I’ve been cycling long enough to have “enjoyed” several rides in heavy rain. The 2011 Vasaloppet comes to mind, with 6 hours in an early March downpour adding to my fun. The 2011 Reston Century was the only ride where I pondered my mortality as lightning streaked across the sky during a deluge of biblical proportions. To that list I will add the 2012 Reston Century.
Several weeks ago, The Diesel casually mentioned that if there were any organized rides coming up that would be a good fit for her, she would like to participate. I sprinted to my computer and quickly determined that the Reston Century would be a good candidate. It was early enough that it wouldn’t conflict with her marathon training, well supported with a nice after party in the Reston Town Center, and a fair amount of the ride would be on the W&OD Trail, meaning she could minimize the sort of street riding that she is uncomfortable with. It rained buckets last year when I rode the century route, but what are the odds it would happen again?
The Diesel was initially concerned with my proposal. Believing the only route was 100 miles, she pointed out in the sort of exasperated voice that only a spouse can properly use that she was nowhere near ready to tackle that sort of distance. When I calmly pointed out that the ride organizers also offered 64 and 33 mile routes, she demurred and was ready to sign up for the 33 miler, which would be almost ten miles further than she had ever gone before.
It rained a great deal on Saturday. It rained through the night and was still raining in spurts when we arose on Sunday morning. We drove through periods of drizzle on the trip to Reston and hoped that would be the worst of things while strongly suspecting that it would not. We parked in one of Reston Town Center’s garages and readied the bikes for the trip. Check in was a breeze – simply show your wrist band, grab a cue sheet and go. Some riders had left as early as 6:30 in the morning. I wanted to time our trip so we arrived for the 12:30 after party and thus we departed shortly after 9:00.
Immediately, it started to drizzle. Then it started to rain. Then it started to rain very hard.
By Mile 4, the rain was coming in torrents. I told The Diesel to say, “I’m having fun. I’m having fun” repeatedly until she was actually having fun. After several minutes of this, we sought shelter under a bridge and watched one rider scurry back to the start, having given up. This was a major morale check for my wife and I. We could easily have turned around and called it a day. Others were doing it, so we wouldn’t be alone in our decision.
After the rain eased, we pressed on. Eventually it stopped entirely. Later, The Diesel would ask me incredulously, “Did you really think I was going to turn back?” She is not in the habit of not finishing what she starts, even if it involves being drenched for an hour or three.
We pedaled westward on the path for another six miles. I regaled my wife with stories about how this was once a railroad line that carried coal, and later commuters, to Washington, DC. Many of the old stations (with names
like Herndon, Sterling, and Smith’s Switch) are preserved and are now small museums or shops with a historical marker describing their significance. She politely feigned interest. She was more interested in the types of houses we passed along the trail (town homes all the way out here?!). At Mile 10, we pulled into a rest stop and sampled some of the many snacks that were on hand. A helpful volunteer also described the twelve-mile loop we were going to embark on. I asked him if the turns were marked and he said they were, but the chalk may be wearing off. “Chalk?!” I replied, “on a day like this?” He assured me the “chalk-paint” was still there. It was just a bit difficult to see in the rain. The Diesel had the cue sheet tucked into the clear panel on the top of her touring bag. It was getting soggy despite the protection, but it was still legible. We pressed on.
Within two hundred yards, the heavens opened once again. A true gulley-washer ensued as we trudged northward on Ashburn Road. I am not sure if my wife was still saying, “I’m having fun” to herself as she rode behind me and dodged the rooster tail of spray coming off my rear wheel. I suspect she wasn’t. She did appear to be having fun as the small river of runoff water we were plowing through was high enough to splash water onto our lower legs. That was encouraging. She certainly never came close to quitting, and gamefully shouted out navigational instructions despite being terrified of riding on a road in the pouring rain.
After a couple of miles, the rain abated once again and we set about enjoying the loop around Ashburn. Dating from Colonial times, Ashburn was originally called Farmwell until the early 1800s (we crossed Farmwell Road during our trip). Nobody is quite sure why the current name was chosen, the leading contender being that when lightning struck an ash tree on the estate of the town’s leading citizen – a U.S. Senator – and the smoldering tree became a tourist attraction for the next several days. Nowadays it is part of the suburban sprawl of Greater Washington, DC, and is filled with bedroom communities and shopping centers. We saw the ride SAG wagon at several points and were pleased to see the volunteers valiantly repainting the navigational arrows that were beginning to wash away.
After 12 miles of suburban bliss, we pulled back into the Ashburn rest stop. My wife was very happy to be off the roads and back on the trail. A ride volunteer happily offered to fill my water bottle up for me, which has never happened to me before in an organized ride. I noticed another rider wearing the same West Point cycling jersey I was wearing and learned that he was a fellow grad – Class of 1971. Small world.
The sun began to peek out from behind the clouds. As we cycled back to Reston, we were happy to be mostly dried out. I noted another group of dark clouds up ahead and my wife and I agreed we could avoid more rain if we just thought positively.
About two miles from the finish, it began to rain.
Fortunately, the rain wasn’t severe and we pulled into the Reston Town Center (which is happily under a glass roof) in fine form. We presented ourselves to the volunteers at the information booth and picked up our race tee-shirt AND insulated water bottle. I’ve always wanted an insulated water bottle and have been too cheap to buy one. But I have one now and am looking forward to putting it to use. My wife then changed clothes and waited for lunch to be served. I took off my wet jersey and shoes, put on my new tee-shirt and some flip-flops, and called it good.
I asked my wife for her thoughts on the ride and she gave me the following statement. “It was cool.” Her biggest challenge was overcoming significant back pain which accompanies most of her rides. I had lowered her seat on the recommendation of a Virginia Beach bike mechanic and that seemed to help a bit. Otherwise, she was in great shape and was surprised at how she didn’t feel wore out like she does after most of her long runs. She did experience two normal post-ride symptoms: a healthy appetite and a desire to sleep. She solved the first problem at the after party and took care of the second issue on the car ride home.
And thus concluded the 33 mile ride of 2012 Reston Century. I was very happy with the race volunteers who seemed to be doing all that could possibly be done to make the event a success. The tee-shirt and water bottle are nice and the after party was great. However, what I will remember most about this ride is my wife and her personal best under terrible conditions. As she received her tee-shirt, I said, “You definitely earned that one!”
Now it’s back to running for The Diesel with a marathon looming in the not-too-distant future. As for myself, a 200 km brevet over the mountains between Gettysburg and Sharpsburg is two weeks away. This will probably be the toughest ride I’ve attempted to date. I can’t imagine anything going wrong, so it should be good times!