How I Cheated Death At Lake Anna

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Yesterday was the first running of the Lake Anna Century Classic.  As with any first-time event, I expected a few hiccups.  It’s hard to work out all the little details that make up a successful event on the very first try. I was not disappointed.

The first hiccup occurred at registration, where I noticed there were only two porta-potties to service a field of over 200 riders, a very large percentage of which had a strong desire to use the facility prior to the start of the event.  I patiently waited with about 50 others to take care of my business and cheerfully joined the pack waiting to start the ride.

As we departed under the escort of the Spotsylvania County Sherriff’s Department, I brooded on two things:

  • My lengthy wait in line pushed me well to the rear of the field, thus requiring me to work my way to the front yet again.
  • I had forgotten almost all of my energy food, leaving me to nurse a single energy bar between the ride’s various rest stops.

That's a lot of people to pass

There were plenty of packs to join at the outset and the pace was typically fast – around 20 mph.  The 60 mile and 100 mile (well, actually 95.77 mile for the century – why they came up short on the distance is beyond me) riders were travelling together at this point and there was an eclectic mix of roadies and comfort bikes which were pedalling furiously to keep the pace.  There was even a fellow in one of those aerodynamic bikes you see breaking speed records on the Nevada salt flats.  It took me seven miles to catch up with this fellow, who was achieving speeds I would not have thought possible on a curvey and hilly course such as this.

Rest stops were every 20 miles and the paceline I was with disintegrated at the first one when almost everyone – about 20 riders – decided to take a break.  I was doing just fine and pressed on with two others who were a bit ahead of me.  This was actually a key part of my strategy for the day – I wouldn’t take as many breaks and would therefore be able to catch the wheels of the faster riders when they eventually caught up with me.  This worked out rather well; when these riders eventually reeled me in at Mile 33, I was able to stay with them for five miles before they spit me out the back once again.

A crowd favorite

This was the fun part of the ride.  I was relatively fresh, and the views of Lake Anna were enjoyable.  Many riders were complimenting me on my Couch Potato Cycling Team jersey and the banter was quite pleasant.  I eventually hooked up with a rider named Barry who sported a US Coast Guard jersey.  After 15 minutes of conversation, we discovered we live about five miles from each other and know many of the same cyclists.  We’re pretty sure we even went on a small neighborhood ride together two years ago – the first time I was ever in a paceline.   Small world.

Barry at one of the lake's bridges

I skipped the rest stop at Mile 40 at which point the routes for the 60 and (almost) 100 mile routes diverged.  The fast riders caught up with me more quickly than at the earlier stop, but I still was able to squeeze a few more miles in their line.  I had eaten my energy bar and I had drunk 1.5 bottles of Gatorade.  I was going to have to stop at the Mile 60 rest stop and reprovision.

Imagine my dismay when I reached the rest stop AND FOUND NOTHING.

All that was there was a porta-potty and a cheerful sign announcing it as the Lake Anna Century rest stop.  No water.  No snacks.  Just some bemused cyclists commenting on how very bad this was.  I couldn’t possibly agree more.  Somehow, I would need to nurse the remaining half bottle of Gatorade (a bottle I had already been nursing for some time) for another 16 miles and the final rest stop at Mile 76.  It would hurt, but I could do it.  Just manage the pace, stay within myself, and get to that stupid rest stop.  I would get some fruit and some water there and things would improve.

Along the way, there were more pretty sites, like the several old homes and lumber mills which dotted the landscape.  I was also entertained by riding on the delightfully named Bumpass Road.  Sadly, I do not know the origins of the name.  I can only report that it was neither more nor less bumpy than the surrounding roads and my posterior was largely unaffected by it.

This appeared to be inhabited

At Mile 65 I was grateful to make the turn towards the finish line.  We had been cycling against the wind for about 40 miles and I really needed the wind at my back at this point.  I had never ridden so far without stopping and I was becoming dehydrated to boot.  I was really looking forward to rest stop at Mile 76 and the mild scolding I would give the volunteers for abandoning the previous stop.

Imagine my horror when I reached the final rest stop AND THERE WAS NOTHING THERE!

The Tea Party is quite active in the area, with signs like this posted in several locations

The stop was at a convenience store, so I could have simply waltzed in there and purchased some goods.  That is, I could have done so if I had any money.  Stupidly, I left my money in my car.  When I was going on a supported ride, I did so under the mistaken notion that I would be supported.  I resolved I wouldn’t make that mistake again, assuming I lived through this one.  I amused myself by taking photos of the train depot at Beaverdam and the historical marker there (yes – a historical marker!) and steeled myself for the final 20 miles without food or water.

