Things I Think I Think

Sports columnist Peter King has a popular segment he publishes after every NFL weekend which he calls Things I Think I Think, in which he gives his impressions on the week that was.  It is that spirit I offer my thoughts on last weekend’s brevet.

1.  I think I’m over my initial disappointment at my finishing time.  Advantages in less weight and knowing the course from last year were outweighed by colder temperatures and less training mileage brought on by a colder winter.  I agree with the larger point made by many commenters that it is very difficult to compare one year’s ride with another despite being on the same course.

2. I think I need to improve my nutrition strategy.  That means eating more calories more regularly and probably sitting down for a meal mid ride.  I burned over 4,300 calories on this ride and a quick inventory of what I took in adds up to about 2,300.  Not enough.  Cold weather makes “gummy candies” like Clif Blocks difficult to chew.  Adjust as appropriate.

3.  I think I need to get better at climbing hills.  I’m faster than some and much slower than others, but among people I find myself riding with (about my own ability) I find I tend to be slower on the climbs.

4.  I think the DC Randonneurs run great events.  For $5, I get better directions, more fun, better food pre/post race, and feel more welcome than I do in organized rides where I’ve paid far more.

5.  I think I like my new saddle bag.

6.  I think the 300K brevet next month will be hard.  Really hard.  I haven’t seen the course but understand it will run closer to the Blue Ridge Mountains, meaning it will be hillier.  See #3 above.  And it will be 300 freakin’ kilometers long.

7.  I think my increased running in the winter helped offset the reduced amount of riding.  Helped only, mind you.  It didn’t completely replace the training I lost in the saddle.  This will only get more interesting as the weather warms and I add swimming to my regimen.

8.  I think randonneuring has many aspects apart from a finishing time, including general exercise, cameraderie, orienteering, scenery, etc…   But time is an aspect and is therefore worth pondering and setting goals around, just like the other aspects are.

Historical Marker Segment!

I am pleased to present my first Historical Marker Segment of the year.  I found these markers during this weekend’s brevet.  I passed by them last year but did not stop to photograph them for reasons I have long since forgotten; probably because I was traveling with others and didn’t want to inconvenience them.

Our first selection is next to a bridge over the Rapidan River on Route 3 (around Mile 42 of the brevet) and is a reminder that the colonization of America came in waves.  In this particular case, the wave was German.  I am embarrassed to say I have never heard of the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, but you can read more about it here.

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I came across this marker on Brock Road, between The Wilderness and Spotsylvania battlefields (about Mile 60 of the brevet).  Amidst all the Civil War history, it was interesting to come across some Revolutionary War trivia.  Nowadays, Marquis de Lafayette is an afterthought in American history but there was a time (early 19th Century) when he was a superstar.  His legacy remains in the numerous towns and counties that were named after him in that period.  FUN FACT:  the evil (and fictitious) Colonel Tavington in Mel Gibson’s movie, The Patriot, is based in part on Colonel Tarleton.

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Wilderness Campaign 200K ACP Brevet

click for details

See the fancy title I used for this ride?  I can do this because I am now officially a Randonneur and entitled to use the arcane acronyms of this exclusive club.  Here’s how it happened:

Pre-ride bicycle prep and registration

We gathered at the Caribou Coffee in Bristow to register, pick up our control sheets (more on that later), prep our bikes and grab a bite to eat before setting out.  I do not like coffee – a distinct problem when traveling with the cycling set – but mercifully the store offered juices as well.  I was very pleased to meet so many friendly people who introduced themselves and chatted about the club.  I was pleased to see John pull up with his Surly and I feel it necessary to report to anyone hoping to find him on the street that he is regrowing his beard.  Without his bike, I doubt I would have recognized him.

The Grand Depart

At the appointed hour of 7:00 AM, we gathered in front of the store and were given some pre-race (technically, this was a race) instructions.  There were about forty riders total, which I learned later was a good-sized group.  With the administrative portion dispensed with, we were off into the pre-dawn fog, accompanied by a few shouts of, “Allez!”

I immediately noticed a difference in these cyclists in that they followed the rules of the road.  I was beginning to see the difference between the “open” organized rides I have been on and a club ride.  Firstly, people take an interest in you and welcome you into the group.  Secondly, people are held accountable for following the group’s rules.  Both were positive changes, in my view.

