Testing The Secret Weapon

As regular readers know (and are becoming increasingly bored with hearing about), my feet have been giving me problems this year.  I’m fairly certain this is due to an aggravated nerve under the toes of my right foot, although the left foot has been known to join in the fun as well.  I suspect this is a compensation injury as the left foot takes on most of the load when the right foot simply cannot.

I’ve made progress in the past two weeks,mainly through the use of gel insoles in all of my footwear.  The final piece to this grand design arrived in the mail on Saturday.  Behold, the G-Form Bike Shoe Insole:


The good people at G-Form proudly state that this is the first insole specifically engineered to dampen the vibration between the ball of your foot and the cleat, thus eliminating the “hot spot” on the sole of your foot.


The insoles are purported to be breathable, antimicrobial and built with “Medical Grade” Ortholite Technology.  Sounds impressive.  I’m not sure what other grades of insole there are.  “Weapons Grade” would be interesting.  Still, “Medical Grade” seemed to be more in line with what I was looking for and I gave the insoles a test ride on Monday over a 35 mile course.

As always, click for details

As always, click for details

I decided to check in on the Bristoe Station Battlefield, located near the town of Bristow.  Yes, the spellings are correct.  It seems that somewhere between 1863 and today the people of the area decided that Bristow looked better than the original spelling.  This sort of thing happens around here occasionally.  Another good example is Elys Road, west of Fredericksburg,  which suddenly turns into Eleys Road.  Very mysterious.

I hadn’t been to this small battlefield in over a year and I was curious to see what improvements had been made.  The field is preserved by the developer of a new neighborhood of homes as part of the arrangement for allowing the housing builds.  The park office is a former farm house and the park is modestly appointed with a few historical markers and some trails.  I set off on the loop, knowing the asphalt would soon give way to crushed gravel.

The start

The start

Happily, the gravel was reasonably forgiving.  If I had fatter tires and flat pedals, it would have been a breeze.  Lacking both of those items, I needed to be a little cautious of softer portions of the trail and the occasional washout.  On the whole, it wasn’t too bad.

A pleasant trail with a bench under the tree for contemplation.

A pleasant trail with a bench under the tree for contemplation.

They added a cannon!

They added a cannon!

Not a historical structure.  This is actually still in use.

Not a historical structure. This is actually still in use.

After wandering about the park for 15 minutes, it was time to set off again.  It was quite hot at this time with my Garmin reading 99 degrees.  My next stop was the nearby train station to see the commuters heading home after a day in which they were not furloughed by the government.  Most people are taking Fridays off.  I get Mondays.

I have seen the train station on sleepy weekend mornings but have never seen it in operation.  As expected, the large parking lot which has been empty on my previous trips was packed with cars.  I pulled up to the station and was disappointed by the lack of activity.  I had hoped to see bustling commuters, but settled for this pic instead.


As I was setting off for home, I spotted a train in the distance.  I waited patiently and was treated to a scene I did not expect.  As the commuters disembarked the train, dozens of them began… sprinting!

The Race To The Cars

The Race To The Cars

While smiling broadly at the absurdity of the scene, I pondered why these people were behaving this way.  My best guess is that there is only one way out of the parking lot and there must be a bit of a wait to leave it.  Many people cannot bear the thought of a four or five minute wait and thus run at a flat-out sprint in 99 degree heat while wearing business clothes in order to avoid such a horror.  Fascinating.  If people will do this just to shave a few minutes off their commute, its no wonder why they hurl insults at cyclists who have the gall to ride in the road.

At this point, I really needed to start heading home.  My pace was terrible due to my detours at the battlefield and the train station.  It was stifling hot and my water bottles were getting low.  I would need to conserve fluid on the way back.  It was shortly after this point that I began to suspect my insoles were not completely satisfactory.  About ten miles later, I was certain they weren’t doing the job.  With pain shooting up through my right foot, I pulled over for a few minutes rest.  Its surprising (to me, at least) how quickly the symptoms go away with just a little break.  I was able to make the last seven miles with little issue, but I am now officially concerned about my upcoming century.

This was my first seriously hot ride of the summer and it took a lot out of me.  I sat in the cool of the house for over an hour, drinking cold water until I began to feel normal again.  Here’s hoping the heat wave breaks soon.


