Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sailing Down to Solomons - R-12

I completed my 12th 200K ride yesterday to earn my R-12 award from the Randonnueurs USA.For 12 consecutive months I've ridden a 200K permanent route or brevet sponsored by RUSA. When I started my first one in January, 2010 I had no intention of actually doing this 12 times, sure that I couldn't possibly work out the logistics around work and family commitments, let alone survive the physical tests it would represent. But here I am the morning after completing the whole series to tell you about. I'll write up another post in the next week or two summarizing the year and what I've gotten from it. Now let me tell you about yesterday's ride....

A week ago the forecast showed Friday the 17th would be a great riding day. Temps starting in the upper 20's and warming to the low 40's, sunny, clear with calm winds. Nearly ideal conditions. Earl's been itching to do his first 200K and I needed my 12th. Saturday would likely result in a solo ride so I suggested to Earl we do it and Clint chimed in that he'd like to join us to start his 3rd consecutive R-12 series, ride number 25 in a row! We all contacted the Route owner, Crista Borras and registered for the ride on Monday.

Well the forecast slowly deteriorated through the week. Thursday saw a front come through that dropped 2 - 4" of snow all along the route and now the high was forecast to barely reach 32. But at least the winds were still supposed to be calm. It's already past mid month and I need this one to finish the 12 month series. Skip a month and you start all over again. The snow stopped a full 12 hours before the scheduled start. So I put my faith in our public servants on the road clearing crews and wrote to Clint and Earl Thursday evening that I was still determined to ride.

On the radio driving to the start, I heard that Anne Arundel County decided to start school 2 hours late and Calvert County had decided to close schools for the day, both decisions based on the road conditions and bus transportation safety. But of course we would stick to our plan and ride on through both jurisdictions.

We all arrived at the start nearly 30 minutes early, plenty of time to get a coffee, reattach front wheels and other accessories removed for transport, and otherwise prep for the ride. Chris Lane met us at the start by car to wish us Bon Route and to briefly discuss post ride celebrations. Chris finished his R-12 on a solo ride a week earlier and we felt we owed ourselves a pat on the back.

At 6:03 am in the dark with temps around 22 deg F, we did the hardest part of the whole ride, we clipped in and started pedaling. 6 miles later we stopped to change our first flat. Earl's front wheel was going soft. We stopped under a street lamp, standing in the snow and dealt with the flat. We couldn't find a sharpie in the tire so we mounted the new tube and crossed our fingers.

Next came a spectacular sunrise. The first few miles head East South East so the sun rose right in front of us and really was beautiful. We stopped at the top of a small rise where the pink sky was framed over a farm field and Clint snapped a picture. See the link below for all of Clint's shots of the day.

Once we turned south on MD Route 2 the shoulders were mostly ride-able. There were patches of slush that occasionally required us to ride in or very close to the travel lanes. But in general we were able to use the wide shoulder on Rt 2 and stay clear of traffic. At mile 25 we stopped to fill our bottles with warm water at a gas station convenience store. The temp had warmed all the way to 25 degrees and everyone was feeling well.

At mile 37 we stopped at a Starbucks and each ordered an egg sandwich and coffee and took a few minutes to thaw out our fingers and toes. The staff and customers all though we were nuts. 3 guys on bikes riding over 100 miles in the freezing cold with questionable road conditions.... Yeah when they put it like that it did sound a little nuts.

Stopping for a break like that is a mixed blessing. It was so cold we needed to warm up and we needed the extra fuel to stay warm. But muscles stiffen up and it takes a few minutes to get loosened up and back in to a rhythm once underway. I also noticed a slight wobble and that my rear wheel was out of true. It wasn't severe and I suspected a popped spoke. As a touring bike, the LHT has very stout 36 spoke wheels and they can roll without one or two. I kept pedaling and made a mental note to inspect it at the next control stop.

At Solomons we rode through the town and found the information control at the University of Md research center. Solomons is a great little village on the Patuxent river. It started life as a fishing town and there is still a sizable fleet of commercial watermen there, but it has also enjoyed some gentrification in recent years with nice restaurants and shops opening up to server the tourists and a number of well healed residents who've moved in for the easy access to water recreation and gorgeous views. Even with the cloud cover at the time, the river looked great.

