Tappahannock 200k summary

What had began last year came to a close last night 2/19/2011 at around 7:22pm. Following a full day of cycling the roads of eastern Virginia completion of my first 200k is complete.

Mattaponi River, Walkerton VA

Obviously, yes, I am sore but no I don’t feel terrible really. For being winter conditioned I felt really good actually. Mental toughness was the surprisingly most challenging aspect of the day and I’m not above admitting I walked a mile or two in there somewhere. So yea, I liked it, but not in the way maybe I thought I would. Whats more interesting was the progression of the day and the psychological approach to achieving the goal of completion. The way the day unfolded presented ample challenges but let me break it down by sections for you to provide some clarity on the progression of the day.

SECTION 1- Pre-Race to First Control Point

My riding partner and I planned on meeting at our work parking deck around 6am. He was punctual and I was 10 min late.Thankfully, we made it to Ashland in little time. 95 was wide open. I came to appreciate later how nice having a home Brevet is especially with a 7am start time. We got there around 6:30, checked in and started to prep for the race. Kudos to organizers for having snacks, pencils, and all the more or less “mandatory” supplies readily available.

The February start date put us in line with sunrise and after a couple small mishaps, the car alarm blaring wildly, etc, everything came together. Before the start we recognized a friend from Bon Air who is an avid cyclist as well. Dave frequently commutes in Richmond and commutes by running to his job on Broad Street which I think is freaking re-dunk-a-dunk! He had a frame he recently built up that looked really tite even though his regular whips are off the chain anyway. It was some sort of Bianchi CX bike in celeste of course and had canti brakes. Dude is quick too. The entire group of riders, which really didn’t swell in size from last year which surprised me, set off at 7am from Ashland Coffee and tea. Temperatures were mild if not slightly chilly (a relative concept I know, I had cycling shorts and no gloves and was slightly chilled for the first hour, erryone else had some tights or similar on) but warmed up quickly throughout the morning.

Roads were in good condition and smaller groups of riders started to form. Essentially from what I could tell from the back (lol) of the peloton, everybody split into two groups of two groups and some people went lone wolf from the beginning. I kept an eye on Dave for the first couple miles but by 3-5 he had disappeared away on the front. My riding buddy Mike and I fell to the second grouping of people from the slower of the two groups. I’d say we were about 6-8 riders for the first 30+miles of the journey. The miles quickly rolled by through familiar territory for me having done this section before with highlights being Walkerton Va and crossing the Mattaponi River. Our group didn’t really stay together but did pass each other occasionally and would kinda assist in that manner and it helped to keep a tab on the pace of things. I was planning on the first control being a convenience store, which it was last year, but it ended up being closed so I hadn’t planned very well supplies wise at that point. I also did not have a computer which was more of a inconvenience than anything but wasn’t really a problem at all. The cue sheets have the mileage marked on them so as soon as I reached a point I could tell where I was.

While I thought we were headed into a store in King and Queen Virginia it turned out I hadn’t read the cue sheet (which was wrong anyway actually, it was a question control and asked the mascot for King and Queen Elementary, ended up being the High School though) and the store from last year had been shuttered. By this point several of the members of the little group of four in front of us were turned around to head back the way we came per cue directions and out little group of four was chowing down. We made quick time and Mike and I set out last for the second leg of the day. I was short on water but figured I could make it through to Tappahannock.

Section 2- King and Queen Control to Tappahannock

Mike and I were generally riding solo together at this point. The winds started to pick up and it became what I would have considered blustery for any other ride. Later I would come to see this as calm actually. Also, at this point I was pretty stoked because it was here last year that I essentially decided to bail. A shame really because I still rode over a century last year but a couple wrong turns made it mentally impossible to continue on at that time. Thankfully that wasn’t going to happen this year and we pretty much chugged along the miles chatting and having a generally good time until, PAP, PHFSSST, putt putt putt….a flat! My worse nightmare was happening.

