Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nottoway Ramble Permanent: February 15, 2009

It’s all in the presentation of the lure. My riding buddy, friend, and enabler, Bob, knew what he was doing when he dangled the bait in my direction. Said a few local riders were thinking about doing Ron’s 215km Nottoway Ramble Permanent this past Sunday, and did I want in.

There were five of us in all. Besides Bob and myself, I knew Ron, whom I’d met my first year of randonneuring on the Raleigh 400km in the dark and rain. Special bonds are forged in such times. Plus there was Jim, whom I’d met last year at the VA Tappahannock 200km. Jim’s a real road warrior, having already completed one R-12 and closing in on his second.

The fifth rider I’d not yet met, the affable Ian, whose RUSA number is barely dry. In fact this would be Ian’s first event under the RUSA banner. By all accounts, he’ll be a fine randonneur.

With village names on the route like Windsor, Waverly, and Surry, I’d fully expected to catch a glimpse of the sheriff of Nottingham, Friar Tuck, if not the Queen, herself. However, I’d settle for the opportunity of riding with a band of Merry Men in helmets and colorful garb. I wasn’t disappointed, for my last wish was granted.

Sir Bob—a real knight.

Knaves, Knights, or Knings? Left to right: Ron, Ian, Bob.

The Nottoway Ramble can be described as a rural ride over a section of the Tidewater of southeast VA. Ron has served up tall helpings of cotton, peanuts, rivers, fields, woods, marshes, and a handful of short hills with double-digit inclines. There is little traffic. We were several miles into the ride before we spotted a car on the road.

The 134-mile route is layered with history. Pick your passion. In addition to the strong British influence, alluded to already, is the wide American panorama: native, early colonial, revolutionary, antebellum, civil war. . . As we rode along, Ron would share some of it with us.

We departed the start-control at a late-ish 8:20, but at a good clip under blue skies and temperatures in the mid-30s with a nice tailwind.

Is that flagpole bent? I knew the tailwind wouldn’t last all day as we kept “turning right” in a clockwise fashion.

As we approached Blackwater River at mile 13, Ron noted the river represented a Civil War dividing line between the Union forces and Confederate Virginia. Because the boundary line was unevenly guarded, “contrabands” or slaves occasionally crossed over into freedom. Interestingly, just to the south, the spot at which the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers join—forming the Chowan—officially marks the VA-NC border.

At mile 22, Ron explained that we were in the area of the famous slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in 1831. We rode through the town of Courtland, where Turner was tried and hanged after his capture.

We pulled into the first control at mile 43 in Yale, VA, at the Yale General Store.

The store is closed on Sunday, something Ron anticipated, having already prepared pre-addressed postcards, which we completed and dropped off at the Yale post office directly adjacent to the general store.

Ron passed along an interesting article about contemporary life in this rural area near the village of Yale.

Ian took the sign seriously; I think he’s eating birdseed, which may explain why he can fly.

At mile 59, we reached the first information control. Late arrival Jim already knew the answer to the question, which I think he memorized from the information control on the Tappahannock 200km he'd ridden yesterday.

I was lucky that Jim was prepared. He gave me an extra cue sheet at the next control after mine was stolen by the wind shortly after this stop.

Ian also knows the answer to the control question. He’s fast at everything.

I’m beaming, too, since I remember to apply the “long-distance rule” and put a “K” after the number in my answer.

Captain America? Flash Gordon? Spider Man? No, it’s a new Super Hero—Rando Man!

Passing through Waverly at mile 68, we debated the most important question of the day: where to eat. The constraint of time dictated our decision. Next time Ron and I do the ride we’ve agreed to try Giuseppe’s!

Check out the date on this marker near the control in Claremont at mile 86. Did they get the spelling right on the Indian name?

The route took us within sight of the James River and a few lovely miles through a tranquil, scenic, forested natural preserve. Here we chased up a few, short, steep inclines.

At Surry, we stopped one last time for provisions and turned on our lights for the remaining 34-mile jaunt to the finish. Ron and Bob torched the road with their Edelux-generator lights. If I got ahead of either one of the lights, it was easy to mistake it for a car headlamp. I recall one instance in which I was able to negotiate a series of downhill turns faster with Bob right behind me lighting the way than if I’d been alone.

With day-time highs only in the mid-40s, the temperature quickly plummeted to freezing with nightfall. Ron remarked that his head was turning into a popsicle.

At the final control, while warming ourselves with warm drinks, we signed and turned over our permanent cards to Ron. After securing our bikes, changing clothes, and chatting for a while in a nearby parking lot, we departed in different directions, thankful for another safe and pleasurable adventure.

Thanks to Bob for his continuing role in enabling my “bad behavior” of distance-cycling, to Ron for “hosting” the event, and to Jim and Ian for their camaraderie. It seems that every randonneuring event is special, and this was no exception.


Doctor on a bike said...

sounds like it was a great ride. Bob had invited me but I was out of town. I'll definitely have to try this route some time.

p.s. all your talk during our December Permanent about the fun of riding a Fleche has me hoping to do one this year. If you know anyone putting a team together who can use me please have them get in touch!

dean furbish said...


The group did have a lot of fun on the Permanent. It would be fun to get together another group ride in the future.

The fleche is a unique and worthwhile ride. I'll e-mail you with some contact possibilities.