At mile 60 on the north side of Solomons we took another break. Bagels and hot chocolate this time. I also addressed the rear wheel, it was indeed a popped spoke. I learned last time I tried to repair one myself that over correcting for a bad spoke is worse than doing nothing. So instead of replacing it, I made only small adjustments to the adjacent spokes to make the wheel run a little more true and avoid rubbing the brake. That was the last I had to mess with it the rest of the trip. I suspect crossing the rumble strip along the shoulder of MD 2 southbound caused it. The vibration those strips induce is rather severe.

Shortly after we left Solomons heading North the SUN came out! It felt great and Clint announced we'd reached the high for the day 33 Deg F! (from the thermometer on his bike computer).

At mile 70 Earl's front tire was going soft again. This time we had sunlight to work with and found the sharpie. A bit of wire had worked through the tread. My needle nose pliers proved useless to grab it as the ends have become splayed and don't close all the way. But Earl had a straight pin and we used that work it out. We also found and removed several other stones and bits of glass lodged in the tread waiting to cause havoc. After all of that was removed and we booted the tire where the wire poked through we were ready to roll again. The state trooper parked on the same side street where we stopped never once asked if we were okay. But we made a point to wave to him as we left anyway.

The sunny ride through the rolling hills to North Beach was fun. I was slowing down a little on the climbs but I really enjoyed the sunshine and that's the most scenic part of the trip. In the bright sun, the Chesapeake Bay was a beautiful blue. We saw 3 large bucks inside the fence where the road is adjacent to a US Navy installation. Other deer were spotted several times as well. Then we saw our only dog. Not a threat, this one had a Frisbee in her mouth and wanted us to stop and play. Unfortunately we knew we were on a schedule and had to pedal on.

The town of North Beach had it's Christmas best on for us. The tree and other decorations at the town dock were really neat. Then we pulled in to Sweet Sue's coffee shop for more hot chocolate and another snack.

Departing Sweet Sue's we had to confront the hilliest part of the route and we knew that the great sunlight we'd enjoyed the last couple of hours would fade. We'd done almost 100 miles in the could and were really ready to be done. But had to press on this last section.

A few miles past North Beach we hit our only really bad section of road. It had not seen a plow or much sunlight in the thick forest since the snow and was covered in hard pack white snow for most of a mile. We slowed, rode with one foot unclipped and picked our way through as best we could. No spills and once we were past it we didn't see any similar conditions again. Actually, I think we were quite fortunate with the road conditions considering the snow the day before.

At the last information control at Tacaro Farm we answered the trivia questions about the lawn jockey and turned on our lights again as the sun was now fading fast.

Now it was time to press on the final 25 miles to the finish. We did, in the dark as the temps fell. All those dark rides in the morning with the SPP 05:45 club paid off. All three of us had plenty of prior miles in the dark and proper lighting equipment. So while I can't say I enjoyed that part, it went by uneventfully.

Finally we turned on to Davidsonville Rd for the final 3 miles to the finish. Flashing lights ahead where the police were gathered at a home for some kind of incident kept traffic to a crawl which I think was a blessing for us. That stretch was one lane in each direction with no shoulder and would have been rough with heavy traffic at full speed. Past the police action it opened back to two lanes and we had no more issues the last 2 miles.

Suddenly there it is... a 7-11 sign never looked so inviting. Client and Earl slowed and let me pass to lead our little peloton in for the big finish! I'd done it, R-12 was complete. It felt great.

Chris again met us at the finish and then we all proceeded to Hellas for dinner, beer and stories. Several other SPP club members came out to congratulate us.

I've been remiss this week not posting a congratulations note to Chris Lane. He finished his R-12 the prior week while riding alone in on a route in rural southern Virginia. We tried several schemes to ride together for the final R-12 ride but couldn't synchronize our schedules.

The dinner was a great time to congratulate each other and celebrate with friends.

I can't thank Clint and Earl enough for joining me. Riding this one solo in the winter conditions would have been brutal and probably would have tested my ability to get it done under the time limit. I've made some great friends on the bike in the last year.

A few links:

North Beach, approx 94 miles, courtesy of Clint Provenza

Note: My garmin battery died a few miles from the finish. The actual distance is 128 miles.


  1. Many congratulations Mike! Very impressive achievment. You should be proud!

  2. Thanks Clive. It's been quite a journey.

  3. Merry Christmas and a Happy new Year! 