The Great Pumpkin Ride

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.

Starting Point

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!

Steel Bridge, viewed from the parking lot

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.

Recumbent Bikes, getting ready to go

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!

One of the Naval Academy grads at Rest Stop 1

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.

Rest Stop 1 - Midland Brethren Church

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.

Rest Stop 2 - Elk Run Church

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.

The Trek at rest with other bikes at Rest Stop 2


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.

Rest Stop 3, with the offending "chef" and empty water jug

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.

The Warrenton Belt Greenway

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!


It’s A Small World, but We’re All Wearing Helmets and Sunglasses

I was walking my dog a couple of days ago and noticed my neighbor, Steve, working on his bike in his driveway.  Longtime readers with excellent memories will recall Steve from a previous post on flat tires.  We had a pleasant conversation about his bike, a Trek 2200, and I regaled him with stories of my reintroduction to cycling, culminating with a mention of the Culpeper Cycling Century.

“You were in Culpeper?” asked Steve.

“Yep,” I replied with uncharacteristic brevity.

“So was I!” said Steve, whereupon we bumped fists in mutual congratulation.

Remarkably, my longtime friend who lives one street away from me loaded his bike on his car, drove to Culpeper, and participated in the exact same event as I did.  And we never saw each other.

“Where were you cycling?” asked Steve.

“I was the guy in the back!” I half-jokingly replied.

Steve did the century route while I only did the Metric Century.  Still, we were on the same road for over 25 miles and we both stopped at the same first rest stop.  We also loitered at the start point for 15-30 minutes prior to the beginning of the ride.  I was at a loss as to how we didn’t see each other, but it make perfect sense to Steve.

“We were all wearing helmets and sunglasses,” he said.  “We all look the same.”

We briefly compared our schedules for the rest of the year and confirmed that we won’t be at the same event again.  Steve is an avid triathlete who is still performing well above my level in the cycling arena.  He’s thinking about a century ride in the Blue Ridge Mountains in a week.  I have my sights set on the more modest 64-mile Great Pumpkin Ride in the flats of Warrenton.

Maybe we’ll hook up next year.  After all, it’s a small world!

Cycling Past Royalty


Cathy in Newport, RI, writes “You must try my favorite energy bar. It is the marathon energy bar, snickers flavor. I’m not going to sell it as nutritionally superior, but at 10g protein, 220 cal it is by far the best tasting!”

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “C’mon, Steve, we all know there isn’t a ‘Cathy in Newport, RI.’  You’ve done that bit before.  It wasn’t funny then and it isn’t funny now.”  Fine.  Go ahead and think that, if you want to.  Except that you’re wrong – there IS a Cathy in Newport, RI, and she DID write me.  So there!

I tried Cathy’s suggestion and bought a Marathon energy bar (Powered by Snickers).  I found the Marathon Bars but I couldn’t find one that was Snickers flavored.  The choices were:  Chewy Chocolatey Peanut, Chewy Peanut Butter, Crunchy Dark Chocolate, Crunch Honey & Toasted Almond, and Crunch Mult-Grain.  Cathy, if you’re out there, I think I need some help figuring out exactly what bar you’re talking about.  I grabbed a Crunch Dark Chocolate and threw it in my jersey pocket, along with a Vanilla-Crisp Power Bar. 

I broke out the Marathon Bar at the one-hour point in the ride.  I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer because the 80-degree heat was working its magic on the chocolatey goodness inside the bar wrapper.  It held up pretty well, all things considered, and it tasted quite good.  However, I’m not sure this product was designed for consumption during the middle of an activity, especially if the activity involves storing the bar against a cyclist’s back in 80-degree heat for an hour.

Thus concludes my in-depth review of the Marathon energy bar.  Now I bet you’re wondering what this has to do with the title of this post.  The answer is absolutely nothing.  However, it does adequately describe the ride’s turnaround point on Reid Road, west of Nokesville. 

I traveled west of Route 28 for the first time today.  I nosed around Fitzwater Road and took a left onto Reid Road.  I was in the middle of farm country and enjoyed views such as this:

The road was a rough form of asphalt and I was mildly concerned how well the Trek would hold up under these conditions.  It came through with flying colors.  Sadly, the asphalt eventually gave out and the road turned to gravel.  I wasn’t prepared to take that on, so I turned around.  But not before spying this interesting address:

I had no idea we had royalty in western Prince William County.  Very nice!

