A House Cat Rides the DC Randonneurs Both Sides (Not Now) 200K

There’s nothing like peak bloom of the DC cherry blossoms to motivate a person to leave the city for an all-day bike ride. It also helps when the ride start happens to be 7 miles from your house. Add that to an urge to put off homework as long as possible, and it’s a perfect recipe for brevet participation. So even with a forecast of less-than-ideal weather, Felkerino and I set out for the Both Sides 200K with the DC Randonneurs on March 25.

As we rode to the start in the pre-dawn, I wondered why the route designers chose to name the brevet after a Joni Mitchell song. You know the one, it’s a classic. But guess what? This route isn’t named after a song exploring the facets of love or clouds after all. 

Both Sides refers to the route design, as the course departs the District through Maryland (side one) and then crosses the Potomac River to return riders to the city via Virginia (side two). Side one, Potomac River, plus side two is why it’s called Both Sides (not now) 200K. That revelation alone was worth at least five miles of riding. 

Heading toward Round HIll, Va.

Ride organizer Mimo sent us off into the misty morning and, as predicted, the day proved gloomy and cold. Forty degrees for around 90 miles of the ride, and a few small buckets of rain in the first half. My extremeties froze even with booties, with numbness and that subtle achey cold feeling persisting for about half the ride.

With all the sedentary time inside due to school and work demands, I’ve been feeling like an aspirationally brainy house cat whose owners have decided it’s indoor only against the cat’s will. This brevet was the equivalent of opening the front door a crack and having the cat dash out.

As we rode in the chilly rain, Felkerino pontificated on the merits of riding in inclement weather.

“Good brevet training!” 

“Excellent preparation for Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), it always rains and it’s freezing there!” 

“You can’t always avoid riding in the rain!”

Yeah okay, tell that to my frozen paws, Felkerino! Ha!

Unlike a house cat that escapes the house only to wonder why it made such a foolish move, I didn’t mind the rainy day. I needed abundant doses of fresh air and a break from the indoors even if it meant trading house cat life for wet cat life. And unlike any cats I know, I had my Gore-Tex jacket as an extra layer from the elements along with Felkerino on the front of the tandem taking the brunt of the elements for the team. While it wasn’t exactly cozy in the back, I was happy enough to pedal along.

The mild terrain of this course set up well for both the cold rainy day and my March fitness (which Felkerino assures me is in a build phase, haha!). Unlike a hilly course where you can sweat up on the uphills and catch chill on the downhills, this rolling route kept my body temperature fairly consistently in the uncomfortable yet not howling in misery range.

Felkerino by the Coke display at the Round Hill store

The other great part about this dreary day is that conditions tamped down the car and pedestrian traffic, and we had pretty smooth sailing for most of the ride. Rainy days have their perks.

Despite my early spring (un)fitness level, Felkerino and I still managed to stay on the bike pretty steadily until mile 70 or so, where we stopped at a local grocery in Round Hill, Virginia. The person working there said that bike rides on days like this make for better experiences. 

Now that’s someone who speaks directly to the heart of a randonneur. A real cat would have purred in appreciation. Most people we encounter on less-than-ideal days tend to say things like we’re silly for riding our bikes, but every once in a while somebody unexpectedly affirms what you’re doing and shows that they get it. That’s a sweet moment.

We pushed on to the luxurious Goosecup coffee in Leesburg, Virginia, where we enjoyed a purrfectly warm caffeinated drink and another brief respite from pedaling before putting our paws back on the bike for the last 40 miles to the finish.

We interrupt this brevet for a latte at Goosecup

Not surprisingly, we did not have a large turnout for this ride with about 10’ish riders joining the fun. We interacted briefly with a few people in the beginning miles, and rode the finishing stretch with Mark M. That worked out, as the tandem isn’t always the easiest to pace with, given it’s slower than most on uphills and faster than many on the downhills.

We clumsily padded our way through Georgetown on a Saturday (as bad as usual) before clawing to the finish, and then somehow managed to avoid any catfights home as we wound our way through the cherry blossom tourists and fanfare.

Rides that start and finish in the city have their advantages – there’s nothing better than riding to a ride start – but navigating weekend city traffic at the end of a ride isn’t one of them. Still, I’m glad the club is making more of an effort to include rides that actually push off from inside the District line, as I think it can draw new as well as car-light or carfree riders to randonneuring.

Riding the W&OD with Mark

Thanks to DC Randonneurs and especially to Felkerino for turning me into an outdoor cat for a day on the Both Sides (not now) 200K. Thanks for organizing, Mimo! It felt good to be out, living the dream of many an indoor-only feline. Meow.

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