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Tappahonnock 200k

by on February 21, 2011

This Ride: 128.9 miles
Month: 362.9 miles
2011: 823 miles
Total since 1/1/10: 6,942.7 miles

I was looking forward to the Tappahonnock 200k all week, even as the weather forecast deteriorated.  This was to be my first ACP Sanctioned Brevet and would be my third consecutive monthly 200k.  That’s 1/4 of the way to an R-12!  In order to save a few dollars, I chose to drive to Ashford, VA the morning of the ride rather than to find a motel.  I don’t think that decision hurt me too bad.

The alarm rang at 3:00 am, and I was out the door by 3:30 for the 2 hour 20 minute drive.  Along the way I “opened” a McDonald’s at 5 am, and stopped at a Hardee’s for a last minute bathroom break and some orange juice.  I arrived at the Ashford Coffe & Tea Company precisely at 6:00 am, and started to get dressed, put the front tire on the bike, make some last minute clothing decisions, and meet some of the other now arriving riders.  I signed in, and the wait for the 7:00 am  start began.  I was slightly chilled and full of excitement and anticipation … just as it should be.  I imagine the same to be true for the 32 other riders.

(More after the jump)

At 7:00, we were off.  It was 49°F, the perfect temperature for a brisk pace.  I settled in near the front with the other SPP riders, Chip, Clif, and Dave.  These guys are fast, and we set a very quick, yet comfortable pace into a very bright sunrise.  In no time, we were out of town and winding our way through some very rural parts of Virginia.  These first 12 miles had my hopes of a very fast 200 soaring … until we hit the first short, but steep hill.  I couldn’t hold the pace.  By the time I crested the hill, the group I had been riding with was some 40 -50 yards ahead, which wasn’t too big a problem.  It’s just that my heart was pounding out of my chest.  I slowed to recover, and watched them pull away.  For the next 10 miles, I rode alone.  I had a quick pace going, averaging about 18 mph, so I was feeling pretty good.  At around mile 22, I was swallowed up in another group, consisting of about 10 strong riders.  I jumped in with them and we picked up the pace.  This was quite a comfortable group to ride with, except for “The Incident”.

At about mile 32, we were climbing another hill and I was close in on the tire of the rider ahead of me.  Suddenly, that rider slowed, and I had no place to go other than to the right, closer to the edge of the pavement and a 2 foot ditch.  As I swung over, the rider in front of me also moved right, and I touched my brakes to avoid an accident.  I don’t like doing that when we are riding close to one another, but for me it was either that or hit the the rear wheel of the rider in front.  As soon as I touched the brakes, I heard “Oh no!” shouted behind me, and a terrible sound of two other riders going down.  There was no blood.  But there was a pretty significant level of guilt on my part.  What a bonehead, newbie move on my part!  Needless to say, whether it was my guilt or punishment, I very soon found myself riding alone again, as this group pulled away faster than I could hold on (from the back where I belonged).  For the next 10 miles, I was again alone.

In this stretch, riding alone, I found myself confused by the cue sheet.  That confusion was compounded by the data on my Garmin.  The day before I had loaded the route in my Garmin so that if there was confusion on the cue sheet I could simply check the course and be fine.  This spot however, was an intersection that would be traveled twice, on different legs.  Before I could sort it out, the wind caught my cue sheet and tore it off the bike.  Now I was chasing the cue sheet pages (in a zip lock bag) in 15 mph winds.  It was a scene from a movie, a comedy at that!  Finally, I caught the cue sheet under my front tire, picked it up, and saw the next landmark.  I was still on course, and was able to reach the first control without additional incident.

At the first control, I answered the information question, hydrated some, snacked a little, and noted that my average speed for the first 45 miles was over 17 mph.  There were no water or facilities at this stop.  Just as I was about to push off for the next segment, some other riders began to come in.  I waited a bit longer and joined up with three others with whom I would ride with the rest of the day.

It was from here that we began to deal with the wind consistently.  It was not yet overpowering, more a steady nuisance.  I’ve ridden in these kinds of winds before, and while they can be exhausting, remembering to eat and hydrate helps.  The next control was in Tappahonnock, about 30 miles away.  As I got to know these new partner riders (Alec, Joel, & Maile) I was glad that I settled in with them.  They were experienced randonneurs, and fun to be with.  I wasn’t much help to the group these 30 miles, but they were patient with me.  My pulls on the front into the wind were brief, and I silently wondered if they would find reason to drop me at the next control, where we would eat lunch.  I did not need to worry.

When we arrived at Java Jack’s (mile 73) I was beat.  We had experienced enough of the persistent wind to know that our next leg would be a long slog directly into the teeth of the wind.  Just anticipating that made me quiet.  My energy stores were exhausted, and even finishing the last few miles to the control was a challenge.  I resolved to rehydrate, eat, get some caffeine and sugar in me, take much needed bathroom break, and be quick enough that I wouldn’t be left behind.  All of that was accomplished, and more.  Java Jacks was the place on the course where I saw the rest of the SPP riders.  We overlapped some there, and as they pushed off, each greeted me and offered words of encouragement.  Before long, I made some clothing change decisions (Remove the arms from my jacket and put on arm warmers: change the ear warmers for a sweat band) because it was warming up nicely.  And then we were off.