Wilderness 200K Brevet (Part 2)

Now, where was I?

Oh yes – just heading back after a lovely sandwich and Mountain Dew at the Spotsylvania 7-11.  Did I mention I had a slight breeze at my back all the way down from Bristow?

It was in my face now.

Nothing serious, mind you.  It was only 5-10 mph and only as annoying as a dripping faucet in the middle of the night – always there, always bugging you, but nothing that you can’t deal with.  Stupid wind.  It would be my companion for the next 60 miles.

I left the 7-11 within a few moments of two other cyclists.  I quickly learned they weren’t together as one dropped the other.  Then the slower one dropped me.  We each made our way over flat roads to Chancellorsville Battlefield and another information control.  As I was about to leave, another group of three riders came up and kindly (if unknowingly) posed for the below picture.

Thousands of men died in this field in May, 1863.

Thousands of men died in this field in May, 1863.

With the sightseeing officially over, all that remained was the ride home.  My first task was to pedal through 13 miles of hilly boredom known as Elys Ford Road.  Or maybe it’s Eleys Ford Road; nobody seems to know for sure what the correct spelling is.  I saw both versions on signposts and I saw an Eleys Baptist Church.  Finally, I saw a gravestone in a cemetery with a large Eleys engraved upon it.  It would seem the Eleys faction has a stronger claim.  This road has almost nothing to see and only the tiny town of Richardsville to pass through for entertainment.  On my previous two trips down this road, the hills and boredom sapped my strength.  I was better prepared this time and paced myself.

One of the few pleasant sites on Eleys Ford Road.  Sadly it occurs only two miles into the journey.

One of the few pleasant sites on Eleys Ford Road. Sadly it occurs only two miles into the journey.

There is a steep descent on this road where I always make great speeds.  In fact, my personal best speed of 46.0 mph was set on this stretch and I once again made a run at the record.  I topped out at 44.7 mph.  Stupid headwind.

Eventually I reached the turning point of Eleys/Elys Ford Road and began the descent to the Rappahannock River.  I was thinking about how I felt better than I did at this point last year when my leg began to cramp.  Not good.  Not good at all.

I pedaled to the bridge on one leg and dismounted to stretch and grab some energy food.  I’m not sure what caused the cramping.  It is either a nutrition issue or the fact that my longest ride of the year was 37 miles and I was currently at Mile 98.  Perhaps it was both, but I have decided I need to eat a little more at these rest stops.  I see other riders getting by with small sandwiches and fruit, but these riders tend to weigh about 30-50 pounds less than me.  I’m burning more calories than they are and need to take in more to compensate.  Some folks take the time to have a sit down meal at a local restaurant.  I’m thinking that’s the way to go when I tackle the 300K next month.

The bridge over the Rappahannock River with three randonneurs crossing.

The bridge over the Rappahannock River with three randonneurs crossing.

I arrived at the bridge five minutes behind last year’s pace and took another five minutes stretching, eating some shot blocks, and taking photos.  I now needed to travel the remaining 30 miles ten minutes faster than I did last year just to equal my time.  Things were becoming desperate.  But maybe I could keep my cramps under control.  Maybe my lighter weight would help.  Maybe I could shave some time by being quick at the final control point.  Maybe there was still a chance.

So off I went, climbing a steep hill out of the river valley and continuing my ride into the slight breeze.  In ten miles, I reached the final control point of the day – a humble convenience store at a lonely crossroads in Fauquier County.  Ed and Mary were there, enjoying a leisurely break with several other riders.  I learned that they also took a lengthier lunch break at a proper restaurant.  Ed and Mary are extremely experienced randonneurs having completed the legendary 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris ride amongst many other feats.  Maybe I should learn from them.

Enjoying a break at a picnic table outside the final control point.  I probably should have done likewise.

Enjoying a break at a picnic table outside the final control point. I probably should have done likewise.

On this day, I was not in a learning mood and politely declined their friendly invitation to sit and relax with them.  I had less than 80 minutes to complete the final 20 miles.  When fresh, I could easily do that but I will remind you, Dear Reader, that I had logged 108 miles at this point and any “freshness” that I once had was long since gone.  I pushed hard for the first ten miles on a slight downhill but blew a gasket as I turned onto Hazelwood Road.  I could hear the immortal cycling announcer, Phil Liggett, in my mind:

“Oh dear, it certainly looks as if Martin has cracked.  So close for the American, yet so far.”

