Wilderness Campaign 200K ACP Brevet

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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!

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45 thoughts on “Wilderness Campaign 200K ACP Brevet

  1. Great to see you out there. It was a great experience on many levels – perhaps we’ll ride again (though I think you’ll be outpacing me!)

    • Congratulations on your first brevet, John. It was great to meet you and I suspect if we switched bikes the finishing order would switch as well. If there is one thing my bike is good at, it’s going fast.

  2. Congrats on finishing your first brevet! You rode with a group, took pictures and did some soloing – sounds like you got a good sample of the sport. As for your next ride, you should probably wait for “Randonesia” to kick in before you decide when that will be.

    • Thank you very much. I believe I was extraordinarily lucky to have a flat course and beautiful weather. I know that always isn’t the case and many of the riders were swapping stories of traumas endured on previous rides. I don’t think I have “Randonesia,” but I do have a fear of the longer rides – perhaps a case of “300plusaphobia?”

  3. Congrats! Sounds like a fantastic ride! I really appreciate your interest in the history. That’s one thing I wish I could muster in my riding mates, as we often pass by historical markers and battlefields without even looking their way. Some friends of mine have been beckoning me to try some brevets and after reading your post, I am considering it.

    • Not many folks are interested in a seminar on Civil War tactics and strategy, so things moved pretty quickly for most. I just can’t help myself and stopped at several spots to soak things in a bit. It doesn’t do much for your time or your cardio, but it does sometimes help your mental fitness. 🙂

  4. Great report! And congrats–that’s a long way! I live west of Frederick in Middletown Valley, and as I was reading it, I kept thinking “It looks so flat!! Wish I had some of that around here…”

    So I was amused to read what Barry of Frederick had to say–he’s right, it could be interesting for that September ride. No way to avoid a mountain or two (fortunately they’ve been whittled down for us over the past few eons). This is where that carbon frame of your could become your ace in the hole 🙂

    • It was definitely a flat ride, but to be fair I tend to have my camera stowed when I am going up or down hills of significance. On one particularly step descent on Eleys Ford Road, I set a new personal speed record of 46 mph. Both of my hands were well away from my camera and firmly affixed to my handlebar!

  5. Love this post! You captured exactly why I love my club. Club riding is so much different (and better) than group riding. When I ride with my club and someone does not obey a traffic signal/sign/law there are several voices that immediately shout disparaging remarks. Rarely does the same person do it twice.

    I have never had any interest in anything close to Randonneur clubs, but this ride sounded like loads of fun. I love the idea of Controls and Information Controls, etc.

    And congrats on the time! That is quite impressive when you factor in all the stops.

    PS – that first photo looks soooo cold….

    • Thanks, Fizz. They are definitely a great group and it gave the ride a more personal touch than the usually events I show up to. Strangers were actually interested in speaking with me! The weather at the start was chilly, but not as frigid as the photo suggests. It was around 50 with a slight mist in the air. When the sun came up in 60 minutes, things warmed up quite nicely.

      I hope you give a randonneuring club a shot. I think you’ll like it!

  6. Congratulations, Steve. I enjoyed meeting you on Saturday and reading your report. And I do hope to see you soon again at another brevet. As you mentioned, the September Civil War Tour of northern battlefields would be right up your alley.

    • It was great meeting you, Bill, and thanks for taking time to chat with me. I’ve already scene your Flickr photos and they’re fantastic! Your ability to ake so many great shots while still finishing in the lead group is VERY impressive! Pencil me in for September. I’m already looking forward to it!

  7. Hi, sure glad you enjoyed the ride. I enjoyed reading your blog (except the part where you gave out the answers to my info control questions! Now I’ll have to move onto the next questions on the list 🙂 ). One comment: No randonneuring event is a “race”, at least not in the sense most people mean where you are racing against the other riders. I guess you could consider it a “race” against the clock, since you have to get to each control (and the end of the ride) before the time limit. But because you’re not racing against the other riders, part of what makes randonneuring fun is that it’s in everyone’s interest to help each other in the race against time. I’m glad you took the time to look at some of the historical markers. The Info control questions are intended to force people to at least look at one of the markers in two of the battlefields. I’d have put another info control in The Wilderness, for the same reason, but it would only have been about 4 miles after the first control, so it seemed a little too much 🙂

    Nick

    • Oops. I didn’t realize you would be using the control questions again. Sorry! I could give you a replacement question or two as penance; it’s the least I can do!

      Thanks for the clarification on racing. As a noob, I am prone to errors such as this. The ride was fantastic and thank you very much for organizing it!

  8. That is a seriously long ride, Steve. Congratulations! And I know all too well about your ‘mistake’, having been caught out in the wilderness (between pelotons, not the battle) more times than I’d like to remember. Great account of what sounds like a great ride.

    • Thanks, Gerry. During the solitary that I spent between groups, I thought of your race accounts and said to myself, “Gerry is going to be disappointed that I didn’t learn from his tale!”

  9. Congratulations Steve! Very cool and good on you. It’s super, I think, that you could stop, look at the places you’re interested in and make such good time. Excellent.

