Shenandoah 600K: Ride With What You Have Inside
While in the midst of final preparations for the weekend’s Shenandoah 600K in Virginia, a friend asked me how I was feeling about the ride. I raised my eyebrows and said, “I’m ready for it to be over.”
“You need your face!” she responded. Ah yes, I was so proud of dialing in my 400K face, and had looked forward to showing off my 600K face for you all. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until next year to see it.
The quick succession of this year’s brevets left me a little wrung out about long bike rides. Instead, my 400K face and my 200K face showed up while my 600K face is still missing, leaving me in the throes of an identity crisis that likely only other randonneurs can appreciate.
Over the years, I’ve developed several approaches that help me through rides. One of them is to ride with whatever the ride gives you. This helps me not fret so much, and to really concern myself with the aspects Felkerino and I can control.
This year, riding with whatever the ride gives meant dealing with a dropped timing chain five miles into the ride (very disconcerting), managing hot midday sun on the first day, and flatting in the dark five miles from the overnight stop (a potential morale killer). Our shifting went to you-know-what in the hills, and we ended up switching to friction for most of the ride.
My right knee also started going to you-know-what on the latter part of day one, and I had to manage it throughout the second day. I even ended up taking Ibuprofen, which I am loathe to do. (It aches now, but will be fine with rest, stretching, and my enemy the foam roller.)
On the upside, I had a chance to marvel at Felkerino’s on-the-road mechanical skills, and I’m pretty sure he could be in the Guinness Book of World Records for fastest flat fix if I had only bothered to time it.
Even though we had plenty of heat, our route maneuvered us well away from all rain and we were completely dry and both days. We pedaled under the sun during the day and in the company of the stars at night.
On the 600K face of it (see what I did there), Felkerino and I had a solid ride – coming in at a total time of 35 hours and 12 minutes. No complaints on that front.
In addition to the physical aspect of making sure that Felkerino and I have the miles and fitness for randonneuring, another approach I’ve adopted is to prepare and anticipate mentally. Pro tip: going into a 600K with the attitude of “I want it to be over” is not a winning strategy!
We gathered at the start and I tried to turn my attitude around. I’m riding in shorts! It feels like summer! The stars are out! Our bike is awesome! If only I’d had pom poms and been able to make up clever cheers at 3 a.m. (have I mentioned how uncivilized this hour is) maybe I could have made the turn to relentless positivity.
That and, oh yeah, that timing chain dragging on the ground five miles in. The group rolled on without us and Felkerino and I spent the next 50 miles riding solo. We’re used to that, so really, it was not a big deal. But the lost time was a momentum killer and it took a while for us to regain it.
The first parts of this brevet take riders down Fort Valley Road, which is really a sublime area for bike riding. We gently ascended and rolled down Fort Valley as the crescent moon sliver hovered over the hills, and the peachy pink of day surrounded it until the sun rose into place for the day shift. The steady flow of creek water kept us company. Fort Valley, you make 4 a.m. worth it.
Mentally I was back in the game, at least for the short-term. We climbed Edinburg Gap and wound and ground our way to the KOA Campground, where ride organizer Paul signed our control cards and Felkerino switched our shifting from index to friction. Our shifting was never dialed in, but at least we had a variety of mostly reliable gears to pick from.
The sun rose overhead and brought the heat with it. We had headwind most of the first day, which isn’t my favorite thing but I didn’t mind a bit of breeze. There’s nothing like a hot tailwind on the back of a tandem. It makes it like a microwave in the stoker zone.
As the ride progressed, we meandered onto quiet country roads. The more we climbed, the better the vistas. Hills to the right, hills to the left. More hills to the front, in case you wondered. The higher we climbed, the hotter I became and my mind drifted toward the fringes of “why am I doing this territory.”
I remembered how much I had savored this ride in 2015, and berated myself for my attitude this time around. “It’s all mental, Mary. Find your 600K face. Get out the pom poms, you got this.” Tandem riding may look very peaceful to an observer, but there is always a lot more happening than meets the eye.
Felkerino and I took a welcome roadside shade break, and after we remounted I resumed helicopter parenting my attitude. “C’mon Mary. What’s going on with you?”
Finally I broke. “I’m not into this, and you – I mean I – cannot make myself be into this. Yeah, it’s pretty outside. Yeah, this is better than mowing the lawn or being cooped up inside. Yeah, our bike is awesome – although that shifting… sheesh. But I am not into this right now!” So I just pedaled, wasn’t into it, and dealt with it.
Remarkably, the release of honest sentiments over the mental gymnastics helped me settle into the ride more and I stopped wishing things were different. I won’t say the ride became a great one, but the ability to just accept where I was loosened up my shoulders and allowed for improved presence of mind.
I changed my attitude from horrible to just blah, and figured at some point, I’d ride myself into a really good moment. With a ride as long as a 600K, the odds are high on that happening.