We zipped along on roads I know very well from my weekend jaunts.  We passed through Nokesville and headed southward into Fauquier County.  There was a significant mist to the morning and this was especially troublesome for those who wore glasses.  I chatted with a few riders while the pack moved along at 20 mph.  Eventually, the sun began to peek  through the morning clouds and I could tell it was going to be a very warm day.  For now, though, my vest and arm warmers were very welcome.

Early morning paceline

At Midland Road (Mile 22) I made my first mistake.  Our merry band broke up as a few cyclists peeled off to duck into a convenience store.  I was in a group behind this break and we slowed to make sure nothing unfortunate happened.  Then the four riders I was with decided they didn’t want to try to catch the lead group.  Then I decided to try to bridge the gap by myself.  That was my mistake.

I sprinted very hard and actually closed about half the distance for a brief while, but I never reached the back end of the group.  After two miles of sprinting, the pack had disappeared down the road.  I was now by myself with nothing to show for my rather significant effort.  I learned once again that bad things happen to people at the back of groups and if you really want to stay part of a pack, stick near the front.

After crossing the Rapidan River and entering Culpeper County, I had some hills to climb.  Fortunately, I was aware of this fact in advance and had steeled myself for the chore.  On the whole, this was a very flat ride with “only” 4,400 feet of climbing over 130 miles.  This area was the most challenging of the day and I put my head down and got it over with as best as I could.  Occasionally, I would happen across a rider or get passed by someone, but this 20 mile stretch was largely a solitary affair for me.  My glorious 18.2 mph average pace was now closer to 15 mph.

Puttering south of Rte 3, near the first control

When I reached Route 3 – a busy highway connecting Fredericksburg and Culpeper – the group of four that I left on Midland Road reeled me back in.  One of the riders was a man named Jim, who was riding a recumbent bicycle at a very impressive pace.  I don’t know a great deal about recumbents, but in my experience they don’t zip along for 40 miles at 16+ mph.

At Mile 42, I ate my first bug of the year.

Putting a bag on your carbon is a bit like putting a trailer hitch on your corvette, but it worked for me.

When we pulled into our first “control” at Mile 48, I was ready for a break.  It was warming up and it was time to shed some layers.  I also needed to wipe my sunglasses, which I had stowed on my helmet in the manner of cool roadies everywhere and thus accumulated a great amount of moisture during the morning fog.  At a control, it is also necessary to get the proprietor to sign your “control sheet,” thus proving you actually made it to the designated point within the alloted time.  In return for this favor, it is customary to purchase some items, which I was happy to do.  We took a brief break at some picnic tables, arranging our cue sheets to depict the next leg of the trip, swapped a few stories, and built up some energy.  It was here that I met Ed, the “other half” of Mary’s cycling tandem at Chasing Mailboxes.  Sadly, Mary was not present today and Ed was on a more traditional machine.

Saunders Field - "The regiment melted away like snow. Men disappeared as if the earth had swallowed them."
- Captain Porter Parley, 140th NY Infantry

It was only a few miles from the control to our first battlefield – The Wilderness.  Fought in May, 1864, this was a particularly brutal affair fought mostly in close quarters due to the difficult wooded terrain.  To get to the battle, the Federal Army marched over the old Chancellorsville Battlefield and discovered many skulls and other bones that had been dug up by animals or exposed by erosion.  During the battle, the brush was accidentally set on fire and hundreds of wounded who could not escape were burned alive.  It was nasty stuff, and I felt compelled to stop at several of the markers to learn more.  This did not help my overall time but it did make the ride more enjoyable for me.

Where Longstreet fell

After The Wilderness, it was off to Spotsylvania and the second battlefield of the day.  This battle was fought about a week after the Wilderness, as the Federals tried once again to get between the Confederate Army and Richmond.  Before reaching the battlefield, I stopped at a site commemorating the accidental wounding of James Longstreet by his own men, which occurred at the end of the The Wilderness and almost exactly one year to the day from when Stonewall Jackson was killed by his own troops about 1o miles from this location.