That about sums up today’s ride: a good (if messy) energy bar and a foray into new roads that took me past royalty.  All in all, a good day.

Oh yes.  Here is today’s Virginia Historical Marker, which can be found on Aden Road, about one mile north of the Occoquan River.  People of Alexandria, when you look down your noses at the hicks in Prince William County, know that your Founding Father had a direct connection to us bumpkins!

click for details

Culpeper County Ride

Many people (including commentors on this blog) advise not to try new things when embarking on a long ride.  This is good advice.  New equipment may not perform the way you expect it to.  New food may not agree with you as you had hoped.  A lot can go wrong with new things and it is best not to try them out as you attempt something challenging.  I thought about this as I put on my brand-new long sleeve compression shirt and loaded my brand new full finger gloves and my brand new sun glasses into the car.  The thought also occurred to me as I loaded my three-week old bike, clipless pedals and shoes.  I even pondered it as I drank Gatorade’s Prime drink mix for the first time, 15 minutes before the start of the ride.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The day started off well.  Remarkably, I packed everything I wanted to bring, ate a light breakfast of toast and jam, loaded the bike on the rack and departed for Culpeper right on schedule.  It was cold out and the sun was just beginning to rise.  Light fog was burning off in the fields as I passed through Nokesville.  It’s a 45 mile drive to Culpeper and I briefly thought this was a long way to drive in order to ride a bike.  It then occurred to me that if 45 miles was a long distance to drive, how would one describe the 65 mile distance I was about to pedal.  A sobering thought, that.

I arrived at the start point – a store named The Bike Stop – precisely on schedule.  This was a bit unnerving because things were going too smoothly for me.  I fully expected something to go wrong and preferred it to occur as soon as possible so I could get on with things.  I did have a minor challenge during check-in when the volunteer briefly refused to wait on me because I have the same name as her ex-husband.  It was all in good fun (I think) and she eventually gave me my T-Shirt, yellow wrist band, and cue card.

Pre-ride instructions outside the Bike Stop

There were about 200 riders participating in the ride.  By 8:20, most of them were filling the street in front of the bike shop, where a lady from the country rec department welcomed us, thanked the sponsors, and quickly raffled off some door prizes (none of which I won – darn!).  At 8:30, a police motorcycle escort led the group out of town.  As we started, I was presented with my first challenge: clipping into my pedals in a crowd.  I slipped on the first attempt, but caused no harm to anybody.  I quickly regrouped and was on my way on a sunny cold morning, with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees.

The pace heading out of town was pleasantly slow.  Everyone was in a good mood, joking with each other and happily waving to the police officers who were blocking the intersections for us.  I was polite to the police officers, but didn’t chat with many folks.  I focused on getting a feel for the group and not slamming into anyone.  At this point, things were kinda chaotic.  Many fast riders were working their way up to the front while less experienced riders (even less experienced than me!) were weaving  erratically and generally making things harder for the rest of us.  After two miles, we were outside of town and things had mostly sorted themselves out.  It was at this point that I met Jimmy.

Jimmy, showing off his Felt Z5

Jimmy was a gregarious fellow who was cycling alone, talking up a storm to anybody who would listen to him.  When I pedaled past him, we struck up a conversation that was to last the next 25 miles.  Jimmy lives in Ashburn, where he is a network administrator for an IT company.  For years he has been an ultra marathon runner and has participated in runs over 50 miles long.  Jimmy took up cycling this Spring when his doctor informed him he had microtears in his hips that would eventually make it too painful to run anymore.    He had never done a century before and was still debating whether to go on the 100 or 65 mile route.  Apart from being a great guy, he had one interesting aspect:  he absolutely refused to believe any of the data my Garmin GPS was providing.  He was convinced that we were going much slower than the computer suggested.  I eventually took to grossly exaggerating the read out to play into this paranoia.  “Now it says we’re going 55 mph, Jimmy!”  Jimmy seemed amused by all of this.  We took turns drafting and pulling and even joined a small four person pace line.  It was all very cool.  You can definitely feel the difference – when I was in trail there were times when I was barely even pedaling.

