As I left my house for Warrenton, I wondered if I would actually see any pumpkins during The Great Pumpkin Ride. I don’t particularly like the taste of pumpkins (a fact that has some bearing on this story), but I didn’t think it would be proper to pedal much of the day in a ride named after the gourd and not actually see one.
I wasn’t thinking only of pumpkins. Primarily, my mind was on the weather. The day dawned with a frost warning and the forecast was for sun and a high temperature around 70 degrees. I wasn’t sure what to wear, but I decided on my new cycling pants and brought just about everything else I may ever want, including skull-cap, wind breaker jacket, and shoe covers. I figured I’d make my final wardrobe decisions in the parking lot in Warrenton.
The start of the ride was at the Warrenton Branch Greenway – a 1.5 mile paved pathway built on a railroad bed. The trail head is in the center of the old town, so there isn’t a lot of consolidated parking. People were parking in every nook and cranny to be found and there was quite a bustle as cyclists made their way to the start point. The ride organizers had a few small tents where vendors offered memberships to fitness clubs, the Warrenton Cycling club, and other such things. I was pleasantly surprised to find the check in very fast and orderly. I was given a plastic bag with a map, cue card for my 64 mile route, some adverts for local hospitals and other stores, and my complimentary T-Shirt – a size medium for my wife since it is apparently impossible for this race to provide a 2XL shirt. I can only imagine what some of the behemoths I saw on the road did with their shirts. I am as thin as a stick compared to many of them!
Back at the truck, I made my decision – no skull-cap or jacket, but I would wear the shoe covers. My Garmin was telling me it was 53 degrees and I knew the temperature would quickly get into the 60s, so the “full outfit” was not required. I packed up my gear and made my way to the head of the trail, which featured a neat steel bridge and a caboose as an homage to the trail’s original purpose.
At the start point, a man with a portable PA system was droning on over music about door prizes (none of which I won yet again!). At 9:30, he got everyone marshalled and sent us on our way. There was a bit of a crush as everyone tried to enter the trail but things smoothed out quickly. Fortunately, there were very few people on the trail apart from the cyclists. A larger number of joggers/walkers would have made things more interesting!
I knew the first 25 miles were mostly downhill so I resolved to set a fast pace. I was pleasant with my fellow riders, sharing brief small talk about the cold start and the beautiful sunshine, but I didn’t strike up an extended conversation as I did at Culpeper. Perhaps this was due to my faster pace. I did take notice of a group of three riders sporting Naval Academy cycling kit and asked them when they graduated. There were reps from the Class of 84 and 89. I introduced myself as USMA Class of 86 and then we briefly pondered who would prevail in today’s ride – Army or Navy. We quickly discovered that the USNA grads were only going 44 miles, which gave me an opportunity to snort derisively (politely derisive, of course) while I explained I would be going on the 68 mile trip and therefore could not race them. Despite the slow start on the Greenway, my average pace was 17.7 mph as I pulled into Rest Stop #1 at Mile 12. Very nice.
I pulled into the Midland Brethren Church parking lot and was eager to see what goodies the good people of Warrenton Cycling had waiting for us. In a pavilion behind the church, they had all manner of pumpkin products – mostly pies and pumpkin flavored coffee. I looked upon this with horror – I HATE PUMPKIN! I was I supposed to manage another 56 miles with only this stuff for calories? I thought the theme was neat and the crackling fire at one end of the pavilion was a nice touch, but I am apparently the only cyclist in central Virginia who cannot stand the taste of pumpkin. Fortunately, there was some carrot cake, which I helped myself to. There were no sports drinks – only water. This seems to be a prevailing issue in both rides I have been on. Perhaps I need to fill up both my water bottles with sports drinks and get my water at the rest stops.
I took less time at the Rest Stop and was back on the road in five minutes. After a few miles, there was a turn which diverted the 44 mile riders from those on the longer route. I watched the few cyclists around me take the shorter route and I found myself utterly alone. I rode on for miles without seeing anyone. Was I in 1st place? Impossible – they had to be in front of me somewhere. After eight miles, some riders came into sight. When I passed, I told them how glad I was to see them. I was beginning to wonder if I was on the wrong road!
The roads were relatively quiet and took us through farm country and skirted the towns of Bealeton and Remington. It was still quite cold and I was grateful for my shoe covers. I was surprised to learn just how cold your feet can get in cycling shoes. They are designed to divert air into the shoe. A steady 50 degree breeze on sweaty feet can get quite chilly. The shoe covers go a long way to stop that.