Sedgwick's Monument

While puttering about a monument to the mortal wounding of Union General Sedgwick (Commander, 6th Corps) at Spotsylvania, a rider named Chris pulled up to ask if I was ok.  Chris and I had chatted earlier in the ride and seemed interested in the history I had to relate (or at least he was very polite about my ramblings).  We rode together to the “information control,” a place on the battlefield where we had to answer a question to prove we were there.  Jim joined us on his recumbent and we eventually came across the site – a question about the Mule Shoe Salient which the Federals attacked.  I already knew the answer to the question, but dutifully waited until arriving at the marker in question before filling out my control sheet.

Riding behind Jim into Spotsylvania

Jim, Chris, and I pulled into Spotsylvania a little before noon.  We had covered 69 miles in less than five hours.  Suddenly, finishing the ride in under ten hours seemed very possible.  The day was fantastic  and it felt like summer was in full swing despite it still being officially winter.  Spotsylvania was an “open control,” meaning we could pull in to any store in town and get our sheet signed.  We just needed to keep our receipt to prove we were there.  I carefully placed my receipt in the ziplock bag I was using to store my control sheet and credit card, then sat down to enjoy my convenience store lunch of a chicken sandwich and Gatorade.

The road to Chancellorsville

After lunch, we moved to the third and final battlefield of the day, Chancellorsville.  This was chronologically out of sequence from the first two, but there was nothing to be done about it.  Chancellorsville was fought a year before the other two battles and was the site of Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory.  I rode through the battlefield last September and you can learn more about it here.  We just dipped our figurative toes into this field in order to answer another information control question which I already knew the answer to “Question: What was the battlefield named after?  Answer: The Chancellor family home.”).  Since lunch was only forty minutes ago, this was a short stop and we were once again on the road, heading back to Kelly’s Ford over the Rapidan.

Chancellorsville information control

Hunting Run Reservoir

It was about here, at Mile 80, that things began to lose their luster for me.  I knew this would be the case; the battlefield tours were over and all that remained was getting back to the finish line.  And that was 50 miles away.  I also knew that the road we were on was hilly for the next seven or eight miles with little to catch the eye apart from a lovely drive past Hunting Run Reservoir.  There were five of us at the Chancellorsville Control, but shortly after restarting three of them were off in the distance.  I was left with the companionship of Chris, who happily discussed anything I was interested in talking about as we took on the hills in the increasingly hot day.  I am in Chris’ debt.

Chris at the Rapidan

We stopped for a rest break at the Rapidan Bridge, where I ate some Clif Shot Blocks.  These babies were absolutely key for me.  I ate a packet faithfully every hour – except for when I had already eaten at a control.  Every time I downed a packet, I felt much better for several miles.  It may be psychosomatic, but I don’t care.  It worked.

The Madone at the Rapidan

The final control - Mile 111

Shortly after leaving the bridge, Chris realized he hadn’t flipped his cue sheet and he stopped to do so.  I was going to stop with him, but he insisted I continue, saying he would catch up.  I didn’t like leaving him after he had faithfully stayed with me but he was insistent.  I was fairly certain he would be right back with me in a few miles.  I didn’t see Chris again until the final control at Mile 111 – the Handymart where I regularly stop on weekend rides.

I was pretty well spent at this point, but the level terrain and the fact I knew every nook and cranny of this part of the course greatly aided me.  I knew when to conserve my energy and when I could push things a bit.  I managed 16.2 mph pace on the last 19 miles, which was quite satisfying to me.  In Nokesville, I came across Barry, another cyclist completing his first-ever Brevet.  Barry’s from Frederick, MD, and I’ll most likely be heading up his way for the club’s Gettysburg 200K brevet this September.  Barry informs me that there are many more hills in his neck of the woods, a statement which I now have six months to ruminate on.

After Party

Barry and I pulled into the Caribou Coffee finish together with a finishing time of 9:40.  I never thought I would be able to go so quickly, especially given my dalliances at the battlefields, but the weather was fantastic and the fact I knew many of the roads was very helpful to me.  I signed and turned in my control sheet and enjoyed the nice after party, which consisted of pizza, sodas, cookies, fruit and other goodies.  It was a nice way to finish a great day.

I don’t think I’m ready to take on some of the more ambitious events of the DC Randonneurs, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the group and hope to join them again this September when they take on South Mountain and the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam.  Until then, Bon Route!