 Having given up my chase, I sat up and spun my way home.  Amazingly, Ed and Mary’s group reeled me in only a couple of miles later.  Apparently, I wasn’t going nearly as fast as I thought I was.  It was also apparent what a well-rested set of legs can do and the pace a group of cyclists can do that a soloist cannot.  As always, they were very cheerful.  Mary even managed to take an exceedingly rare photo of your author riding a bicycle.  This is how I looked in their rear view mirrors.

Putting on a good face at Mile 122

Putting on a good face at Mile 122

I put forth an honest, if not herculean, effort and made it back to the Carribou Coffee Shop with a final time of 9:49, nine minutes slower than last year.  As always, I was greeted with clapping and offered congratulations by the riders who finished before me.  Pizza, soda, fruit and other goodies were laid out and I was grateful to partake.  I signed my official control sheet and turned it in.  I chatted briefly with the group and decided I needed to be on my way home.

And thus ended 2013’s running of the Wilderness 200k Brevet.  The start at freezing temperatures was the coldest of my humble career but the day turned out to be quite pleasant.  I was disappointed in my finish time and I had plenty to think about on my way home.  I shall share my poignant observations with you in my next post!

Hope Hill Crossing

The squiggly lines near the beginning is Hope Hill Crossing

The squiggly lines near the beginning is Hope Hill Crossing

I like to have a goal for most of my bike rides.  Sometimes the goal focuses on the ride itself, such as a training regimen or a personal best.  Other times I like to see something I have never seen or check up on something I have been away from for awhile.  Such was the case today when I made for the new housing development of Hope Hill Crossing to see if there was a way to travel from the “old portion” (ie., built two years ago) and the “new portion” (ie., built in the past few months).  The new area is so new that the streets do not appear on any maps.  So it was that I set off with the same adventurous spirit (though decidedly less risk) as the explorers who searched for the Northwest Passage.

Hope Hill Crossing is only 1.5 miles from my house so the trip was rather short.  The entire area was a farmer’s field less than five years ago.  The farmer sold the land to a housing developer and the rest is history.  Many of the streets still have no home on them, but the builders are making steady progress.  In no time at all there will be several hundred homes full of people I will get to share the roads with.

Hope Hill

After several abortive attempts, I was able to confirm that the passageway does not yet exist.  I took the below picture at the point where the road gives out.  You can see the older part of the development across the field.  Presumably, the road will eventually extend to that portion.


I also noted with interest several hundred Canadians blatantly violating the posted No Trespassing sign.  I took the following picture as evidence and will shortly be turning it over to the police.


The problem with an adventure 1.5 miles from your house is that it doesn’t make for much of a bike ride.  I therefore completed a 28 mile circuit up to Bristow which I have done many times.  I paused to take a picture of Broad Run and watch the water as it flowed eastward to join Cedar Run and form the Occoquan River.


There are several small bridges like this in the area and I have contemplated crossing them all on a single route.  It would be convoluted and lengthy, but it might be a good reason to get on the bike one day.

New Jacket

What a difference a week makes.  Last week, I was pedalling in the Florida sunshine in shorts and a jersey.  This week, I was in Northern Virginia, looking at the morning frost on the grass.  Out came the wool socks, leggings, winter gloves, skull cap, and a new addition to my wardrobe – a cycling jacket.

As I enter my third winter of cycling, I figured it was time to break down and buy a jacket specific to the job.  I found a reasonably priced garment on Nashbar a few weeks ago and took the plunge.  The jacket is like most any other one except this has the traditional three pockets in the back which make for easier retrieval of items.  The waist is cut a little higher than normal so it doesn’t interfere with the legs while pedalling, and the cut is a little closer to the body so there is less air drag.

Ta Da!

The jacket’s debut was a roaring success and the ride was pleasant, if cool.  Temperatures made it into the mid-40s by the end of things and I even passed several hardy cyclists as I returned home on Rte 234.  The country roads between Aden Road and Bristow Road were as pleasant as always.  The above pic was taken on Parkgate Drive through the clever use of a 10-second timer on a camera resting on a “For Sale” sign.  Sadly, the autofocus was slightly off.

