Vasaloppet 2012

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There were many more riders at this year’s Vasaloppet Ride, due primarily to the absence of a torrential downpour.  The temperature was in the upper 30s as I pedaled to the Swedish Embassy, colder than recent mornings but in keeping with a ride named after a Swedish cross-country ski race.  At the embassy, there were several hundred people milling about and chatting excitedly amongst themselves.  I overheard the Race Director say that only 40 people completed last year’s ride (thank you) despite having 600 registrants.  The ride was capped at 400 people this year in order to placate the DC Police Department.  140 people were signed up for the “Full Vasa” ride.

A bit gloomy at the start

The Honorary Ride Marshal and the Ride Director, performing their duties with aplomb

Shortly before 8:00 AM, we were directed to the starting line, where the Race Director made some comments over a bull horn, including an admonition to follow the rules of the road.  In short order, we were off, whereupon everybody immediately began to disobey the rules of the road.  Stop signs were routinely ignored, even with cars waiting to cross at side streets.  After a short stretch on the Capital Crescent Trail, we climbed up a cliff to MacArthur Boulevard, where the scofflaws took their art to a new level at red traffic lights.  You will be pleased to know Your Humble Author took no part in these shenanigans and even cast reproachful looks at cyclists who pedaled past him while properly stopped.  Sadly, the reproachful looks did not seem to have any discernable effect.

After a couple of miles, we cleared most of the traffic lights on MacArthur Boulevard and a nice paceline emerged, thanks in no small part to a man who rode up and down the length of the pack, putting us into line and exhorting us to keep on the wheel of the rider in front of us.  I was especially grateful for this paceline because we were heading into the wind and it cut through the resistance quite nicely at a speed of about 20 mph.  After eight miles of this, the paceline broke up on a serious ascent at the end of MacArthur Blvd.  We may have regrouped, but the first rest stop was waiting for us at the top of the hill and what was left of our hearty band disintegrated.

Incidentally, I wish I knew there was going to be a rest stop.  I wouldn’t have filled both my water bottles in advance, which would have reduced my load and also allowed me to partake in some of the free energy water they were passing out.  There weren’t any last year so I assumed things would be the same this time.  Lesson learned.

The humble abodes of Potomac, MD. I passed scores of homes like this.

With the temperature warming, I pulled off my cold weather gloves and swapped them with normal full finger gloves.  I felt very proud of myself for having thought to bring two sets of gloves, which just goes to show that it doesn’t take very much to make me proud of myself.  With no large gaggles of people leaving the rest stop when I wanted to go, I departed with a single partner – a gentleman from DC who had the ride cue sheet on his handlebars and exhibited an air which suggested he knew where he was going.  We chatted a bit, but mostly kept to ourselves, about 100 feet apart.  This gave me the opportunity to survey the palatial estates along Glen Road and South Glens Mill Road.  I was still two miles from the turnaround point when I came across the once-proud remnants of the MacArthur Blvd paceline.  There were only about six or seven left and they were now four miles ahead of me, meaning they had moved thirteen miles while I had covered only nine.  Pacelines are awesome.

I pulled into the halfway point – a convenience store at Mile 26.5 (which, I know, is not quite half way) and purchased a banana for a snack.  Sitting at a picnic table, I attempted to memorize the next several directions from my cue sheet:

  • Turn right on S. Glenn Rd at Mile 29.7
  • Turn right  on Falls Rd at Mile 31.4
  • Left into the Wegmans parking lot for refreshments at Mile 32.0
  • Left on Oaklyn Dr. at Mile 33.0
  • Cross Persimmon Tree Rd and Oaklyn turns into Bradley Rd

And so on and so forth.  There were a total of 46 separate instructions for this 58 mile course, which is something like 25 instructions per mile (or at least it seemed so at the time).