We wound through Goshen and away to dinner at the Burger King in Buchanan at mile 196 (date night!). The sun lowered, temperatures dropped, and managing heat was no longer an issue. Felkerino and I plodded along over the rollers to the next control, and began the final 20 miles to the overnight.
Stars shone down and creek waters chattered. My right knee began to talk to me – not in a nice way – and I eagerly anticipated the overnight and a few hours of rest and regrouping.
Note to self: never anticipate the overnight! Just five miles out, we flatted. Ugh, I always dread something like that happening. It seems so unfair! But Felkerino was so fast on the draw with the flat fixing that I stood in awe as I folded up the tube and assisted where I could. My flat-fixing randonneur hero! His skills were quite inspiring and again my disposition improved.
We quickly remounted and arrived in Raphine, mile 245, at 12:15 a.m. After filling our tummies with watermelon and lasagna (thanks to Paul and Roger), we hustled off to shower and sleep.
The alarm jolted me awake at 3:30, and I was totally discombobulated. I had no idea where I was or why the alarm was sounding at such an uncivilized hour. I looked around and realized that I was still on a 600K bike ride. Argh, what a letdown. Nothing to do, but suit up and ride home. I hunted around in my drop bag for my 200K face and slapped it on, along with some sunscreen. We are doing this BLEEPING ride, BLEEPITY BLEEP.
I enjoyed another slice of lasagna for breakfast, along with chicken and rice soup, and that felt both decadent and satisfying. Maybe this randonneuring thing isn’t all bad. Kind of like an exhausting slumber party.
Felkerino and I rolled out with fellow riders Chip and Bill, and both made for pleasant early morning company. That’s saying something because I am not a morning person and people generally bother me at this hour of the day – or night, if you prefer.
The segment leaving Raphine is one of my favorites for several reasons. First, it’s quiet. Second, after a couple of rises there is a swoopy extended downhill before some gradual rising over to Buffalo Gap at mile 274. Third, the Buffalo Gap Junction Convenience store opens at 7 a.m. and has a buffalo on top of it, and there is also a regular coffee crowd which takes me back to my days waiting tables at the Cardinal Cafe in small town U.S.A., and fourth, the convenience store makes egg sandwiches that taste amazing at mile 274 of a bike ride. Even the gas station coffee tastes good. Well, not good, but it’s drinkable.
Chip and Bill rode on, never to know of the goodness of the egg sandwich, while Felkerino and I curbside dined. The morning light was sumptuous, and I devoured my sandwich while looking out at the miles ahead. This ridiculous rando life has its moments.
After we resumed riding, my knee once again made its displeasure known, and I ended up cracking and taking a couple of Ibuprofen to get me home. It made the riding much more manageable, and I was certainly grateful for it in the giant sawtooth climbs that came after Singers Glen at mile 312.
Even though any pop in my legs was long gone, I felt thoroughly engaged in this section. Roads were so pleasant and calm, flanked by verdant countryside, and all of them were new to me. There was also a road named Trissels, which I loved saying out loud. Left on Trissels! Straight up this humongous Trissels roller, Felkerino. We got this!
The following miles passed rather sloggily, but we were still making steady progress. During the ride I was certain we were frittering away time left and right, but overall we rode with purpose both days. After tackling the midday rollers, we made a final stop at mile 347 in Edinburg, and I celebrated with potato salad, an ice cream Snickers bar, and a bottle of Perrier. Yay, randonneuring!
The final miles 28 miles let up considerably after an initial hike up the beginning portion of Back Road. We then had a near miss with a car while crossing VA 55. I hate that road. It’s too busy, and definitely not a good road to be riding with tired legs or tired anything. Fortunately, we crossed without any vehicular contact, possibly using up one of our nine lives in the process, and I’ll just leave it at I’m grateful.
At 3:12 p.m. we rolled into Middletown. Finis. In spite of my lack of a 600K face, we finished well. I fell more in love with Felkerino over his flat-fixing skills, and I fell in love again with randonneuring because you can have lasagna, soup, and an egg sandwich on white bread for breakfast, and then have an ice cream bar and potato salad for lunch.
I do need to hone my 600K face, and not rely on my 400K face and my 200K face. You can’t cobble your faces together. You simply need lots of faces for randonneuring. There’s no sense economizing. Fortunately, we’ve got big summer randonneuring plans ahead of us, so I’ll have plenty more opportunities to work on that.
And even if you have all the right faces in place, randonneuring can still suck. But with rides as long as these, it’s likely it won’t suck forever. Keep riding and perhaps stop for a decadent snack or two. Or three. Ride with whatever you’ve got inside you, even if it isn’t always positive. Pedal on and the ride will often give back enough so you’re where you hoped to be.
Many thanks to Roger and Paul for running this 600K. Loop courses are more fun to ride compared to figure eights, but they are definitely more difficult to plan and execute. So thanks for being as sleep-deprived as we were and for making the event run smoothly.