I completed the Fleche with Team Chain Reaction on April 14-15, only two weeks ago. That stands for now as my longest ever single ride: 235 miles. It was a five man team event and we had a wonderful time. Our team captain Earl Jannsen did a great job documenting the experience and since I've let over 2 weeks pass I'll settle for a link to his post and move on to yesterday's 300K.
The weather forecast predicted temps in the 40s and 50s all day with a chance of showers, nearly complete cloud cover all day and calm winds. That's pretty much what we got. I spent a little too much mental energy in the days before this ride debating the trade off about whether to carry my full cold/wet kit: showers pass jacket, chaps, gaiters and over gloves. In the end I decided the extra pound or two was better than to risk getting wet and chilled in heavy rain. It was the right call. It wasn't worth the fretting I put in to it. This could have been sorted out when I packed for the trip. The prior days' angst was pointless and unproductive.
On the other hand food didn't get as much thought in advance and proved to be a problem. Bill and Maile published a good summary by email a few days prior noting that the opportunities to stop and re-fuel were more limited than some of us are accustomed to. I noted on the cue sheet reminders of where I could expect to find water. I've found in the cool temps that stopping every 35 - 40 miles to refill the camel back keeps me hydrated and provides a few minutes rest to the legs and my back side. But several of these were remote country stores not a 7-11 or better with sandwiches and other more substantial food. So while I always had plenty of water, I didn't eat enough. I planned to replicate my fleche menu with a little trail mix for variety. So I did carry and eat the same on-the-bike food as I had on fleche. Equal parts fig newtons and peanut butter crackers sealed 8 pieces to a bag. A bag of 8 fits nicely in my little top tube box and I can eat them while riding. A couple of peanut butter granolla bars also make for good rations when you want to make a brief stop to eat without making it a meal. But on Fleche we stopped for a more substantial meal every 50 miles or so. Here the opportunities for such stops were less frequent and it mattered more than I realized. My first sandwich was at mile 64 at the control in Syria, VA and was only a slice of ham on a biscuit. Had I eaten properly before the start that likely would have been sufficient but as it was I only had a bagel and banana before the start. The result was that by mile 100 I was falling further behind in the calorie count and was bonking. I stopped at the Hardees in Gordonsville, ate a hamburger, fries, and a large coke. Then on the way out of town I spotted an inviting picnic table on the grounds of the little league ball field. There was a girls softball team having practice, but I wouldn't be in their way and they certainly wouldn't bother me unless they dropped a fly ball on me. The sun even came out while I napped on the table with my helmet propped under my head for a pillow. 20 minutes of bliss napping in the only sunshine I recall all day, while the burger and fries worked their way in to my blood stream. I woke up refreshed and ready for the next leg to Orange, VA.
Despite the food challenge, and cool, damp weather, the ride was through some gorgeous country side. Central Virginia is very pretty farm country and I didn't realize there was so much cattle farming in this area but there were a lot of pastures with cattle grazing and many cows nursing young calves. I also encountered one on the wrong side of the fence!! She was grazing and eating the grass growing beside the shoulder. She started when she turned and saw me but didn't run or charge and just watched me ride by. The funny thing is, the same thing happened on the last 300K brevet I rode in May, 2011. Uber-blogger Mary G posted some great photos of the area. Page through them carefully and note the one she captured of a much bigger dog in mid-stride, it's very striking. RBA Bill Beck also posted his photos of the day.
In addition to the cow I also had a very silly dog encounter. A pair of little teacup poodles with chips on their shoulders decided the home front HAD to protected and I was the threat. They were surprisingly fast and paced me for nearly a quarter mile one on each side, sometimes as close as a foot away from the rear wheel. I was more concerned for their safety than mine and held a steady pace while trying to sternly encourage them to go back with "NO" and "STAY!!". Eventually they wore out or lost interest and turned back for home.
At Orange, VA I rolled in to the control at the Daily Korner restaurant and was surprised to see another rider. Ahi had just pulled in a few minutes ahead of me and was still waiting for his order. I had a milkshake, chicken noodle soup and grilled ham and cheese sandwich. It was fantastic food and served quickly. Ahi and I agreed we'd ride together for a while but it was apparent his preferred pace was a bit more relaxed than mine. I was recovered from my bonk, fueled and ready, especially knowing this last third of the ride was flat with much less terrain than we'd already conquered. I wanted to head for the barn. Ahi assured me he was well equipped and comfortable and we parted company. I made the next 38 miles to Remington feeling good and stopped at the small store there intending it to be very quick. Water, coffee and fresh batteries for my helmet light. I also ate a granola bar. Then I installed the fresh batteries in my helmet lamp and the strap broke. More fiddling with a spare velcro strap and my quick stop was now 20 minutes and counting. Just as I was about to finally clip in there was a flash of lightning, thunder and the skies opened up with a heavy shower. So I waited a few minutes for it clear which it did. I was ready to clip in again and Ahi rolled in and said his Garmin wasn't working and he'd been having a hard time navigating. Without an odometer following a cue sheet on dark country roads is very difficult as you must track every street sign to ensure you don't miss a turn and even then sometimes are forced to guess at unmarked turns. I wasn't going to leave him again.
We had 20 miles to go and while the heavy downpour had passed, we had several more showers, some stronger than others and it never completely stopped raining the rest of the way, we took over an hour and half to finish. I was grateful for the choice to pack all of my rain gear. IF I had eaten properly it's likely I would have had a faster ride and might have finished before this period of stronger rain. Then I wouldn't have needed it. But as it was I did have the gear and with a working Garmin was in the right place to lend a hand when another rider needed it. We took our time, visited a bit and finished a little less than 2 hours after leaving Remington.
Lessons Re-Learned (most of this is not new)...
1) Correct food and water consumption are everything for me on a long ride - this starts the night before and especially in the last hour prior to the start.
2) At 250 lbs of rider weight, a pound of rain gear isn't a big deal.
3) Loose trail mix is nice to snack on while stopped, but is tough to eat while riding.
4) Wearing the camelback inside of the showers pass jacket works quite will while underway, but is a bit of a nuisance at a stop to refill it.
5) Helping a friend always feels good.