Culpeper County Ride

Many people (including commentors on this blog) advise not to try new things when embarking on a long ride.  This is good advice.  New equipment may not perform the way you expect it to.  New food may not agree with you as you had hoped.  A lot can go wrong with new things and it is best not to try them out as you attempt something challenging.  I thought about this as I put on my brand-new long sleeve compression shirt and loaded my brand new full finger gloves and my brand new sun glasses into the car.  The thought also occurred to me as I loaded my three-week old bike, clipless pedals and shoes.  I even pondered it as I drank Gatorade’s Prime drink mix for the first time, 15 minutes before the start of the ride.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The day started off well.  Remarkably, I packed everything I wanted to bring, ate a light breakfast of toast and jam, loaded the bike on the rack and departed for Culpeper right on schedule.  It was cold out and the sun was just beginning to rise.  Light fog was burning off in the fields as I passed through Nokesville.  It’s a 45 mile drive to Culpeper and I briefly thought this was a long way to drive in order to ride a bike.  It then occurred to me that if 45 miles was a long distance to drive, how would one describe the 65 mile distance I was about to pedal.  A sobering thought, that.

I arrived at the start point – a store named The Bike Stop – precisely on schedule.  This was a bit unnerving because things were going too smoothly for me.  I fully expected something to go wrong and preferred it to occur as soon as possible so I could get on with things.  I did have a minor challenge during check-in when the volunteer briefly refused to wait on me because I have the same name as her ex-husband.  It was all in good fun (I think) and she eventually gave me my T-Shirt, yellow wrist band, and cue card.

Pre-ride instructions outside the Bike Stop

There were about 200 riders participating in the ride.  By 8:20, most of them were filling the street in front of the bike shop, where a lady from the country rec department welcomed us, thanked the sponsors, and quickly raffled off some door prizes (none of which I won – darn!).  At 8:30, a police motorcycle escort led the group out of town.  As we started, I was presented with my first challenge: clipping into my pedals in a crowd.  I slipped on the first attempt, but caused no harm to anybody.  I quickly regrouped and was on my way on a sunny cold morning, with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees.

The pace heading out of town was pleasantly slow.  Everyone was in a good mood, joking with each other and happily waving to the police officers who were blocking the intersections for us.  I was polite to the police officers, but didn’t chat with many folks.  I focused on getting a feel for the group and not slamming into anyone.  At this point, things were kinda chaotic.  Many fast riders were working their way up to the front while less experienced riders (even less experienced than me!) were weaving  erratically and generally making things harder for the rest of us.  After two miles, we were outside of town and things had mostly sorted themselves out.  It was at this point that I met Jimmy.

Jimmy, showing off his Felt Z5

Jimmy was a gregarious fellow who was cycling alone, talking up a storm to anybody who would listen to him.  When I pedaled past him, we struck up a conversation that was to last the next 25 miles.  Jimmy lives in Ashburn, where he is a network administrator for an IT company.  For years he has been an ultra marathon runner and has participated in runs over 50 miles long.  Jimmy took up cycling this Spring when his doctor informed him he had microtears in his hips that would eventually make it too painful to run anymore.    He had never done a century before and was still debating whether to go on the 100 or 65 mile route.  Apart from being a great guy, he had one interesting aspect:  he absolutely refused to believe any of the data my Garmin GPS was providing.  He was convinced that we were going much slower than the computer suggested.  I eventually took to grossly exaggerating the read out to play into this paranoia.  “Now it says we’re going 55 mph, Jimmy!”  Jimmy seemed amused by all of this.  We took turns drafting and pulling and even joined a small four person pace line.  It was all very cool.  You can definitely feel the difference – when I was in trail there were times when I was barely even pedaling.

Rest Stop #1 - Rapidan VFD

The biggest event on this first leg occurred around Mile 12, when a woman strayed into the left lane and was almost rear ended by a pick up truck flying past our group.  After that momentary scare, we reached Mile 15 and the first rest stop – the Rapidan Volunteer Fire Department.   This being my first organized ride, I have no idea if this was a good setup or not.  I can report that many of the riders were very pleased with the place, including ample supplies of cookies, PBJ sandwiches, trail mix, energy bars, water, sports drinks, and an on-site mechanic.  The volunteers even went to the trouble of placing many of the snacks into zip-lock bags so the riders could put them in their jerseys and eat on the road.  A nice little detail, I thought.  I texted my wife and informed her I had lived to see Rest Stop #1.  After refilling my water bottle, I was ready to head back out.  Little did I know that I was three short miles from making a fool of myself.