Rest Stop #1 - Rapidan VFD

The biggest event on this first leg occurred around Mile 12, when a woman strayed into the left lane and was almost rear ended by a pick up truck flying past our group.  After that momentary scare, we reached Mile 15 and the first rest stop – the Rapidan Volunteer Fire Department.   This being my first organized ride, I have no idea if this was a good setup or not.  I can report that many of the riders were very pleased with the place, including ample supplies of cookies, PBJ sandwiches, trail mix, energy bars, water, sports drinks, and an on-site mechanic.  The volunteers even went to the trouble of placing many of the snacks into zip-lock bags so the riders could put them in their jerseys and eat on the road.  A nice little detail, I thought.  I texted my wife and informed her I had lived to see Rest Stop #1.  After refilling my water bottle, I was ready to head back out.  Little did I know that I was three short miles from making a fool of myself.

Yours Truly at Rest Stop #1

The incident began innocently enough.  A group of about ten riders were waiting to cross Highway 15.  Jimmy and I were with them.  Jimmy shouted, “Car left!” meaning to stop because there was a car (you guessed it) on the left.  So I unclipped and stopped.  Then Jimmy noticed the car had flashed its lights, so we all began to cross the road.  Then another rider shouted “Car right!”  So we all stopped again.  Except this time I didn’t unclip.  Oops.  My weight was on my left pedal, which was at the downstroke position and the bike tilted to the left.  I was going to fall and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

Shockingly, the fall was virtually painless.  I tried to roll with the fall and avoided putting my left arm out to brace myself (an excellent way to break a wrist).  I was pleasantly surprised to see my shoes come out of the clips, thereby avoiding a troublesome compound fracture, and I quickly regained my feet.  Smiling, I walked my bike to the side of the road and checked it out.  Only a few small scratches on the left pedal.  That’s it. 

Jimmy was good enough to wait for me.  I quickly caught up with him and informed him that he witnessed my first-ever fall in clipless pedals.  We both agreed this was a significant event and he probably owed me a beer.  I told him that once I realized I was going down it was my goal to do it as gracefully as possible.  Jimmy said that he didn’t see the fall, but suspected I was about as graceful as everyone else who has done the same (which is to say virtually everybody and not graceful at all).  A few minutes after this exchange, two cyclists who had seen me crash caught up to us and asked if I was ok.  After I told them I was fine, one guy said (and I am not making this up), “I got to tell you, that was the most graceful fall I have ever seen.  You never stopped moving!” 

Mission accomplished.

Prince Michel Winery

At Mile 26, we came to the turn off point for the Century Ride.  Jimmy decided he was going to go for it.  I wished him well and was once again on my own.  It was still quite chilly and I was very grateful for my new gloves and my compression shirt.  Both were keeping me warm.  I also was not feeling any ill effects from my pre-ride Gatorade drink.  It appeared that I had drawn Aces on all three new items.  The ride was becoming more hilly at this point.  I was surprised at how hard some of the riders found these s0-so hills.  I was passing several with little effort.  Morale was high as I pulled into Rest Stop #2 – the Prince Michel Winery.

The Trek at rest (shockingly on its side) at Prince Michel Winery

The fare at Prince Michel Winery was much the same as at Rapidan VFD.  The volunteers were very nice and were eager to chat about the ride, where you’re from, or just about anything.  I was a bit dismayed that sports drinks were only available in Dixie Cups.  I thought it would be a tad rude to grab 20 of them and fill my water bottles.  Instead, I drank four or five and kept one bottle full of water.  I switched my caloric intake plan to bananas, cookies, and energy bars.  After some stretching, I shoved off.

The rolling hills continued and I was still overtaking folks while the occasional cyclist passed me by.  At Mile 35, I caught up with a rider sporting a Potomac Pedalers Touring Club jersey.  I’d heard of this group and am an ocassional reader of their website.  The rider told me he was, in fact, a member and we struck up a conversation about the club, other local bike clubs, organized rides, the better centuries in the area, and a whole bunch of Northern VA stuff.  The man’s name was Sloan and he lives in Washington DC, working for the State Department as a lawyer.   He rode a steel-framed Rivendell.  About five miles down the road, I watched as Sloan almost died.  Ok, that may be a bit of a stretch, but I DID watch him almost get hit while standing in the road by two cyclists traveling at well over 30 mph.  Here’s how it happened:

Sloan at Rest Stop #3, shortly after the "cue card incident"