The planning we had done over lunch about dealing with the wind from there to the end of the ride could not anticipate what we would encounter.  As we turned west, we had 12 grueling miles directly into the wind.  It wasn’t the average wind speed of 18 mph, or even the gusts to 45 that were the trouble on this leg.  It was the sustained winds of 36 miles per hour that got us.  These sustained winds would sometimes last for several minutes at a time.  On flat ground, our speed was often around 8-10 mph as we ground out the miles into this wind.  My Garmin summary shows that in this last half of the ride, we rode 15 of those miles at 11.6 mph average speed.  I recall one point where we were moving along nicely at close to 17 mph when suddenly we hit a wall of wind.  Our speed dropped immediately to about 10 mph, as if we all hit the brakes.  My hydration and eating plan was helping.  I was feeling strong and challenged by the conditions, and was able to pull steadily into the wind for significant stretches.  In fact, between mile 79 and mile 120, I was feeling very good.

We were hoping that our turn toward the south would give us more of a tail wind.  We experienced that occasionally, but what it really meant was some pretty strong and dicey cross winds.  We could anticipate some of that, recognizing wind breaks and watching the swirling dust, but at times gusts and sustained winds would catch us off guard.  We had to increase the distance between riders simply because no one could hold a line of less than 3 feet in width with the rapidly changing wind conditions.  One time, when we encountered a severe burst of sustained wind for about 3 minutes, which suddenly backed off to the 20 mph range, I called out, “Is that all you’ve got?” It was.  We occupied ourselves as we ground out the miles by thinking of songs with “wind” in them.  We got quite a few!

A lot of this ride is in open farm country.  Some of it is through forested sections.  In the forests, the trees were groaning and creaking in the wind.  Once, we thought a tree was going to come down on us, it was protesting so much.  There was a lot of tree debris in the roadway, some of it 4-5 inches in diameter.  The noise was such that when we were in a pace line, the leader could not always hear the trailing rider’s call about “car back”.  It really needed to be relayed up the line, and that’s with just 4 riders!

There were those places where it was absolutely delightful.  I recall one section where we had crosswinds mostly from the back, with forest serving as a wind break, straight road, and slightly down hill.  We were practically giddy with the lack of challenge.  These good conditions were what I would call occasional in our southerly leg of the ride, but they would soon change quickly back to the hard crosswinds.

At the 114 mile control, I focused too much on the fact that we had only 14 more miles to go.  Those were a long 14 miles.  I learned later, looking at the Garmin profile that this was mostly uphill and once again into the wind.  I eased up some on my hydration and eating as I kept thinking about how this was less than a morning ride for me … not considering that I had just completed 114 exhausting miles.  Combine all these together, and not only was it a challenging stretch, but I made it more so with some poor decisions.  We arrived at the end point at 5:05 pm, and all the other SPP riders were in and greeted us.

Despite the conditions, there were a lot of accomplishments for me on this ride.  It was my fastest 200k to date, and my shortest time stopped at controls.  I’ve had snow and freezing temperatures before in rides, now I have experience with wind.  I met some great folks, and contributed to a successful finish.  This was a lot of fun … and a lot of work!

I lingered for about an hour, saw a few riders coming in (we were well back in the pack of finishers), and enjoyed a Guinness.  Then, changing clothes, I loaded everything into the car for the drive back.  I got home about 8:15 pm after a long day.

After my January solo 200k, I noted that I didn’t know when I would get back on the bike again.  I’m already looking forward to the next ride, maybe in just 2 weeks.  Some SPP people are riding the “Over to Dover” permanent.  Maybe that one will be one without challenging weather.  One can always hope.

Bill sent out a summary of the ride to the DC Rand email group.  He describes the ride this way:

Wind can be one of the most difficult weather conditions to deal with on bike rides. Working like a dog to go 10 mph on flat ground can be demoralizing. And it almost feels personal when the wind throws a gust that knocks you backwards or to the side. So the 2011 Tappahannock 200K was a challenge! The National Weather Service in Richmond recorded average wind speeds of 18 mph, SUSTAINED wind speeds of 36 mph, and gusts of 46 mph. After the turnaround in Tappahannock at mile 70, riders were heading straight into these blasts except for a brief respite after mile 112. My average speed over the 25 miles from Tappahannock to Sparta was only about 12 mph (on almost level ground). And on many occasions I was reduced to less than 8 mph. Everyone that I talked to said that it was the most severe sustained headwinds that they had ever experienced on a ride.

But I think epic rides like the 2011 Tappahannock 200 are important for the individual randonneur and for the group. As individuals, we gain confidence that, although adverse conditions can slow us down and perhaps make us uncomfortable, we can still finish in time if we just gear down and keep moving. And we feel more connected as a group because we know that we all share whatever characteristic it is that makes people want to come out in such conditions and meet the challenge. 33 randonneurs came out on Saturday to ride through the winds and earn “hard-core” status, with 30 getting official finishes. My helmet is off to all of you!

Thanks to Paul D., who designed the very pretty route and organized the ride, and his wife Susan, who waited at  the start for late arrivals.

From → Cycling

One Comment
  1. Great write up. I was thinking of you when the wind blew a 30′ tree onto my neighbor’s house. That was an incredible effort!

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