Yours Truly at Rest Stop #1

The incident began innocently enough.  A group of about ten riders were waiting to cross Highway 15.  Jimmy and I were with them.  Jimmy shouted, “Car left!” meaning to stop because there was a car (you guessed it) on the left.  So I unclipped and stopped.  Then Jimmy noticed the car had flashed its lights, so we all began to cross the road.  Then another rider shouted “Car right!”  So we all stopped again.  Except this time I didn’t unclip.  Oops.  My weight was on my left pedal, which was at the downstroke position and the bike tilted to the left.  I was going to fall and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

Shockingly, the fall was virtually painless.  I tried to roll with the fall and avoided putting my left arm out to brace myself (an excellent way to break a wrist).  I was pleasantly surprised to see my shoes come out of the clips, thereby avoiding a troublesome compound fracture, and I quickly regained my feet.  Smiling, I walked my bike to the side of the road and checked it out.  Only a few small scratches on the left pedal.  That’s it. 

Jimmy was good enough to wait for me.  I quickly caught up with him and informed him that he witnessed my first-ever fall in clipless pedals.  We both agreed this was a significant event and he probably owed me a beer.  I told him that once I realized I was going down it was my goal to do it as gracefully as possible.  Jimmy said that he didn’t see the fall, but suspected I was about as graceful as everyone else who has done the same (which is to say virtually everybody and not graceful at all).  A few minutes after this exchange, two cyclists who had seen me crash caught up to us and asked if I was ok.  After I told them I was fine, one guy said (and I am not making this up), “I got to tell you, that was the most graceful fall I have ever seen.  You never stopped moving!” 

Mission accomplished.

Prince Michel Winery

At Mile 26, we came to the turn off point for the Century Ride.  Jimmy decided he was going to go for it.  I wished him well and was once again on my own.  It was still quite chilly and I was very grateful for my new gloves and my compression shirt.  Both were keeping me warm.  I also was not feeling any ill effects from my pre-ride Gatorade drink.  It appeared that I had drawn Aces on all three new items.  The ride was becoming more hilly at this point.  I was surprised at how hard some of the riders found these s0-so hills.  I was passing several with little effort.  Morale was high as I pulled into Rest Stop #2 – the Prince Michel Winery.

The Trek at rest (shockingly on its side) at Prince Michel Winery

The fare at Prince Michel Winery was much the same as at Rapidan VFD.  The volunteers were very nice and were eager to chat about the ride, where you’re from, or just about anything.  I was a bit dismayed that sports drinks were only available in Dixie Cups.  I thought it would be a tad rude to grab 20 of them and fill my water bottles.  Instead, I drank four or five and kept one bottle full of water.  I switched my caloric intake plan to bananas, cookies, and energy bars.  After some stretching, I shoved off.

The rolling hills continued and I was still overtaking folks while the occasional cyclist passed me by.  At Mile 35, I caught up with a rider sporting a Potomac Pedalers Touring Club jersey.  I’d heard of this group and am an ocassional reader of their website.  The rider told me he was, in fact, a member and we struck up a conversation about the club, other local bike clubs, organized rides, the better centuries in the area, and a whole bunch of Northern VA stuff.  The man’s name was Sloan and he lives in Washington DC, working for the State Department as a lawyer.   He rode a steel-framed Rivendell.  About five miles down the road, I watched as Sloan almost died.  Ok, that may be a bit of a stretch, but I DID watch him almost get hit while standing in the road by two cyclists traveling at well over 30 mph.  Here’s how it happened:

Sloan at Rest Stop #3, shortly after the "cue card incident"

Sloan had cleverly attached his cue card to his brake cables by means of a heavy-duty paper clip.  During a steep descent, Sloan flew through a sharp right turn while a stupid minivan driver tried to pass him.  I thought this is where Sloan was going to “buy the farm,” but he got out of that jam without incident – except that his cue card came undone and flew off his bike.  Sloan didn’t realize this until I yelled this fact to him.  He turned around and pedaled to that sharp right turn, where the cue card lay in the road.  He dismounted and picked up his card.  At precisely this point, two more cyclists flew into the turn and were surprised to see the shockingly-stationary Sloan in their paths.  Both riders swerved, narrowly missing Sloan and threw a few choice words his way for their trouble.