This was becoming seriously dangerous.  The temperature was well above 80 degrees at this point and I had been nursing my hydration for the past 20 miles.  I now had another 20 miles to go without anything to drink whatsoever.  I had burned well over 2,000 calories and ingested about 400.  I would burn another 1,000 calories before I was finished.  My mouth felt like I was eating handfuls of cotton.  There was nothing to do but ease myself to the end and buy something to drink at the nearby gas station.  There might be a tongue-lashing toward a ride official if the opportunity presented itself.

At Mile 82, I was given another treat.  My cue sheet stated I should turn left on Eastham Road.  What it should have said was, “Please do not turn left on Eastham Road.  In fact, ignore this instruction entirely.  You’re doing just fine on the road you are on and should remain on it.  Sorry for the confusion.”

This is what happens when you build cue sheets based on MapMyRide or some other computer program.  Roads often change names or have silly little idiosyncracies that confuse these programs and the directions get muddled.  I was on a road which would change its name from Greene’s Corner to (ever so briefly) Eastham to Arritt to Lewiston.  One road – four names.  The cue sheet reads like I would be on three different roads (oddly, there is no mention of Lewiston Road).  This is why it is critical to proof the course in advance.  On a bike.  I am proud to say that my newfound club, the DC Randonneurs does precisely this before every ride, even ones they have done many times before.

I like the DC Randonneurs.

Anyway, it took me two miles to discover my mistake and double back to the road I should have stayed on.  Oddly enough, this was PRECISELY the distance I needed to make my ride a full century.  The final fifteen miles were a great struggle.  I found it increasingly difficult to hold my line, meaning my bike would wander into the road while my mind checked out.  Fortunately, the road was not busy.  The final three miles were on Courthouse Road, which was considerably busier and I forced myself to focus on the white line near the shoulder.

Despite staying near the line, I still almost died.

A mere half mile from the finish, a line of cars approached from the opposite direction.  Third in line was a late-model Trans Am, the driver of which had lost his patience and decided to pass the front two cars in one swoop.  He didn’t see me coming from the opposite direction.  As he pulled into the passing lane (the lane I was in, heading in the opposite direction), he gunned his engine.  Then he saw me.  Then he swerved toward the car he was passing.  In the end, he missed both me and the car he was passing by less than two feet on each side.

I pulled into the parking lot, having ridden 100 miles without stopping except for the briefest of periods to take the occasional photo or consult my iPhone map.  My final time was 6:26, well short of my goal of six hours, but still quite good considering I ate almost nothing and flirted with heat stroke for the last hour and a half.  I quickly got my bike stowed and drove the short distance to the nearest convenience store where I bought the best-tasting Gatorade I have ever had.  I went on to drink about 100 ounces of fluid in the next three hours without feeling the slightest need to use the bathroom.  I was a tad dehydrated, I think.

Thus concluded the Lake Anna Century Classic.  Proceeds from this event went to Law Enforcement United, a charity which helps the families of police officers and firemen who die in the line of duty.  It’s a worthy cause.  I’m just glad I didn’t need to die to support it.  In the future, I will begin all organized rides with the assumption that I must support myself.  Yesterday, that was precisely the case and my failure to be prepared cost me.

Historical Marker Segment!

My, it’s been a long time since I’ve bagged a new marker!  This one is located in the town of Beaverdam, near the nonexistent Rest Stop at Mile 76.  It commemorates a train depot whose claim to fame seems to be that it was repeatedly destroyed by Union forces during the Civil War and John S. Mosby was captured there.  I find the notion of the Great “Gray Ghost” being captured while waiting for a train to be quite amusing.  The station is restored quite handsomely and sits in a nice park, quite fetching for this small town.

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35 thoughts on “How I Cheated Death At Lake Anna

  1. EEK! Somebody really needs to give the ride organizers some feedback (euphamism for “chew their a–es out!” You did a great ride.

  2. yikes – dangerous situation. If the ride organizers aren’t prepared to staff and route-check a 60 and 100 mile route, they might as well just have asked the century riders to do 2 loops. Glad you made it out ok. I keep a few bucks in my tiny first aid kit for this reason. Rarely would need bandaids of clean wipes, but $5 can provide a lot of aid!

    • That’s a good tip. When I go on my more adventurous solo rides, I like to have some money with me as well. I’ll just be sure to do likewise even when I think someone will have food/drink for me along the way.

  3. Did a ‘tougue-lashing” opportunity ever presented itself? The ride is for a good cause, but I’d hope their website would mention the “no refreshment” part?! Esp for such a long haul ride!! Glad you survived. I once badly bonked on a 100km ride, not because I didn’t bring food. Just simply because I was full of myself & wanted to keep up with the group; I didn’t want to stop for a break & eat!

    • When I finished, I was focused on getting to the store to buy something to drink. I really didn’t have the energy to track down someone in charge and give them my two cents. The website actually says water, fruits, and snacks would be available at all rest stops.

