Today features a guest post from D.C. Randonneur and brevet organizer Bob C., who we accompanied this past Saturday on the Warrenton 300K checkout ride.
Bob’s summary encapsulates our day on the bike and also provides helpful information to those who will be riding the event, starting at 5 a.m. on May 11. (All photos are courtesy of Bob unless otherwise noted.)
The last thing I recalled about the Warrenton 300K before riding it this past Saturday (and that is quite a recollection considering I last rode it in 2005) was the 77.7 mile “low water bridge”. What I remember was the detour that day. I still have the image in my brain of descending to the bridge and all the water rushing over the surface making it impassable, having to stop and turnaround.
My other thought in that previous brief moment was “This would be a great spot for a hydroelectric dam!” Of course, I had no way of knowing if the town of Haywood had considering that… but as I would see, still no dam was put in. Damn!
That bridge was on my mind was because there were reports of much rain the night before so it was hard to predict if the detour would again be needed. Fortunately, thanks to Ed (Note: for purposes of this report, Felkerino is called Ed), we had the detour written out already and hopefully we wouldn’t need it.
Everything else was in my favor, or shall I say, our favor, since I had some great company on the checkout ride with Ed and Mary on their tandem. The other thing in our favor was what looked to be a pretty good weather day (mostly), low winds and nice temperatures. None of us wanted to mention the forecast potential evening storms. I was chastised for that later on a couple times, rightly so!
We started the ride from the Warrenton Hampton Inn at 6 a.m. sharp. I wasn’t but maybe a half mile into the ride when I realized I’d locked my key in my car. Tired brain thinking about everything except that particular thing – not a good way to start a ride. Well, I won’t go into that here except to say it’s good to have good friends, a cell phone, and last and not least – AAA.
The ride heads north then west from Warrenton through The Plains to Marshall. Temperatures were perfect, but there was a moderate fog for the first couple hours. By the time we arrived at the 7-11 in Marshall there was water dripping from our helmets and I realized I needed to put my cue sheet into a plastic bag, as it was already getting quite damp. The roads were dry so the fog wasn’t from evaporating wet roads from a previous night’s rain – maybe a good sign for any future “mile 77.7 low bridge.”
It was slowly coming back to me. I was now remembering the grand beauty of this ride. You roll southwest from Marshall through continuous, sometimes rolling, and sometimes challenging hills. By the time you go through Washington, Virginia, you are heading dead south and kind of hugging the base of the mountains which are west of you. Doubly nice is the fact that there is very low traffic. This would turn out to be the case all the way to Gordonsville.
I stopped at a store in Etlan (mile 58) to get some iced tea – time to wake up! Ed and Mary were up the road from me at that point. Perhaps some of the most challenging climbing on the ride is right there. You peak out at about mile 60 just before a winding, fast descent towards the store in Syria.
I really like the Syria Mercantile store, it’s a great stop. They have friendly folks and good eats you can heat up if you want, good breakfast sandwiches. There are restrooms (the staff are well versed in telling you where to go) across the road from the store.
By this time all the fog had burned off for the day and the sun was shining. This was a good thing mostly. However, I wasn’t as prepared for warmer temperatures, as my legs would let me know soon enough.
Did I mention the grand scenery of this ride? It was described very accurately by Mary to be “like riding through a painting”. At one moment I noticed a fox casually walking down the road. I thought to myself “Get the camera out!”. But by the time I got it out he noticed me and was gone in a flash.
We were getting close to the inevitable for me which fortunately turned out to be completely a non issue. Yes, the low water bridge came and went with no drama! No detour needed. I could see the water still rushing under it but the bridge was nice and dry.
The road climbed over the next several miles from just past the bridge and that would turn out to be my challenge. The 80 degree temps and climbing effort had my legs cramping. Ed and Mary had to wait for me a couple times. I actually had to walk the bike for some hills. Finally I told them to go ahead and we can text later. Since my goal this year is to do PBP I was determined to get through this ride, even if it meant finishing alone after midnight.
Cramps are a challenge for me and usually what I do is down buffered salt tablets, eat more and drink more .. and even rest a bit. I walked a couple hills also. At the Somerset store, (mile 93.4) I stopped, rested, and cooled in the air conditioning. I also drank some V-8. This store by-the-way has excellent reviews on Yelp including “One of the best places in Orange County if you are looking for a homemade sub or sandwich.” I agree, although I didn’t have one (this time)! After this stop I felt much better.
A great deal of the challenging climbing will already be done by Gordonsville. One can make good time from here if they want.
Arrival in Gordonsville and VA Route 231 (miles 99-105.1) were probably the only parts of the whole route that felt traffic-challenged for me, and there are also a few spots before arriving in Louisa that have traffic. Otherwise this entire route is very low traffic in my opinion. This is now one of my favorite 300K’s, although the Frederick ride is pretty nice also.
As I was approaching the B&R Market in Louisa, Virginia, I received a text from Ed and Mary. We were only about a 1.5 miles apart and they would wait for me at mile 120.
It was great to see them again. They departed before me and we met up again in Orange, Virginia, at a well deserved meal at the open control. (Mary’s note: We stopped at the Sheetz, which is a half-mile off route so you may want something closer. But you know Felkerino loves his Sheetz!)
We all rode the last 100K together and made fairly good time. We avoided the majority of predicted storms, but when lightning cracked just a second away from us, we took shelter in a very conveniently placed U.S. Post Office for about 10 minutes. I pulled out the radar app and could see the storms were passing us by. We were pretty fortunate in this regard.
Not long before dusk on Twin Mountains Road I’d like to note some patchy gravel sections. It appears much of the road has been properly paved but there were still occasional 100-200 feet sections of gravel, still easy to pass even on skinny tires.
We also were approached from behind by one of those farm sprayers – an ominous looking vehicle like it came out of the Mad Max movie. He stayed back though and actually pulled away from the big vehicle. It easily took up the entire width of the road.
Unfortunately we were not able to avoid the rains completely but by the time they came I felt they were not really a problem, not too cold at all and actually rather refreshing. I can’t speak for Ed and Mary, they might disagree.
One other point I’ll make – I learned from Ed that my rear taillight was way too bright. I was wondering why they were fairly far back from me, or passing me. Now I know. I apologized for that after learning about it and will say this for the benefit of other randonneurs – keep the riders behind you in mind with your rear lights; sometimes lights can be too bright or flashy.
As I said earlier, the Warrenton 300K is now one of my favorites. Hope to see you there Saturday morning. I also plan to be in the hotel Friday night for bike inspections and check in. Stay tuned for time availability for that.
Bob, thank you for organizing and doing the checkout ride. It was a fun day on the bike with you – even the rainy bits! Bonne route to all riders taking on the Warrenton 300K this Saturday!