I was curious to see if there would be any election signs still standing 11 days after the event.  Just as I was beginning to believe they all were retrieved, I spied this handsome specimen near Bristow (Mile 16).

This being a rural area, I was not surprised to find a sign supporting the Republicans.  Of note, only Mr. Wittman won his election.

Having tested my jacket and finding an election sign, my objectives were complete and I turned for home.  I’ll leave you with a picture of Flory Road, which captures the landscape I pedaled through rather well.

A Pleasant Summer’s Ride

There’s nothing terribly exciting to report today, I’m afraid.  I went on a pleasant 41-mile ride under blue skies, light wind, and warm (but not oppressive) summer temperatures.  As difficult cycling is in January, today was enjoyable.  I traveled westward on Aden Road, past the outer portion of Quantico Marine Base, and made my way to Nokesville with a slight detour to travel down Carriage Ford Road, one of my favorite stretches of road in the area.

Horses along Carriage Ford Road

Pit Stop

When I pulled into Nokesville, I did have a touch of drama when I noticed the shoppette where I was hoping to buy some Gatorade at wasn’t open yet.  After a moment’s frustration, I recalled there was a 7-11 around the corner.  Despite the fact the franchise name is based on its original hours of operation, I knew they were now open 24×7.  This store was especially nice.  When I came up a few pennies short, the cashier graciously told me I could keep my purchase if I promised to come back again.  He was serious about keeping my Gatorade but joking about the requirement to revisit.  All the same, the Nokesville 7-11 is now my preferred stopping point in Nokesville.

Having refueled, I struck out west toward Bristow on a road which took me to an Iron Bridge which I always enjoy.  It’s one lane wide and covered with wooden planks – an interesting throw-back in this part of the world.

Iron Bridge

The rest of my trip was uneventful.  Because I took a break and I wasn’t trying to set any speed records, I had plenty of energy for the hills on Bristow Road.  Hills are increasingly on my mind as I expect to see plenty of them on my August and September century rides.

Memory Lane


I haven’t gone over 40 miles since August 8th and with my 65-mile ride 10 days away I figured it was time to get back into the swing of things.  I had my new bike and all the “incidentals” (spare tube, water bottles, CO2 cartridge, etc…) necessary for a longer outing so I was all set.  I headed out toward Nokesville along Bristow Road.  As I descended toward the Occoquan River, it occurred to me this route would take me by many of the sites of my short-but-eventful cycling career.

First up was Brentsville, aka “Brakesville,” due to the multiple mishaps in this locale.  I’ve lost two tires, a spoke, and a pair of pedals in this little hamlet.  I pedaled past the old jailhouse and looked for ghosts.  Still nothing.  On my way out of town, a semi flew past me from the other direction.  The huge gust of wind caused me to lose my vision ever so briefly.  Naturally, this is when the pothole appeared.  I hit it with a thud and waited for the inevitable hissing sound of escaping air.  Amazingly, nothing of the sort happened.

Maybe my luck is changing for the better.

Next up was Bristow, scene of a broken spoke on my August 8 ride.  I was forced 20 miles home on a tire that was massively out of true.  It was so bad, the tire eventually flatted.  Today, all was well.  I zipped passed the Bristow Station battlefield and around a man-made lake.  I headed westward toward Nokesville.

In Nokesville, I stopped at a convenience store for some Gatorade and a sandwich.  Both were delicious.  I filled up one of my 28 ounce water bottles (4 ounces bigger than that on Old Ironsides) with the Gatorade and drank the remainder.  I noted that with my Camelbak I am now traveling with 126 ounces of fluid.  That’s a lot of fluid.  As I was leaving town,  I passed the high school which gave me shelter in a rainstorm and the town park where I once had a pleasant break and ate my first Clif Bar.  Now that I think about it, absolutely nothing bad has ever happened to me in Nokesville.  Given my track record, that’s a fact worth noting.

I picked up Carriage Ford Road and enjoyed a five-mile stretch of roads that may be the best for cycling in the area.  They are relatively flat, very straight, free of cars, and provide lovely farm views.  I passed Dumfries Road, the gravel route that I took (and developed a slow leak on) as part of the “Tenerife Incident.”  At the end of Hazelwood Road, I realized I hadn’t taken a pic of this great stretch and stopped to do just that.