We were on course to complete in 10 hours I would say and Mike got a flat. It was his rear which had been trued the day before and replaced with a new tube at the shop. Worst part was it looked like a pinch flat, which can happen to anyone I know, but shouldn’t be happening with a repair done at the shop in my opinion. Out came the spare tube he had and we began the repair. I could see the minutes dripping away as we struggled with the tire and tube…at the same time you think to yourself “this has to be right, i can’t get another pinch now as I am gonna be out of tubes and then really have to sit around and wait for glue to dry” so patients was key. Obviously, we got passed by almost everyone who had been behind us and all were kind enough to offer assistance which we pretty much waived off since they weren’t gonna be able to do anything anyway. We began to take off again after about a 20-30 min ordeal when PFSSst…..another flat (or so we thought, the air went out of the tire but later it was examined and no puncture was found) almost immediately. We stopped about 20 feet up the road where we had been and started the process of making repairs. At this point another rider came by and we took him up on a tube and a high pressure pump as the pump I had for emergencies really was for MTB tires and wasn’t gonna get above 65psi anyway which is what we thought was the reason the second tube had flatted. I didn’t catch dudes name but thanks for the help!

OK…so that came together, his pump was the bomb and jacked it up and we gave him his equipment back and he took off. We began to reassemble the bike and realized, damn, tire bead had come off the rim. OMG what else can happen. So I deflated the tire down some (again what I thought the reason for flat two was at this point) and put the thing back on the rim, and proceeded to hold the bike for Mike while he tried to get anywhere near 70psi in the tube he could. Amazingly, what I thought would be certain failure at this point ended up being fine and we rode for a good 5 miles, crossed 360 at Millers Tavern, and started to continue to lunch at Tappahannock where we could hit Wal-Mart and resupply on tubes when BAM….flat three. That was it and Mike proclaimed he was done. I couldn’t argue with him at that point. While I would have loved to stayed, glued a patch on and hit the air supply at the gas station a half mile back, I totally understood where he was at (again this is more mental than physical) and I was getting rather discouraged myself not to mention the massive amounts of time we were losing. Even though we hadn’t even seen two control points yet we were more than halfway complete of the entire 200k. I bid Mike farewell and he began to walk to the Millers Tavern store on 360 to wait for his wife. I was alone.

The roads were calm and good and the only thing on my mind were lunch and not becoming lunch for the dog we had a warning about on the cue sheet. So I was feeling good and in my little zone and suddenly this friendly voice was behind me on a very sporty looking rig. I hadn’t seen this person at all either before or during the race but her name was Heidi and she was the first person I met following not having my friend Mike along. We chatted a moment and she knew my name and it turns out her riding partner had began to have back spasms and had to bail in Millers Tavern as well. Her riding partner and Mike were waiting it out in Millers so that was good I thought as neither would be stranded alone there for too long all alone and maybe I just picked up someone to ride with. Turns out Heidi is a bad-ass and doesn’t need to ride with me whatsoever. We did pace it together for a while but for the last couple miles into Tappahannock (mainly following a brief climb) Heidi was gone. She missed a turn and I caught up to her on a downhill as I knew where I was going from my time working in the area and we pretty much cruised into Java Jack’s around the same time and had lunch with some other folks that were there.

Lunch was a grilled cheese and baked potato for me with a double espresso and a small coffee as well as plenty of water. I didn’t know it then but I should have gotten a couple espressos to go.