Sloan had cleverly attached his cue card to his brake cables by means of a heavy-duty paper clip.  During a steep descent, Sloan flew through a sharp right turn while a stupid minivan driver tried to pass him.  I thought this is where Sloan was going to “buy the farm,” but he got out of that jam without incident – except that his cue card came undone and flew off his bike.  Sloan didn’t realize this until I yelled this fact to him.  He turned around and pedaled to that sharp right turn, where the cue card lay in the road.  He dismounted and picked up his card.  At precisely this point, two more cyclists flew into the turn and were surprised to see the shockingly-stationary Sloan in their paths.  Both riders swerved, narrowly missing Sloan and threw a few choice words his way for their trouble.

Rest Stop #3 - Salem FD

Sloan was remarkably unperturbed by these events and we were quickly back on our way.  In a few miles, we had arrived at Rest Stop #3, the Salem Fire Department.  By now I had the drill down pretty well: dismount, take off the gloves/helmet/sunglasses, text the wife, wolf down some snacks, drink some sports drink, and stretch.  As I went through this routine, I overheard some local riders learn that the route would take us over Drogheda Mountain.  There were groans and much consternation at the prospect of this.  They were no doubt referring to the large climb I had noticed during my highly scientific and detailed terrain analysis earlier in the week.  I informed Sloan of this and we both agreed this was not a good sign.

Speaking of terrain analyses, it seems that almost nobody does this sort of thing.  Almost none of the riders (including Jimmy, Sloan, and the people all around me) had any sense of where they were going.  Most folks were perfectly happy to hop on their bikes and go.  No doubt that’s because this was just one ride out of many for these people, but it still struck me as very odd.  I guess it’s just the Army officer in me:  I don’t go anywhere without a map and if I’m in an unfamiliar area, I will definitely take the time to orient myself using said map.  This probably makes me an uptight anal-retentive cyclist, but there it is.

Sloan congratulating me at Mile 57

After five miles of mostly downhill riding, we came upon Drogheda Mountain Road.  Any road named after a mountain couldn’t possibly be a good thing, in my opinion, and I was right.  We did a little over a mile at a 13% grade, which will definitely take the starch out of your shorts.   Again, I was pleased with my ability to climb the hill relative to the riders around me.  Sloan faded back.  I wasn’t about to leave my new-found friend on the side of a mountain, so I waited for him at the top.  He closed up quickly and we set off to Brandy Station.  On the way, we hit Mile 57, a spot of significance only to me as it marked the furthest I had ever cycled.  I pulled out my camera and took a pic to commemorate the moment.

AJ's Deli and Rest Stop #4

The final rest stop was at Mile 60, in the town of Brandy Station.  In June 1863, the largest cavalry battle ever fought on American soil occurred here.  I didn’t see any remnant of that battle.  All I saw was AJ’s Deli and Rest Stop #4.  It seemed odd to have a rest stop only five miles from the finish, but Sloan and I decided to partake anyway.  Upon our departure, I told Sloan that I wanted to see how much I had left in the proverbial tank and I would therefore be leaving him behind.  We agreed we’d meet up again at the finish.

So off I went, once again on my own.  I had a lot of energy left and was ready to see how fast I could go the remaining five miles.  I rode very hard, keeping my speed around 23 mph on the flats.  I overtook about five riders, but I was quickly running out of steam.  Still, I felt I would be in good shape at Mile 65.

Imagine my frustration when I hit Mile 65 and I still hadn’t reached Culpeper!

It seems the race organizers were just a tad off in their ride planning.  As it turned out, the final length was 68 miles.  No worries.  I was able to gather myself for the final push.  This was actually a positive event as the extra three miles put me over the 1,500 mile mark for the season.  It was nice to be setting a single day ride while also breaking a signficant mileage mark at the same time.

The Bike Stop

The ride back to the Bike Stop was uneventful.  People were slowly coming in all the time, so there were pockets of riders chatting in the parking lots and putting away their gear.  I pulled up to my truck and set about putting my stuff away.  The first order of business was changing my cycling shoes for some comfortable sneakers.  After a few minutes, Sloan pedaled in.  It turns out he parked only four spaces from me!  He had pulled into the parking lot immediately behind me and remembered his bemusement at my New York Yankees and Buffalo Bills car magnets.  We walked into the Bike Stop to let them know we had safely returned.  We chatted a bit about our upcoming rides (mine is a 65-miler in Warrenton in two weeks and Sloan’s is the Sea Gull Century next weekend).  I told Sloan I greatly enjoyed his company and then we shook hands and went our separate ways.