  4. How sad. Outstanding cause, awful execution. Please email someone, let them know. I am sure the people who this event is for would be mortified if they knew.

    And congrats on gutting it out. Like a true soldier. Oh, and… Greatest. Jersey. Ever.

    • Thanks, Fizz. You may be able to pick one up at Nashbar if they still have them in stock. It definitely drew a lot of comments and one lady asked to take a picture of it!

  5. Yikes! What a dangerous situation. I have to imagine you were not alone in having to gut out the second half of the route. If they hope to have a 2nd Annual Lake Anna Century Classic, they need to get their act together and let the riders know.

    I’m nowhere near the mileage you can crank out, but I’ve tucked some cash into the inner recesses of my saddle bag just in case. You’ve just made me very glad for being so cautious. At least the thunderstorms held out until afterwards.

    An impressive ride!

    • Most of the riders seemed to have enough sense to have some money with them. I saw them heading into one of the two gas stations along that portion of the route. Interestingly, I didn’t see anybody make the wrong turn on Eastham. I guess they weren’t relying on their cue sheets but rather the signs which were often (but not always) placed at the intersections.

  6. That sounds like quite the ordeal. I haven’t done any organized rides but I would imagine that the later rest stops are particularly important to properly staff and supply.

    • I agree. The later stops would be very helpful as ran out of the supplies I brought with me and grew increasingly tired. This was especially true for water. You can only bring so much of that with you.

  7. Wow…A few months back I thought I was going to do that ride, but then decided I wouldn’t be ready. What a shame! As it was, I went 23 miles in my neck of the woods and was shocked at how hot it got; it really felt like summer–suddenly!

    PS Not surprised it was a Trans Am :^/

    • It definitely felt like summer out there – unlike today. Congrats on your ride. In an ironic twist, one of the first cars I owned was a Trans Am. I miss that car.

      • And fortunately that car missed you!

        By the way–I had been interested in riding at Lake Anna because I imagined it to be relatively flat (in contrast to what I normally ride on) but you described the course as hilly. I’m a little surprised by that.

      • It wasn’t very hilly – only 3,100 feet of climbing over 100 miles – but I thought it was a bit much for someone in one of those “rocket bike” contraptions!

  8. Well done indeed. It is no fun going on when you are hungry and thirsty but you are a determined fellow and well merit the praise of the commenters above. I hope you recover well.

    • Thank you. There is a fine line between determination and folly and I usually have great difficulty in finding it. All is well today and I’m ready for the rest of the season’s excitement.

  9. Amazing ride and blog. V poor to flag up “rest stops” with no drinks/snacks – but hey, what can you expect from people who call it a 100 miler when it’s actually four and a bit miles short? 🙂

    Dehydrated? You were dessicated!!! Oh… and glad you survived 🙂

  10. Brilliantly written once again Steve, but so sorry that you had such a rough go of it. As many have suggested, you owe it to yourself and fellow sufferers to send a letter to the organizers so that this can be rectified for next year. You were lucky re the car, certainly, and it reminds us all once again how we rely on others being sensible and safe as well. It is not enough for us alone to practice caution.

    Still, you lived to write about it and we are all jolly glad about that!

    • Sometimes, you can be doing everything correctly and still be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fortunately for me, that didn’t happen to me yesterday.

  11. After a bad bonk several years ago, I always make it a point to bring some money along on rides. Lately, I’ve been thinking I should bring a credit card as well.

    • A good idea. I don’t ride without my cell phone, so I’m rarely in a jam so bad that my wife can’t bail me out. This time, I was 100 miles from home and counting on the ride to have their rest stops stocked every 20 miles as advertised. I won’t make that mistake again.

    • The one person I corresponded with had a name that ended in a consonant, so I think the Italians are blameless in this matter. It seems they were simply unprepared to take on their first ride and I was not smart enough to plan to take care of myself. Lesson learned.

  12. Well done on the ride Steve, I admire your determination to keep going. Also a nicely told story I could feel your pain and frustration.

  13. This most excellent post somehow got chucked into my Spam box. I’m glad I found it in time! That was quite the ride and I feel your pain re the dehydration and late-race wonkiness. It appears the organizers have some serious soul searching to do before next year’s event (if there is one).

    But I just need to know one thing, Steve. Is Spotsylvania a real place?!

    • Please stop relying on emails to notify you of new posts to this blog. Simply check the site hourly to see if there are any updates. In this way, you will be guaranteed of seeing new posts while simultaneously driving up my visitor count. It’s a win-win!

      I can personally attest to the existence of Spotsylvania. It is a tiny town whose claim to fame is the large Civil War battle which occurred there in 1864.

      • I’m disappointed. I just tried clicking on the link in my blog to yours and you don’t have anything new up. I guess I’ll just try again in an hour…

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