Having failed miserably at my memorization task, I stowed my cue sheet in my jersey pocket and set out alone for the return trip.  I came across a handful of riders along the way, each with a cheery hello as I passed them (or they passed me).  Slowly, the traffic increased as I moved from the outskirts of the city into its heart.  I reached Bethesda at Mile 42 and this is where everything went wrong.

Bethesda. Not the best place to ponder a cue sheet.

I need to figure out a system for displaying a cue sheet.  Touring cyclists usually have a nifty bag on their front fork with the cue sheet displayed under a plastic screen.  Other, less elaborate, systems include placing the sheet in a sandwich bag and clipping said bag to your bike cables and/or handlebar.  My system – shoving the sheet in my jersey pocket – was not terribly efficient, especially in a jam like the one I found myself in at Bethesda.  The traffic was quite heavy and the instructions were quite intricate – something like, “turn right on Bethesda Road.  There, you will see an old man with a dog.  Take the first left turn 100 feet beyond the dog dish.”

Capital Crescent Trail

It wasn’t quite that bad, but it was bad enough to fool myself and another rider (whose cue sheet storage strategy was to fold the sheet into a small square and bite on it).  We eventually found ourselves in a flea market and several helpful vendors pointed us in the right direction – back where we came from.  We made our way to the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) and then we were looking for an exit to Jones Mill Road, which was to come after we crossed Connecticut Avenue “with the traffic signal.”  Sadly, we did not see a traffic signal nor an exit for Jones Mill Road.  When we stopped a passer-by on the trail and asked for help, we learned we had once again overshot our turning point.  This event was feeling less like a bike ride and more like a scavenger hunt.  My fellow traveler had had enough and opted to take the CCT straight back to the embassy.  Not interested in attempting to navigate the streets of Northwest DC by myself, I chose to bail out as well.

Interestingly, this is precisely the same point in last year’s ride when my companions decided they wanted to bail out.  I guess a detailed route study of Bethesda is in order if I hope to not become lost next year.  Fortunately, my cue sheet was not destroyed by rain this time, so I can study it closely and avoid similar mishap next year.

Blueberry Soup Line

Back at the embassy, there was a nice after party going, with the embassy staff serving hot blueberry soup while wearing t-shirts which said, “Hug A Swede.”  Cute.  There were plenty of “war stories” being swapped by the ride participants both inside the embassy and along its steps.  It had turned out to be a sunny day and the somewhat warm temperature was welcome.

Soup and the Madone.

There are some buds on that tree!

Coming up short is something I prefer not to do, so I made it my business to knock out the remaining eight miles of distance on my own “unofficial” finish.  I pedaled onto the National Mall and took in the sites.  I’ve visited many cities, but Washington, DC remains my favorite.  I was surprised to see most of the Mall engulfed in a colossal four-mile long construction project.  The reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial is being rebuilt while a brand new pool is being constructed at the opposite end near the capital.  Something else incredibly large is being done to the grounds near the WWII Memorial behind construction walls that make it impossible to see.

The Madone in front of the Capitol

I did a brief experiment on this part of the trip.  I attempted to make the ride up to the Capitol on walking paths, rather than compete with city traffic.  After two miles of fighting sight seers, joggers, and pedestrians of all types, I could take no more and hit the city street.  This was very exhilarating and far less of a hassle.  This was tempered with the knowledge that Death stalked my every move, waiting for a mistake.  On this day, I was mistake-free and I made it to The Capitol and back to the Lincoln Memorial without incident.  A quick spin around Haynes Point got me over the 60-mile mark and I called it a day.

I have mixed feelings about the Vasaloppet.  It was fun to get out on an organized ride and start the “official” part of the year.  This event serves notice to me that Winter is over and Spring has begun.  The volunteers were great and the House of Sweden was an excellent host.  Still, attempting to navigate while fighting through city traffic or sharing the CCT with a gazillion pedestrians was less than thrilling.  It really isn’t possible to compare the pace of this ride with any other due to the frequent stops due to traffic.  Having done this two years in a row, it may be time for me to take a break from it.