And that was that.  I’ll write more about my impressions of the ride later, but suffice it to say it was a very nice day and it was all I could have hoped for.  I had a nice ride, finished in good shape, learned a bit about group riding, and met some very nice folks along the way.  I even have a couple good stories to add to my collection!

I’m Pretty Sure I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

It’s two days until “The Big Day.”  Tomorrow I’ll be packing and thinking about what I am forgetting to do, so this will be the last blog until my ride report.  I’ve done plenty of reading, have talked to a few folks, and have racked up a fair amount of time alone on my bike.  I have learned just enough to know that I know almost nothing – and that’s part of the fun of Saturday’s ride!

I’ve never ridden in a group or in a paceline.  I’ve never had to show up on time with all my gear, ready to ride.  I’ve never stepped up to a registration area and “checked in”  (when do I get my T-Shirt?).  I’ve never been to a rest stop and sampled the wares.  I’ve never used cue cards.  I’ve never attempted to take directions from a race marshal. I’ve never drafted someone or allowed someone to “get on my wheel.”  I’ve never ridden in cold weather (forecasted start temp is 50 degrees with a high of 66).  I’ve never ridden this far.  There are probably many other cycling things I’ve never done and I don’t even know they exist yet.  I can only imagine the offenses I will cause and the predicaments I will find myself in.

Good stuff.  Can’t wait to sample it all.  I’m guaranteed a few good stories!

Afghanistan and My Cycling Schedule: The Connection

At the end of August, my work informed me that I would be traveling to Afghanistan for a couple of weeks.  This was a major bummer as I had previously registered for my first-ever organized ride, the Great Pumpkin Ride in Warrenton, VA, on October 23.  This was to be the capstone of my reintroduction to cycling after a 15 year hiatus.  The registration was nonrefundable, although the event organizers said they would look into making an exception to this policy.  My wife, daughter, and I were also registered to participate in the Worth 10K Run in Virginia Beach the following weekend.  The event organizers were very gracious and immediately granted me a refund.  Still, this was a bummer as it was to be the capstone to my wife’s introduction to running.

Not to be defeated by a simple business trip, I found another ride in Culpeper that was not in conflict.  I’ve since been preparing for the 65-mile route in the Culper Cycling Century, which is this Saturday.  Everything is all set for that event and I looked forward to completing a major goal for this year’s cycling.

Yesterday, I learned the trip to Afghanistan is cancelled.

Ah, the joys of working with the military!  Since the Great Pumpkin Ride never refunded my money, it looks like I will be participating in two 65-mile rides separated by two weeks.  It will be a good opportunity to compare two relatively small organized rides and apply some lessons learned in the first ride.

Sadly, the 10k run is fully booked, so that will remain a loss.

A Detailed and Scientific Analysis of the CCC 65-Mile Route


Well, I’ve reviewed the pdf file of the CCC route I will be embarking upon this October 2.  I’ve studied the cue cards and discovered a kind soul has already mapped the route on  I’ve watched the 3D fly thru and have carefully reviewed every aspect of this undertaking.  Here are my detailed (and scientific) conclusions:

1.  65 miles is a long way to ride a bike.  Not as far as 66 miles, mind you, and certainly not as far as 67 miles, but it’s still pretty far.  Making a trip this long in a car would not be considered trivial.  Doing it on a bike is certainly significant.  I grew tired just watching the fly thru. 

2.  I don’t know much about organized rides, but I think this is a good route.  The first 15 miles are generally downhill, which is a pleasant way to get warmed up.  The next 30 miles are hilly and generally uphill – a good challenge.  The ride finishes with a somewhat pleasant descent and a mild incline back into town.  Not a bad combination, IMHO. 

3.  While we’re on the subject of elevation, take a look at that gray bar near Mile 46.  That is Mapmyride’s helpful notification that I will be embarking upon what is known as a Category 5 climb.  Cat 5’s are nothing to sneeze at –  they can generally be found at the Tour de France on the mountain stages.  My only solace is that this climb will be considerably shorter than the ones Mr. Armstrong et al take on.  This one is only 1.3 miles long.  It’s arrival relatively late in the ride will be critical.  I cannot be smoked before this climb.  Period.

