Escape into Fall: Northern Virginia Randonneurs 400K

Over the last couple of weeks, Fall has been trying to catch my eye. The tumble of a golden leaf, a surprise wave of red from a tree. These gestures reach out to me as I briefly interrupt my stay-at-home life with an errand or workout. 

Can’t talk now, Fall, don’t you know what’s going on in 2020? 

At home, I scroll through headlines and worry about loved ones I cannot currently visit. My eyeballs stare at tiny words and two-dimensional colleagues on a screen. My sleep has been poor. No doubt I am grateful to be employed and work from home, but everything inside is winding me up in ways unexpected. 

Last week I overflowed with pent-up energy in need of somewhere to go. Outside, the season continued to beckon, and in a move very unlike us, Felkerino and I decided last-minute to ride the Northern Virginia Randonneurs 400K. The possibility to ride our brains out and bask in the colors of the changing seasons with the practical certainty of a good night’s sleep at the end of it was too much to resist. Fall, you win. We are going on a date with you! 

Objectively, I didn’t know if we were doing the right thing. Should we be staying home? Should we ride this far in one go? How far is too far? What about our immune systems? But also, what about this not sleeping thing? 

First light on the 400K

Social Distancing

I kept weighing the ride in my mind and it continued to feel more right than wrong. Felkerino was also up for it so we registered.

Perhaps others would decide otherwise. I think many of us are making choices that don’t match what another might do, depending on our situations and level of risk acceptance. It helps to offer each other a little slack and grace around that.  

Felkerino and I carried Camelbaks and packed all the food for the ride on our bike. We only used indoor stops to restock water. We took masks and hand sanitizer, and used them anytime we went inside. 

At the ride start, everyone was very respectful of each other’s space. I think there were only around 10 of us. Shab, the co-organizer, sent the group off into the pre-dawn and soon after we all fell into our own places. For Felkerino and me, that meant we were riding alone, as usual!

Temps started out in the mid- to high-40s, but when first light angled over the horizon, I warmed to the day. Despite loathing the early ups of brevets, I’ve missed riding into sunrise and through sunset this year. 

Hamid, Anrew, and Dave on the morning ascents through the Catoctins


The bike felt pretty heavy in the early miles, until we started to steadily nibble our food stash away. Somebody asked me in a recent post about my fueling on long rides, since I gave up refined sugar earlier this year. I consume refined sugar sometimes nowadays, but still try to limit it because I feel better and my stomach is happier. 

For this ride, my food consisted of the following:

  • one peanut butter and honey sandwich on sourdough bread before the ride;
  • one almond butter and pumpkin butter sandwich on sourdough bread;
  • one hummus and tomato sandwich on sourdough bread;
  • potato salad that had some additional sugar added;
  • one Asian pear;
  • one Cashew Lara Bar;
  • one Apple Lara Bar; and
  • an Italian soda and an espresso from Black Dog Café in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

I also took three swigs of a ginger ale that Felkerino purchased at the control 30 miles from the finish. This was exactly enough food to fuel me for 248 miles and all of it was easily digestible. 

One of my big takeaways from this year has been about my eating habits. Previously, I ate a lot of refined sugar and processed junk. During rides, I went by the mantra of “if it looks good, eat it.” I think that may apply sometimes, but not as much as I used to believe. 

If I plan my food and have it ready on the bike, I spend less time wandering through convenience stores and I am not tempted to purchase “food” that does not really fuel me. I eat better and I think my body has become more efficient. Until this year, I would not have envisioned getting through 248 miles/400K on this amount of food. I would have thought I needed more. 

Andrew and Dave under the fall canopy


Because Felkerino and I are eating better, we are also lighter and that showed itself during this ride. We didn’t fly up the hills, but the bike moved forward with a little more pep than previous seasons. 

Felkerino is in awesome cycling shape, showing great discipline in incorporating regular trainer sessions. We’ve both been getting out for pretty hilly weekend tandem rides of around a century or so, but I’ve been using running as my main form of daily activity. 

Running has just been such a great stress reliever for me that I can’t stop doing it. Time on two feet has helped my overall conditioning, but I’m definitely riding Felkerino’s coattails when it comes to cycling fitness. 

Perry on the descent through the afternoon chop

Riding with Perry!

While we began the day riding completely alone, we gradually caught a few other riders who had either started an hour earlier, or who had gone out faster and sat up. Even when we were in each others’ vicinity, riders maintained their own space and nobody crowded us. 

Around the midpoint, Felkerino and I caught up to Perry W., and we formed a pod that stayed together until the finish. Perry was completing his longest ride ever, which was very exciting to me. I can’t imagine doing my first 400K in the fall versus the spring, given the reduced daylight, but Perry was certainly up for the challenge. 

Perry on a surprise gravel section

We talked some, but not too much, operating under the randonneur ground rule of enjoy each other’s company and don’t bug the crap out of each other. Our camaraderie made the miles go by faster than if Felkerino and I had been soloing it, and I hope we get the chance to ride with Perry again.

Rolling into the finish just before midnight we were met once again by Shab, who fed us saffron rice and beans along with potato salad. Delicious! I love rice and now aspire to make it as well as Shab does. 

Felkerino and me! Photo courtesy of Perry W.

First Date with Fall

Hamid, the RBA for Northern Virginia Randonneurs, front-loaded the course through some spectacular sections of the Catoctins in Maryland, as well as the West Virginia and Virginia chop. Enveloped by golden canopy as we clawed over rises that led us to sweeping downhills popping with orange, yellows, and reds, our first date with Fall could not have gone better. 

My mind released from the itch to check my phone every five minutes, I let myself be swallowed by the scenery. We were little bike riders moving under the leaves and breezes of the changing seasons. It’s been a long time since I was absorbed into a ride like this – where I was not slumping at some point, wondering when we’d finish. 

Waiting for a train on the final 30 miles

With the exception of a few sloggy moments in the middle, Felkerino and I pedaled with spirit, happy to be riding long together again after so many months.

When Perry, Felkerino, and I rolled into the parking lot after almost 19 hours, I didn’t worry whether Fall would call me back for a second date. As I drifted off happily for a post-400K nap before the drive home, I was certain it would, and I’d say yes.

Many thanks to Hamid and Shab for hosting, and to Perry for riding with us! My full set of photos is here.


  1. A most enjoyable post MG. Kudos to Perry for doing his first 400k. 100% agree with you on carrying your own food so many thanks for posting your ride menu. I’m intrigued by pumpkin butter. Never heard of it; maybe it’s a seasonal offering?


  2. Great report & photos MG. I know what you mean about losing weight and making cycling easier.
    Early part of this year I met up with some old work friends for a ride.
    Having enjoyed it we all had a chat when we got back to our cars before going g our different ways. Unbeknown to me one of the lads took a photo of us and later emailed it to everyone. When I saw myself in the photo with how fat I looked it was an epiphany moment.

    Since then I have cut down on the cakes & cookies and cycling now definitely seems to be that much easier. Stay safe out there and I think in the UK we are about to go into another total lock down.


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