Sunday, February 5, 2012

Song of the Salamander 200K

Earlier in the week the forecast for Saturday was quite pleasant.   Temps at the start would be just above freezing and warm towards the upper 40s with mostly sun and calm winds.  By ride time it said we'd have a 50% chance of showers in the afternoon.  Seven of us set out anyway.  The team: Gardner, Theresa, Janet, Jack, Bill, Dan and myself.

The first two thirds of the ride were pleasant and drama free.  It was overcast and we never saw temps above 40 but the day rolled by pleasantly.  The first few miles across Rockville, MD from the start are a bit of a navigation challenge with cues every quarter mile or less from roads to trails, round the barricade at a dead end street and so forth, the kinds of tricks bike messengers in every major city always master.  Then after 8 or 10 miles it settles in to a more typical ride across the countryside.  The trip across the Potomac River at White's Ferry was a fun novelty. It's a cable ferry relying on a huge steel cable across the river to guide the barge across and line it up for easy docking at each end.  

Once across the river the route picked up the W&OD trail for a few miles from Leesburg to Purcellville, VA before striking out for Middleburg via Snickersville Tpk.  It's beautiful horse country with big estates and rolling hills.  We got to the turnaround at The Market Salamander just before noon and enjoyed a very good lunch. 

The return leg largely follows the same route.  We had a little excitement on the trail just before Leesburg when JBo fumbled her water bottle, over-corrected, and swerved up the bank adjacent to the trail.  Fortunately the only casualty was a crack in her bar mirror.

After a brief fueling stop at the 7-11 in Leesburg we set out for the ferry ride back to MD and a light, cold drizzle started.  Everyone broke out what rain gear we had and we made the ferry a little damp but without further drama.

From the ferry we had about 31 miles to the finish.  It starts with a long, shallow climb away from the river followed by a fair quota of gentle but continuous rollers until the outskirts of Rockville.  We got a little strung out on the climbing and rollers once or twice and then regrouped before the final leg through Rockville.  All the wile the steady rain continued and everyone got more and more damp.  The last 8 miles resumes the same urban cyclocross we followed on the way out. But now the sun had set and the rain was changing to snow.  We'd been riding in a cold rain for for almost 3 hours and for some, body temperatures were starting to fall, my helmet lamp battery died and snow kept building up on my cue sheet holder.  The GARMIN, after calling the route faithfully all day started to get confused whether we were outbound or inbound and was offering mostly useless recommendations.  We still had about like 5 million cues to follow across the last few miles. The quirky challenge at the start was now a daunting obstacle in the cold, wet, evening.

Despite my lighting challenge, the bar bag that held my cue sheet was still the easiest to read among the group.  We fell in to a pattern where I called out the cues reading by street light as we went and got about 4 miles from the finish before I was stumped and just couldn't reconcile the cue description at Park Rd and Stonestreet with the road in front of us. It's POSSIBLE my brain was a little bit starved of calories and rest by this point.  But I prefer to blame it on the odd geography of that neighborhood. The intersection is actually split in to two lights a short block apart and very difficult to describe in a short written description. In daylight while fresh it would not have been a big deal.  But we were all wet and exhausted so we took shelter in a Metro Coffee shop to regroup.  It wasn't until we were inside that I realized 3 of our party were now quite hypothermic and shivering.  One severely.  Our challenge was bigger than just finding our way through unfamiliar urban streets in the dark.

Out of the weather we took our time to regroup.  Hot food and beverages brought our cold comrades back to life very nicely. Inventorying our gear we shuffled spares among ourselves until everyone had suitable clothes and lights to get going again.  A call to the route owner to confirm the details of the cue and we regained our navigation plot and found the bike path we were looking for (less than a block away).  The last few miles included one more wrong turn but it only took a couple of block's to figure it out and turn back.  A Safeway store never looked so good as we rolled up to the finish.  All seven of us finished safe and soggy.

Team work and cool heads kept a problem from becoming a crisis.  I don't recall hearing anyone complain all afternoon.  Dinner after the ride provided a chance to pat ourselves on the back and celebrate another successful adventure.  Some details about lessons learned and equipment choices will serve as fodder for another post.

Added 2/6/2012:  Dan took some nice shots of the ferry, the W&OD trail and the horses along the way. SOS Album

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