4.  Another thought on elevation (if you haven’t figured this out yet, much of cycling revolves around climbing), the overall elevation gain is a rather modest 1,318 feet.  This is encouraging as I generally do this much on my 40 mile rides. 

5.  There are FIFTY FOUR separate turns on this route (yes, I counted them all).  That’s 54 opportunities to screw up and get lost.  I don’t know how well this route will be marked, if at all.  Lets just hope I can see some folks traveling ahead of me and those folks know what they’re doing.  I won’t actually get lost (as a retired Army officer, this would be more humiliating to me than failing to complete the ride) but I would prefer this not turn into some sort of orienteering event, with me repeatedly pulling out my map to check my azimuth.

6.  There are plenty of rest stops – more than I would have put in place if I were organizing things.  There are stops at Mile 15 (Rapidan Vol Fire Company), Mile 26 (Prince Michel Winery), Mile 39 (Salem Fire Dept), and Mile 56 (AJ Store/Deli Carry Out).  The fire departments are certainly coming out in force!  I’m looking forward to seeing the setup at the winery – there’s all sorts of potential at that stop – and I can only imagine what sort of carry out people will be ordering at AJ’s.

This concludes my terrain analysis.  Now all I need to do is figure out what to pack, when to pack it, what to eat, when to eat it, and what to wear (I’m pretty sure I know when to wear it).  But that’s the purpose of this whole drill anyway.  I’ll learn some lessons and be ready to take 2011 on by storm.

17 Miles In The Drops

Most people are familiar with the curved aspect of touring/racing handlebars.  This type of handlebar is formally known as a “drop handlebar.”   Unlike flat handlebars, this type of setup allows for a more aggressive stance which reduces wind resistance and improves performance.  When a cyclist wants to really maximize his performance, he places his hands “in the drops,” meaning the lowest portion of the bar.  In addition to helping the cyclist go faster, this position is more tiring than the upright positions made possible by gripping the top portion of the bar.

I’ve fiddled with this position since getting the Trek two weeks ago, but I haven’t really measured the improved performance you can get with it.  So today I decided to “put the hammer down” (cycling jargon for “go fast”) and do my entire ride in the drops.

The result: a rocket-like (for me, anyway) pace of 18.7 mph. 

By way of comparison, I ran 18.0 mph on a 15 mile course just four days ago, using the drops sparingly.  My PBR for my Crosstrail was a pedestrian 16.8 mph.  So the drops definitely make a significant difference.  And I do understand that this is hardly a breakthrough in the field of cycling science and is probably of no interest to anyone except myself. 

I also began to feel the limits of this technique.  After 17 miles, my hands were turning numb and my “fun reservoir” had almost run dry.  Serious suffering was beginning to ensue.  It was a helluva workout and I believe this PBR will stand for some time.  The good news is that there were plenty of gears left for me to go to should I ever improve my fitness to properly “drop the hammer.”  A more apt description of my current abilities would be more like “drop the comfy pillow.”

In other news, the CCC ride has published their route maps for this year’s event.  You can find the map here.  Now it’s time to do my detailed terrain analysis and plan the perfect ride strategy which I will jettison in a fit of panic and/or elation within the first five miles!

The End Of “The Streak”

On Thursday, I wanted to go for a night ride but discovered my tire was flat.

On Friday, I went to the bike shop to buy Armadillo tires, but they were out of stock.

On Saturday, I put one of my patched tubes on my front tire and it almost immediately failed.

Today, I went for a run and actually accomplished what I set out to do. 

This will be the first weekend since April 10-11 that I didn’t go for a bike ride.  19 weeks is a good run.  Not quite like Cal Ripken, but still a good run.  The Armadillos are supposed to arrive on Wednesday.  Perhaps Ford and I will be back on the streets then.

Sunday’s Ride (The Bad Part)

My ^&#@$! bike broke again!!!

About eight miles into my ride, I was looking back at my rear wheel (I now spend about as much time looking between my legs at my rear wheel as I do at the road in front of me) and it appeared to be a bit soft.  I stopped and checked the pressure by means of the scientific method of pressing on it with my thumb and hitting it lightly with the heel of my hand.  It seemed a tad soft, but I convinced myself that I was just being paranoid.

