bring it on!