    Amongst the things I learned in your post: one is the existence of information controls. That’s pretty fun and might sometime spark a little curiosity about history. And that a brevet can be technically a race. I knew them as timed events, but races is new to me.

    Anyway, chapeau!
    Suze

    • Thanks, Suze! Sadly, I was misinformed on the “race” aspect of randonneuring as Bill points out above. But the information control was correct and it was a neat way to get people to check out the history they were riding through.

  10. Conrgrats, Randonneur. That is a real accomplishment (though you are now stuck with a lifelong title in French 🙂 )You made it sound easy, though I know it isn’t. Informative and entertaining, as usual.

    The first 200km ride of my local club is only a month away and I doubt I’ll be fit enough by then. But I’m tempted…

    • The French title is a cross I shall gladly bear. As for your potential event, I cannot imagine any cyclist in Edmonton who did more through the winter to be ready for an early season ride than you. Finishing the event is not difficult, in my opinion. What fitness does is improve your time and your recovery in the days which follow. If you’re not worried about the time and can tolerate some gimpiness, I say give it a shot.

    • Hopefully my learning can keep up. Regardless of the group, next time I’m going to elbow my way to the front and see what new problems arise!

  11. Amazing job! What an impressive distance in 1 day. You weren’t kidding about “ALLEZ!” I’m also hoping to do a 200km+ route this year, but my goal is 14hrs lol.

      • It’s no big deal, unless you want to receive “official” credit from the organization. There are various awards for completing different sequences of brevets and you can only attend the larger ones (Paris-Brest-Paris comes to mind) if you have qualified by completing several shorter brevets. So, if this is just a one-time thing and you aren’t interested in earning a pin, certificate, or some other recognition then I don’t see a big deal. I’d check with your club to get the skinny to be sure I’ve got my facts straight. As a noobie to randonneuring, there’s an excellent chance I do not!

  12. Randonneuring will get under your skin. Be sure to add a really flat ride this fall, Flatbread in November. It has rapidly become one of the most popular rides of the year. I’m looking forward to when our paths cross.

    • I am certain we’ll cross paths sometime and hopefully it is only our paths that will cross and not our wheels! 🙂 The Flatbread is intriguing. Ordinarily, I would say I wouldn’t be up for it as I spend a fair amount of time in late September and October training for the Army 10-Miler and my cycling fitness suffers, but I have discovered that I can ride 130 miles despite not doing more than 60 for the previous seven months.

  13. I enjoyed reading your report and meeting you at the traffic light at Rt. 28. You helped make the last four miles easy for me as we talked while concluding our first 200K together. As we discussed at the light, neither of us had previously cycled more than 106 miles.

    I actually live in Middletown, which is in Frederick County, MD, and look at South Mountain from my kitchen window every day. Lots of Civil War history in these parts. Of course, Antietam is just over the “hill”.

    I also met a lot of nice people on this ride, and Nick’s route was a great way to go after my first brevet. Hopefully, we will see each other again on another ride. Congratulations Steve!

    Barry

    • Congratulations to you as well and thanks for stopping by. Clearly, I didn’t quite catch your hometown correctly while in my delusional state at the ride’s end! Hopefully, you will be available when I visit your neck of the woods during the 200k brevet in September.

  14. Congratulations, randonneur. One of these days, I’ll join you. I’ve been to Gettysburg & Antietam, and envy you your nearness to the Civil War sites. It’s one of my ongoing interests.

    • There is plenty of history around here, especially Civil War sites. I definitely try to make the most of that as I have a similar interest in history, especially military history. Apparently, there was confusion amongst the DC Randonneurs during last year’s brevet as to the precise location of Burnside Bridge at Antietam. Having stood on that structure myself, I know I can help them. I just need a good draft from the group to get me there!

  15. Congratulations. That’s a very impressive day.
    That’s a lot of miles, coupled with the heat and the ascending miles in the heat of the day, and I’d say you rocked it!

    • Thanks, Spokie. It was hard, but a little easier than I expected it to be. I believe eating/drinking regularly helped a lot, as did the flat course and familiarity with the roads. We’ll see what happens when I try one on hillier terrain.

  16. Congrats on your first 200! I’ve only done two 200s, but the second was FAR easier than the first — you’re just more mentally prepared. (I’m attempting my first 300 in a month’s time — funny how quickly the longer distances start to seem normal when you spend time around other randonneurs!)

    • Best of luck to you, Lucy, and thanks for stopping by. I can’t say I’ve reached the point where 200K seems “normal!” Perhaps one day…

  17. Just ran across the DC Randonneurs and this post. What a great story. As someone who can only dream of riding that kind of distance (metric Seagull Century is all I’ve done) I have to live vicariously through these kind of ride reports. Love’ em and the longer the better. Hills ugh! I have the same type of recumbent as Jim in your story and while the thing fairly flies on the down hill on the uphill my aero belly is like heaving out a boat anchor. But I dream of the day that I can at least try the FlatBread 200k.
    Thanks again for a great story.

    • Glad you liked it, Mike, and thanks for stopping by! I was hoping to give the FlatBread 200k a shot but I have a schedule conflict. I guess there’s always next year.

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