30 thoughts on “Vasaloppet 2012

    • No road markings. To be fair, marking the some of the turns in DC would be almost useless, given the amount of traffic. It’s definitely a low budget ride and I knew that going in. My one gripe is they don’t publish the route beforehand, making a map study impossible. You are totally dependent on your ability to read a cue sheet in an urban environment. My skills weren’t up to the task.

      The bars are rotated too far forward, in my opinion. I was going to adjust them, but some guy in France and another guy in England convinced me to leave them be for a bit. After 60 more miles in the saddle, I think I’m ready to adjust them.

  1. Okay, in MY opinion, yes, those bar are way too far forward. Way.

    Next – I know it’s a low budge ride, but no markings AND they don’t post it pre-ride? Yes, I would say enough of that ride. There are far too many better organized rides to participate in.

    As always, great write-up and photos. Love hearing about your rides. Makes me feel like I was there, only without the suffering.

    Hey, how are you liking the 4 Seasons?

    • Thanks, Fizz. The Contis are doing great. They have achieved their main purpose, which is to remain inflated over time. Everything else is gravy, IMHO. I’m especially pleased they made the transfer to a new set of wheels without incident.

  2. I did a short stint along the Mt. Vernon trail and was amazed at how many cherry blossom trees have blossoms already, not just buds. And I swear I saw a magnolia in full bloom today by the tidal basin.

    All that construction is part of a massive $700M rehab of the Mall. Over half of that is due to delayed maintenance (things like the seawall crumbling) as well as dealing with visitor growth and user conflicts since the Mall now gets over 30M visitors a year. If I remember correctly, the plan includes better bike paths to deal with exactly what you point out.

    • Interesting. I was wondering how much all of this cost and whether it was smart politics to spend the money in an election year. Presumably everything will be looking nice for the Inauguration next January.

      • The Trust for the National Mall has pledged to raise half the money through private donations. The backlog of basic maintenance for the National Park Service (which manages the Mall) is a staggering $11B.

        I used to run a state coastal program and without the help of these sorts of community support group, our facilities and public amenities (boat ramps, hiking trails, signage) would’ve fallen apart. They also helped sponsor a lot of our public programming (hikes, classes, beach cleanups).

  3. Great write-up. Hopefully, now that your spring season is upon you, you will have much more control over how much fun it is! You will really enjoy the BBC-CWC. Lots of climb, but you can rock on pace.

    • I’m looking forward to that one, but September is still a ways off. I have several other adventures planned before then, all of which pale in comparison to yours!

  4. During the Halvvasa (which is nowhere near as confusing as the Vasaloppet), we sent about 200 riders up the CCT. I was near the back of the 200, when I seriously pissed off rider coming from the other direction went past yelling at us all to move over. Um, sorry dude, but I didn’t get in your way, those 199 riders did. Other than that (and a peloton of club riders who overtook my group as a car approached on Persimmon Tree Road) we rode without incident. And then there were the vultures and that deer carcass….

    • Everybody got their cup and retired to various corners of the embassy, or even outside to enjoy some sunshine. It was actually a lot more lively than last year’s humble group of a couple dozen rain-soaked survivors. As a retired Army Officer, I take land navigation more seriously than most. It was embarrassing to lose my way, even when I wasn’t really trying to keep properly oriented.

  5. Hi Steve,

    Now I doubly wish I’d seen you, I would have liked to add 8 miles at the end. And very glad to learn I was (metaphorically) in such good company in CCT errors. Had a map of DC with me, but we were off the map so it was useless.

    Definitely agree about the cue sheet ahead of time, I wanted to highlight a map, but nope. I thought they must be trying to exclude unregistered riders, but there were so many club riders on the road anyway, could the DC police actually care?

    Did you ever see the Wegmans stop? A rider who lives in Foggy Bottom told me there was no Wegmans anywhere nearby. At least I didn’t need water or snacks.