Hazelwood Road - no cars, all the time

I swung onto Fleetwood Dr and pedaled passed the Merrimac Wildlife Management Area and the gravel road that managed to flat my brand new Armadillo tires.  I’m still shaking my head at that one.  In short order, I was turning right onto Aden Road and steeling myself for the four miles of climbing that were to come.  A couple of miles up the hills I paused at a historical marker which I never paused to read before.  Virginia has signs like this ALL OVER the place, marking the most insignificant of events.  I guess it gives the prisoners something to do.

You'd never guess this place was once the center of county life. It's deserted today - just woods and a Marine base.

A few miles later, I was back on my old friend, Route 234.  An elderly cyclist was emerging out of the tall grass and I slowed to ask him if everything was alright.  I believe he was just “relieving himself,” but I wanted to be sure.  I think I embarrassed him because he chased me down in a couple of miles and made a point of flying by me.  I could have hauled him in, but I was watching my heart rate in an attempt to train myself to moderate my calorie burn on long rides.  Remember kids, when you decide to match skills against another passing cyclist, you have no idea what kind of workout he is on or how far he has already ridden.  Moderate your sense of accomplishment accordingly.

All in all, it was a very nice ride.  Good weather and not a single mechanical mishap as I pedaled past the markers of this summer’s personal wreckage.  I remain concerned about my fitness level for the upcoming 65-miler.  A review of my Garmin data shows my average heart rate steadily climbing throughout the ride.  By Mile 41, it was well into Zone 4 – a bad place for a guy wanting to go another 25 miles.  I’ll need to be especially careful not to overdo it too quickly in Culpeper.

Sunday’s Ride (The Good Part)

I completed another 40 miler on Sunday – giving me 82 miles for the weekend.  Not bad.  On this trip I went Northwest to Bristow and checked out a small battlefield at Bristow Station.  The battle took place on Oct 14, 1863 in the aftermath of the Gettysburg Campaign.  Robert E. Lee attempted yet another offensive operation against the North and through some nifty maneuvering forced Union General George Meade to retreat from Culpeper all the way to Centreville.  Confederate General A.P. Hill was attempting an attack on the Union Rearguard when he fell into a trap at Bristow Station.  Hill’s Corps suffered 1,360 fatalities and 450 captured against 360 Union deaths.  The loss ended the Confederate attack plans.  After tearing up some railroad tracks, Lee was forced to retreat and adopt a defensive position.

The Parking Lot At Bristow Station Park

Regrettably, there isn’t much to see at the park these days.  A construction company recently built the park next to a development of upscale townhouses it constructed in the last few years.  They have a nice map and some trails that take a visitor to sites of the battle, along with the site of a Confederate encampment in 1862.  There are no markers or monuments, so it feels very much like a tour of an old farm, which is in fact what the land was used for before the developer purchased it.  The old farmhouse is empty and there is a sign in the window announcing it as the future home of the Visitors’ Center.  The old silo still stands in the distance.  It’s a nice start to a neat little park and it should be interesting to see how it develops in the coming years.

The Lake at Bristow Station

I left the park and peddled through the immaculately manicured homes of Bristow Station.  The neighborhood is built around the above lake.  There were ducks on the water and children playing with their parents at the neighborhood playground.  Couples were walking together on the path which surrounds the lake.  It was all very idyllic!

Bristow Ducks

I then pushed on to Nokesville, where I stopped at a neighborhood convenience store to replenish my Gatorade bottle and eat my Clif Bar.  I then hopped back on my ride and started the 20 mile ride home.  I diverted onto Parkgate Drive, a street I had not yet traveled the entire length of, and discovered some more pleasant farm country.  I also came across this unique home entrance.  The owners are proudly displaying the American flag (not so unusual) and the flag of the 101st Airborne Division (quite unusual).  Having served in the 101st for four years, I couldn’t help but take a photo for posterity!

I finished my ride in good shape and pleased with the miles I logged.  And that’s all I have to say about that because the title of this post says I am only supposed to talk about the good part of this ride.  Tomorrow, I’ll share the not-s0-good part, but for now I will leave you with a pic of the pleasant country views I enjoyed on this day!

Bristow Road Near The Manassas Airport

Farm Animals On Parkgate Drive