At the southernmost portion of the route (Mile 28), we came to Kelley’s Ford and immediately were forced up the first serious climb of the day. Nobody caught me and I continued to catch and pass the occasional rider. Still feeling pretty good, I made a good pace until Mile 36 and Rest Stop 2 – Elk Run Church.
More pumpkins and no sports drink. Yippee. The volunteer was brewing some sort of concoction in a large pot – probably hot cider – but I wasn’t interested in a warm beverage. I took some water, a banana, and some oatmeal raisin bars and thought about my humble but significantly better supply of ride food sitting in my house. I should probably bring some of that stuff with me next time.
I shoved off feeling good about my pace, which had me finishing at a little over four hours. I knew the upcoming hills would slow that a bit, but I was very confident at this point that I would achieve my time goals for the ride. I realized I hadn’t taken many pictures on the road, but there frankly weren’t many interesting views. I took a picture of my new full-finger gloves and my handlebar instead. But I thought you might like to see a fairly typical view of the countryside, which I now provide for your enjoyment:
As you can see, I was once again largely on my own. I did see a fair number of broken-down cyclists tending to flat tires, broken derailleurs, and skipped chains. I asked each of them if they needed assistance and they all happily said they had their situations well in hand. So on I went.
Shortly, I passed Sowego Road and found myself on a stretch of road I had traveled once before. This road heads into Catlett and the dreaded Tenerife Road. But first I had to climb what I remembered as a very steep hill. I was pleasantly surprised to see I could climb it this time without pushing the breaking point as I did a few months ago. Once again I was forced to confront the possibility that I am getting into shape. As I rode into Catlett, I passed Tenerife Road and the cow pasture where I took my break on my previous ride. The cows weren’t out today, which was a disappointment as I was looking forward to seeing how they are getting on.
And there were no Dobermans to speak of, which was a very good thing, IMHO.
At Mile 57 we pulled into a resort called the Carriage House, where Rest Stop 3 was waiting for us. Once again, I was greeted with pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins. It was a veritable Pumpkinpalooza. This rest stop was unique in that riders could walk into the red building pictured on the right and actually sit at a cloth-covered table in a reasonably comfortable chair while eating their pumpkin-related cuisine. It was also unique in that there was NO WATER! A man in chef’s garb presided over this travesty, seemingly unconcerned as he chatted with some of the riders. I mentioned that it might be a good thing to have the one and only water jug actually holding some water. The “chef” seemed perturbed but reluctantly agreed to fix the problem.
Although there were only ten miles left, I knew from my earlier study of the route that this part of the course was mostly uphill. I was therefore mentally prepared for the challenged, unlike many riders I passed along the way. At this point, all the routes converged so there were more riders on the road. A group of four guys passed me with about five miles to go and I hoped on their wheel for the rest of the trip. On the Greenway back into Warrenton, there were several townsfolk enjoying the nice weather on the path. One gentleman asked me how far the “race” was. He was amazed to find out the distance. He was traveling with a boy on a mountain bike and said, “Did you hear that, Billy? They rode SIXTY EIGHT MILES!”
That made me feel good.
Back in the parking lot, I had my two best conversations of the day. I saw a man wearing an Army jersey (complete with the ACU camouflage pattern) and complimented him on his kit. Turns out he’s a lawyer working in the Pentagon who will be deploying to Afghanistan in a couple of weeks. We chatted a bit about his job and I wished him luck. I also met a lady who lives in Bethesda and was quite impressed that this was “only” my second organized ride. I’d like to think that is because my chiseled frame would suggest I am an experienced cyclist, but somehow I don’t think that’s the case. She knew a great deal about many of the region’s better Century rides and she shared her opinion on the ones that she enjoys. Opinions like these are very helpful to me as I try to figure out next year’s cycling schedule.
And thus concluded The Great Pumpkin Ride. It was a nice event with good weather. I managed to keep an overall pace of 14.7 mph and a pace while moving of 16.3 mph. I was 43 minutes faster than the Culpeper Metric Century three weeks ago. My arms didn’t hurt (due to bending the elbows) and my knees didn’t hurt (due to stretching and lowering the seat). It was a good ride. Here’s hoping I am not confronted with pumpkins for a few days!