I was being paranoid (after five flats how could I not be?)  but later events were to prove the old adage, “even paranoids are right sometimes.”

I continued on through Brentsville and up to the Bristow Station Battlefield.  I was wandering the subdivision, once again looking through my legs at my rear wheel, when suddenly I saw it: ANOTHER BROKEN SPOKE!!!

At this point, there was little to do.  I was 20 miles from home and I didn’t want to pester my wife yet again to come fetch me.  So I pressed on.  I trudged into Nokesville with my rear wheel rubbing on my brake pad once per revolution.  After buying my Gatorade I checked my tire again.  It was definitely going flat.  And I didn’t have a spare anymore as I go through inner tubes faster than most people go through toilet paper.  Oh, the joy of it.

Doggedly I pressed on, taking pictures as I went, determined to enjoy myself.  At Mile 31, the rear wheel was almost completely flat.  I pulled out my hand pump and got it back up to 60 PSI.  That bought me another five miles, where I repeated the procedure.  I do not recommend this method of bicycling because as the rear wheel deflates, the rolling resistance increases to a number approaching infinity.  I was very tired, very sweaty, and not at all pleasant to be around.  I finally made it home with a glacial pace time of 11 mph. 

I was unable to find my Happy Place.

I got onto my computer and visited, looking for an email address to their customer service department.  I was eager to share my opinion of their product with them.  The folks at Specialized are not dumb – they do not provide any email or phone information for them.  They do have a “snail mail” address, which I am about to make use of.  Although they didn’t have an email address, they do have a FAQ section in which the problem of heavy riders on bikes is discussed.  I was shocked to see Specialized state the exact opposite of what Old Towne Bicycles told me when I posed the question of heavy riders on bikes (emphasis added):

“The most difficult thing for bigger, stronger guys, actually is finding wheels that are durable enough. When you buy a bike, you simply must assume the wheels are as “perishable” items as if they were tires. (heavier riders who race hard & train big mileage, have the same issues – they just kill wheels).   

When/if the spokes on your wheels start breaking, have your Specialized dealer rebuild the wheels with super heavy-duty rims and spokes to give you the kind of reliability & “ride it & forget it” strength you need.”

That certainly would have been nice to know, especially since I asked Old Towne Bicycles this very question!

So on Monday night I visited Revolution Cycles in Stafford.  They listened to my story with a mixture of fascination and horror.  To be fair, they had never heard of wheels being “killed” by heavier riders either.  But they were friendly and seemed to be on the ball.  The store manager listened to what I wanted to do and directed my attention to the Trek 7.5 FX.  It’s a hybrid with a carbon fork, road bike gearing, and (most importantly to me) Hardcase tires with kevlar lining, designed to be extremely puncture resistant.  The things have such sturdy walls that it is possible to ride on the tire with no air for brief periods.  That’s the sort of tire I can appreciate!  The ergonomic hand grips I added to my Crosstrail come standard on this bike.  I was so upset I was almost ready to buy it on the spot.  I took a deep breath, thanked the manager for his time, and left the store.

Trek 7.5 FX

Today, Old Towne Bicycle called my sainted wife while I was at work to let her know the new wheels had come in.  She shoved the bike into her Honda Pilot and took it to the shop to get fixed.  The new wheels are an upgrade from  the stock ones.  They are double rimmed, which the internet tells me is a very good feature for wheels and should help prevent future spoke issues.  The mechanic noted my tire was flat and when my wife told him my story he replaced the inner tube for free.  As she was leaving, my wife asked if there was anything special I needed to do.  “Just tell him to take it easy,” he said.  Whatever good will Old Towne Bicycle had built up was lost at that point.

I took the bike out for a 13 mile test and it handled fine.  Then again, it always does great on the short spins.  It only wants to break down when I am 20 miles from home or about to embark on a great adventure.  I think my bicycle may be sentient.  And lazy.  It knows when it’s about to be called upon for some hard work and breaks itself to avoid the job!

So that is where we’re at:  my bike is breaking with such frequency that in many ways it is still new.  Despite putting 1,000 miles on it, I have brand new wheels, one fairly new tire, and a pair of pedals with only 400 miles on them.  Not bad!  I’m also well into my research for a new bike, which I will most likely purchase next March when they go on discount for the 2011 versions.  Here’s hoping I can spend a weekend without a breakdown!