Section 3- Tappahannock to the Winds of Hell and onto Sparta VA

I made sure to stop by the gas station on my way out-of-town to pick up a few items and aside from the unknown roads that I would be encountering on my way to Sparta I fully expected that the next section of the journey would be fairly straightforward. There were few turns to be made and I was basically solo at this point so I would have ample time to watch the miles stream by and enjoy the scenery…..worst wind evrrr. While there were few turns it also turned out that there was little shelter from the winds and wide open fields on either side of the road. Later we came to find out that sustained winds were around 35mph with gusts in the 45mph+ range. Some cyclists enjoy hill climbs and others sprints but I don’t think anyone really enjoys being windblown for hours. This section covered about 30 miles total and it took me the better part of three hours to complete it. There were certainly times when I was in the granny gear on the flats or even downhills pedalling my legs away trying to keep moving forward only to be met with gusts of wind that would literally stand you up and stop you dead in your tracks. The downshift would come as the winds subsided only to have a gust stand you up again and another shift would have to be made…..hours of this and I was not frustrated, not upset, disappointed or tired….I was angry. It really felt personal to have a gust just slam you back in the saddle. This is where the real test was, not in the total miles ridden but in the mental fortitude to have the desire to continue in conditions like these and at times I had lost the desire. It’s not that I wanted to quit but I wasn’t going to battle the wind constantly like this and at times in the most wide open sections where there would be no shelter from the winds and where they were really letting me have it I simply hopped off the bike and walked. It was both too dangerous to ride (no ability to hear anything other than wind and dangerous swerving) and too tiresome to battle to stay upright. In fact it turns out several riders were blown off the road earlier in the day.

After that nonsense, when I finally arrived at the store in Sparta, I was relieved to know that I would be changing direction soon and hopefully the winds would subside. I had to impatiently wait for a lady to buy her lottery tickets, I managed to get water and get out of there knowing that I was on my way down the third baseline now.

Sections 4/5- Sparta to King William Store, King William to Ashland

The road out from the control point was obviously downhill immediately so instantly conditions improved dramatically. There was a steep section after a quick left following the control but cresting that hill led to rollers that seemed to all lead downhill. Quick speeds and dramatic views basically turned the day around and I think I could have made another 50 miles at that point although I’m glad we didn’t! Either way the conditions improved for the 14 miles section to King William Store. So much so, I would say this was the best part of the entire trip.

Following a quick control I settled in for the final 14 miles of the journey. I had spent the day challenging a lot of adversities, primarily tough battles with the environment, and had gotten to a point where I felt not overly confident, but cautiously optimistic that a sustained effort would cement completion of my first randonee. The other realization was I had to ride in the dark for a portion of the final section of the race. Good side to this was I had just purchased really good lights, at least the best I’ve employed on any bike.(There will be a review at some point of the Planet Bike 1 watt front and rear combo….with more (commuter) miles) The other side was that riding in the dark on poorly lit country roads can really suck. Things were mostly fine although I did encounter one rider who had suffered a flat twords the end and was having to change a tire in the dark (note to self, bring a headlamp in the tool kit). Crossing the Pamunkey River into Hanover County Virginia was nice following bueatiful sunsets in King William County. It was dusk and I was ready to finish-er up.

VA 58(54?) can be a rather busy stretch of highway between Hanover Courthouse and Ashland. I knew this and riding it in the dark didn’t appeal to me. I stopped behind the firehouse, checked my lights, reflectors, etc, and headed off. The 7-8 miles stretch was taxing and the one douche who did the ole’ gas it n go, lay it on the floor, exhaust gas your face routine was an annoyance but there was an article in the paper recently on the three foot law that has been being debated in the G.A. this session (pass it. don’t be pu55ys, I like my kids and don’t want to die) and I think people have the issue on their radar screens. Anyhow when I crossed I-95 the blur of lights from the greatest retailer on the planet guided my path to town in a manner no less spiritual than that bestowed upon anyone by whomever . So then, because that was so cool, I ended up going to this little mom and pop place these suckers were hanging out at and enjoying with like coffee or something. Who would even like something like that? Yea…..Wal-Mart, anyhow Ashland Coffee and Tea had plenty of room for stragglers like me to hang out with the “crew” of other cyclists and chew the fat on the day. Needless to say, I got my coffee and rested for 5-10 min before heading home to a warm shower…..awesome day, awesome experience and I am super stoked to be legitimately a randonneur.


3 thoughts on “Tappahannock 200k summary

  1. I’m convinced that that allure of brevet/randonneuring is in overcoming that “I’m not gonna make it!” feeling. I can’t believe your unlucky friend got so many flats….

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