    I thought that wind was cold, the blueberry soup hot and ok, but couldn’t figure out why I would want to hug a Swede.


    • Thank you very much for protecting my new bike, even if it wasn’t my new bike! I never saw the Wegmans, which is odd because they tend to be gigantic. I was willing to try hugging a Swede but I wasn’t interested in a slap in the face or punch in the stomach, so I demured.

  6. Steve, I guess I didn’t get a good look at your bars originally because I’d have never given you the advice I did if I had! Woah, who tilted those suckers so low!?

    The bars should be pretty much horizontal, as far as I know. I’ve never seen anything like the set-up you have there, to be honest. Is that how it came out of the LBS?

    Nice report and look at the bright side; you still have something left to accomplish for next year’s event, e.g. finding a way to follow their directions.

    • You’re probably right – they weren’t properly tightened down and shifted after I took those brand-new-never-ridden pictures.

      If I do this next year, you can bet I will spend a great deal of time studying the cue sheet from this year in preparation!

  7. OK, I’ve just done what I should have thought of before posting that last comment, and had a look at the photo you have up on your sidebar. Your bars have dropped considerably since then. You might want to get them horizontal again and give it a good tighten.

  8. Gotta love the floor covering at the Blueberry soup concession.

    “We love our blueberry soup; just not as a permanent addition to the expensive floor tiles”

  9. You are using the word organised pretty loosely it would seem. I must praise the even tempered tempered tone of your post. Mine would have had steam coming out of it. Still you knew what it was like before you entered it. I’m impressed by your glove work.

    • Well, they had a Grand Marshal with a Swedish flag and there was a man with a bull horn and there was a registration tent. Oh yeah, there was a similar tent at a rest stop and there were some cue sheets distributed. And there were some cyclists wearing yellow signs that said, “Marshal.” That was the extent of the organization, but one shouldn’t expect very much from $15.

      Thank you for the glove compliment. My self-pride has risen another notch.

  10. I was also going to comment on signage for the ride like your 1st comment. Even with low budget rides, I always receive signs on the road & even police escorts on busy intersections!! But hey, getting lost is part of the fun …. at times!! I always put my map in my bike frame bag on personal bike trips – it has a clear cover on top! (altho storing it in my mouth is a clever idea!) Did the blueberry soup taste any better this time?

    • Normally if I need to refer to my directions, it’s a simple matter of pulling over for a minute. However in urban environments, the need to refer to the directions occurs more often and the ability to pull over is greatly reduced. A simple cue sheet holder on my handlebar would solve the problem. Now I need to find one.

      The blueberry soup was better than last year. The key (for me anyway) was to serve it hot. Last year’s dish was a bit on the tepid side.

  11. Re: the bars… I spoke to a Trek sales person I know and she said you should be able to take it into where you bought it and get a (completely free of charge) adjustment and fitting.

    He said Trek’s policy is wherever you buy their bikes, you get fitted on it for free. An entire professional fitting – the kind people pays a couple hundred bucks for. I have to be believe you did not have this done – if you did, and they put the bars like that, sue them. 🙂

    • I might do that. You may recall that I couldn’t ride the bike when I bought it, so they used my old bike’s measurements to set this one up. That seemed to work pretty well, except somewhere along the way my handlebars rotated.

  12. Yeah I reckon those bars need to come up but otherwise, a very spiffy bike. Given the choice of the Capitol Building or the bike, I’d have the bike.

    Congrats on the ride. It’s good when things go a little awry – gives you extra to write about.. I laughed at your description of the other guy “whose cue sheet storage strategy was to fold the sheet into a small square and bite on it.” Excellent.

    • Thanks, Jan. The adventure is half the fun, isn’t it? I think I can do better than the mouth-storage cue sheet strategy, which has significant drawbacks, IMHO. Still, it was working better for this guy than my “jersey pocket” plan!

  13. Pingback: Vasa 2012: Stories and Links « Bicycle Bug's Blog

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