Sometimes getting there is half the fun. Sometimes it's a considerably smaller fraction than that. Like those times, say 1 a.m. in the morning, 20 miles from your destination, when the warning lights come on and the instrument panel is dominated by a big red flashing STOP, and the temperature gauge pegs hard in the red zone and the sickening smell of coolant seeps through the air vents.
Branson and I made the 300-mile drive to the ROMA 400K,for a 7 a.m. start at RBA Matt Settle's home in Strasburg, Va. The plan was to get to Strasburg at 1 a.m., grab a few hours sleep at the Fairfax Inn. But with Branson's car on the fritz, we got stranded in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn Express in Woodstock, a few highway miles shy of our ultimate destination. The perky desk clerk told us, "I just rented the last room an hour ago!" Thanks, helpful information.
Branson got a couple fitful hours of sleep in the car while the engine cooled off. Branson can sleep anywhere. Me? No luck. Sleep deprivation is a side effect of randonneuring, but I like mine during the event, not before it. When you line up at the start already exhausted you're in for a long day.
We nursed the car a few more miles up the highway, finally ditching it a truck stop parking lot ...
... and cycling the final 7 miles to the start.
What's 7 miles before a ride of 250 miles? Umm, 7 miles.
The ride began at Matt's beautiful country house off Back Road, just outside Strasburg. He and his friend Patsy served up pancakes and coffee to the 10 riders on the ride roster. Nice!
Branson is known as the Bull City Biker. Here he is saying hey to one of his peeps.
It's always fun to hang with the cast of characters that wear the randonneur badge.
There was Lisa, who likes to listen to Italian and Portuguese pop music in the car.
There was Russ, looking European with a Swiss wool jersey and a cigarette dangling from his lips.
There was Carol, the transplanted New Zealander who could charm a polar bear out of its fur coat.
There was Paul, aka The World's Greatest Randonneur, riding with platform pedals, no clips, and steel baskets fore and aft, on a bike I would be chasing for much of the ride.
There was Lothar, my old flechemate, a master of the droll one-liner.
There was Andrea, with her infectious laugh.
And Greg, who would overcome one of the biggest mechanical challenges I have ever seen. Here he is with Matt and Patsy, who checked on riders as we came up Capacon River Road.
There was Jon, a phenomenal rider I know from the NC series who was off the front from the start and would finish three hours before us.
A short pep talk from Matt...
.... and off we went, with lots of bantering, joking as we rolled down Back Road....
...until we hit the first hill of the day, Wolf Gap, a challenging climb of 3 miles or so. I'd seen this hill before on Gappity Gap. It hadn't gotten any smaller. We splintered a bit on the hill, with Andrea and Greg going off the front.
Much of the first 300K was designed by flechemate Lynn K, and the course quickly earned the nickname of "The Mother of All 300Ks." I see why -- like the mommas of years gone by, she's liable to rise up at any moment and dish out some tough love to those who challenge her.
Our first control was a restaurant, 43 miles in. This would be the first of five meals I ate during the ride. I needed every one of them. It's here that Lisa began to talk of tossing in the towel. Her feet were killing her, she said. Lothar, dipping deep into his psychological tool bag, talked her out of it with equal parts of badgering and cajoling.
She would spend the rest of the ride standing on ice bags ....
... or wading through rivers and streams to cool her feet.
Despite her valiant effort, her day would end prematurely at 300K when she went down on railroad tracks in Harrisonburg, banging a knee and elbow. Here's a shot of the elbow at the finish.
Now for the story of Andrea and Greg. They left the first restaurant a few minutes before the rest of us. I rode up on them at 60 miles. You guys okay? I asked. Well, no, Greg says. He points to his left Dura-Ace crank arm. It's snapped at the pedal hole.
We were all convinced his day was over -- 190 miles with one pedal? No way, Jose. By now, Branson, Paul and Carol had joined us. There was a house just up the hill from where we stopped, and Charming Carol, mustering her best Down Under accent, asked a man in the yard whether we could use a phone to call Matt. The guy seemed eager to help out. The rest of us rode on, leaving Greg and Andrea to sort out the mechanical. And did they ever. Turned out their new friend was a master mechanic. He drilled the crank arm below the pedal bolt and threaded it. Of course, he could only make a right-hand thread, but he took a right side pedal off his son's bike and installed it on Greg's crank. Voila: mismatched crank lengths of 175 and 160.
Somewhere along the way, Russ helped Greg make a power strap out of duct tape. Greg successfully completed the event. I have seen lots of roadside repairs. This takes the prize.
Our DC friends describe the route we were on as scenic. Translation: Hilly....
... but beautiful backroads, including the stretch into West Virginia via the climb over Wolf Gap.
I spent most of the ride in the company of Paul, Carol and Branson. Here's Carol and Paul rolling along one of the rivers.
It's hard to imagine better riding companions. Branson was the class of our little peleton. The season is young but he already has good legs under him. He hurt us anytime he got on the front. Paul, baskets and all, motored over hill after hill. He's the kind of guy that you pray never converts to carbon. And Carol, between very solid pulls, entertained us with stories about her trip to the Great Southern Randonnee and of speed records on motorcycles. I never feel like I pull my weight in a group like that, story-wise or bike-wise. I hope they'll count this post-ride report toward my contribution.
The route climbed back over Wolf Gap and dropped down to a small crossroads store, Larkins, at Columbia Furnace, where we had yet another meal before donning reflective gear for the night portion of our ride. Here's Greg and Andrea suiting up.
This portion of the route followed Highway 42 down to Harrisonburg, then turned around and retraced the route to Columbia Furnace before a 20-mile run up Back Road to the finish at Matt's house. The first portion of 42 was especially punishing with three or four sharp hills but the route leveled out considerably after that, and with a full moon on the rise over the nearby ridges, the riding could not have been more pleasant. We stopped for sodas in Forestville, about halfway down to Harrisonburg.
Here's Paul bowing and scraping in the hope that his dollar bill will be accepted.
We rolled into Harrisonburg, where JMU students, high on graduation and malt beverages, alternately yelled out encouragement and insults as we passed by their front lawn gatherings. Our control was a diner where we refueled on meatloaf and mashed potatoes, washed down with coffee.
The diner booths had long padded benches. I tried to steal back a few minutes of my missing sleep. No luck there. As we ate, other riders rolled in. Lothar was having gastronomical problems, which are every bit as serious as mechanical ones. Apparently he had been unable to eat for several hours. But he was soldiering on, and he would finish with Russ, after getting an anti-nausea pill from Carol.
What to say of the return trip from Harrisonburg? Our little cell divided when Paul and Carol slowed about a dozen miles into the return leg, and we split once more when Branson dropped me on a hill. I poked along without real focus until I reached the Columbia Furnace store, where I regrouped with Branson. The plan was to wait for Carol and Paul but five minutes in the chilly air convinced me it was wiser to roll on, and Branson and I completed the final 17-mile stretch together, finishing up at 4:45 a.m.
We grabbed a few minutes of shut-eye on cots at Matt's house before other riders began to roll in. Then we were all up, gathered around the dining room table, for the post-ride celebration of pancakes and war stories. We capped that off with a sleepy sit down in the sun on the front porch...
... where we said hey to the cat and vice versa.
Remember that broke-down car? We got it towed to a repair shop, where it still sits, and Russ loaded us into his RAV4 for a ride to Petersburg, halfway home, where Branson's better half rescued us. I don't remember much about the drive. I finally got that sleep I'd been angling for.
Another fun day/night on the bikes.
Thanks to Branson and Russ for the company and the pix.