Rest Stop #3 - Salem FD

Sloan was remarkably unperturbed by these events and we were quickly back on our way.  In a few miles, we had arrived at Rest Stop #3, the Salem Fire Department.  By now I had the drill down pretty well: dismount, take off the gloves/helmet/sunglasses, text the wife, wolf down some snacks, drink some sports drink, and stretch.  As I went through this routine, I overheard some local riders learn that the route would take us over Drogheda Mountain.  There were groans and much consternation at the prospect of this.  They were no doubt referring to the large climb I had noticed during my highly scientific and detailed terrain analysis earlier in the week.  I informed Sloan of this and we both agreed this was not a good sign.

Speaking of terrain analyses, it seems that almost nobody does this sort of thing.  Almost none of the riders (including Jimmy, Sloan, and the people all around me) had any sense of where they were going.  Most folks were perfectly happy to hop on their bikes and go.  No doubt that’s because this was just one ride out of many for these people, but it still struck me as very odd.  I guess it’s just the Army officer in me:  I don’t go anywhere without a map and if I’m in an unfamiliar area, I will definitely take the time to orient myself using said map.  This probably makes me an uptight anal-retentive cyclist, but there it is.

Sloan congratulating me at Mile 57

After five miles of mostly downhill riding, we came upon Drogheda Mountain Road.  Any road named after a mountain couldn’t possibly be a good thing, in my opinion, and I was right.  We did a little over a mile at a 13% grade, which will definitely take the starch out of your shorts.   Again, I was pleased with my ability to climb the hill relative to the riders around me.  Sloan faded back.  I wasn’t about to leave my new-found friend on the side of a mountain, so I waited for him at the top.  He closed up quickly and we set off to Brandy Station.  On the way, we hit Mile 57, a spot of significance only to me as it marked the furthest I had ever cycled.  I pulled out my camera and took a pic to commemorate the moment.

AJ's Deli and Rest Stop #4

The final rest stop was at Mile 60, in the town of Brandy Station.  In June 1863, the largest cavalry battle ever fought on American soil occurred here.  I didn’t see any remnant of that battle.  All I saw was AJ’s Deli and Rest Stop #4.  It seemed odd to have a rest stop only five miles from the finish, but Sloan and I decided to partake anyway.  Upon our departure, I told Sloan that I wanted to see how much I had left in the proverbial tank and I would therefore be leaving him behind.  We agreed we’d meet up again at the finish.

So off I went, once again on my own.  I had a lot of energy left and was ready to see how fast I could go the remaining five miles.  I rode very hard, keeping my speed around 23 mph on the flats.  I overtook about five riders, but I was quickly running out of steam.  Still, I felt I would be in good shape at Mile 65.

Imagine my frustration when I hit Mile 65 and I still hadn’t reached Culpeper!

It seems the race organizers were just a tad off in their ride planning.  As it turned out, the final length was 68 miles.  No worries.  I was able to gather myself for the final push.  This was actually a positive event as the extra three miles put me over the 1,500 mile mark for the season.  It was nice to be setting a single day ride while also breaking a signficant mileage mark at the same time.

The Bike Stop

The ride back to the Bike Stop was uneventful.  People were slowly coming in all the time, so there were pockets of riders chatting in the parking lots and putting away their gear.  I pulled up to my truck and set about putting my stuff away.  The first order of business was changing my cycling shoes for some comfortable sneakers.  After a few minutes, Sloan pedaled in.  It turns out he parked only four spaces from me!  He had pulled into the parking lot immediately behind me and remembered his bemusement at my New York Yankees and Buffalo Bills car magnets.  We walked into the Bike Stop to let them know we had safely returned.  We chatted a bit about our upcoming rides (mine is a 65-miler in Warrenton in two weeks and Sloan’s is the Sea Gull Century next weekend).  I told Sloan I greatly enjoyed his company and then we shook hands and went our separate ways.

And that was that.  I’ll write more about my impressions of the ride later, but suffice it to say it was a very nice day and it was all I could have hoped for.  I had a nice ride, finished in good shape, learned a bit about group riding, and met some very nice folks along the way.  I even have a couple good stories to add to my collection!