Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shenandoah 1200 Ride Report

Shenandoah 1200 Ride Report
Steve Atkins

I was considering riding the Cascade 1200 this summer but its date conflicted with a family commitment. While on the RUSA site I hit the link for the "Inaugural" Shenandoah 1200, its dates worked and I signed up.

Shakedown ride and check-in

I assembled my bike at my friend Bill Boyle's house in Reston VA. My sister Laura lives about 10 miles away so it seemed the perfect plan for a shake-down ride was to ride to her place.

I rode the W and OD bike trail which covered most the distance. We had a nice lunch and since the clouds were gathering, and it rained like crazy the day before, I decided to head back to Reston.

A few miles later some guy in a car rolls down his window at a stop light and says ' hey did you know there is a tornado warning in this immediate area!'

I say thanks and note the clouds were turning the shade of pea soup. Not good.

I hurried on toward the bike path. I reached it but could see a wall of rain coming so I stopped next to an apartment building to put on my rain jacket. By the time I got it on the wind was blowing the rain horizontal. Luckily I was protected by the side of the building!

Later the TV news said gusts in that area exceeded 85 miles an hour!

The heavy wind lasted about 20 minutes. It let up to a steady rain and I jumped on the bike path and headed back.

Most the traffic lights were out and there were so many power outages that many schools were closed the following day.

A number of trees were uprooted and there was an unconfirmed tornado touchdown in Sterling (where I was). This tree nearly blocked all lanes of traffic near Bill's house.

After carrying my bike over several fallen trees I made it back to Bills place. The bike AND the rain gear checked out fine.

We drove to Leesburg in more driving rain, I checked in, had my bike inspected, and headed back to Reston.

What a start!

Leesburg - Start to Gettysburg
I was up at 2:45 for breakfast and Bill Boyle and I were on the road to Leesburg. We checked in and waited for the pre-ride briefing.

Matt Settle provided two key points of advice: 1-Watch for downed trees, limbs and debris. 2-The ride should get easier after you reach Fancy Gap.

The pace started out fairly fast and seemed to accelerate after the group had to dismount to cross a downed power line.

I decided to drop off and go at my own pace just before we hit a steep climb about 20 miles into the ride. The scenery in Maryland was spectacular, all the rain the previous day really greened up the forest and fields. We actually had quite a bit of fog at the start.

Somewhere along the way on route 17 I rode with Tim Sullivan of San Diego. We shared stories of our teenage sons' interest in bike racing and their abilities to drop us old men.

I arrived at the Gettysburg control at 8:03, had a couple of PBJ sammies, reloaded water, put on sunblock and was out by 8:25.

Gettysburg to Sharpsburg

Just out of the control there was an unmarked right turn into the Gettysburg National Battlefield. It was very cool to ride through the park.

I pulled off to an overlook to take it all in and snap a few photos. Another rider, Jack Holmgren of San Francisco stopped and we took each other's pictures. We rode together through the park and stopped again to snap a picture of a covered bridge.

Then the climbing got steep and hot. With a very slight tailwind, there was no air movement.

We continued through farm land and an area that was hit hard with wind the day before. Trees were down everywhere, including a large oak that had fallen on and crushed a farmhouse!

Just before the the next control we rode the Antietam National Battlefield. It was very moving riding through and thinking about the men that fought there. I snapped a picture and arrived at the control at 12:03.

The line for sandwiches in the deli was long and I spotted some potato salad in the cooler. So potatoes is was washed down with the first of many Sobe Lizard Fuels. I was back on the road at 12:30.

Sharpsburg to Winchester

Lots of rollers on this section and the heat was increasing. I think this stage touched three states, Maryland, West Virgina, and Virgina. Roads continued to be good and traffic was light.

Clouds continued to build and with the heat and humidity I thought for sure we would have a thunderstorm. Actually I was hoping for one to wash off the sweat and cool off.

I hit the control at 3:05 and was out at 3:25.

Winchester to Harrisonburg

More heat, more hills, no rain.

I rolled into the Harrisonburg control at 9:55 I was tempted to have a full dinner but decided to have a few snacks, refill my water bottles and get on my way to Deerfield. The Harrisonburg control was the Maplewood dorm at Eastern Mennonite University. It was a great control with dorm rooms, showers, and lots of food. I had decided to put my drop bag at the next stop at Deerfield thinking that I would arrive sometime between 1 and 2 am and nap until just before dawn. I was feeling fine, and close to my plan when I left at 10:30 pm.

Harrisonburg to Deerfield

The road flattened out, and actually descended 250 feet over the next 10 miles, but there was a slight headwind. Then a relatively steady climb of 20 miles, before the last 9 to the control at the Deerfield Volunteer Fire Department. The stars were out and it was very pleasant night riding.

I arrived about 1:30am, showered, ate a great meal including a turkey sandwich and big bowl of pinto beans. I was on a cot by 2:30 am. It was a large room and somewhat noisy. I pulled my balaclava over my eyes, put in the earplugs and and slept till 5:25 am.

A control volunteer had whipped up eggs, biscuits and gravy so I obliged and chowed down. I was out of there by 6:30.

Deerfield to Clifton Forge

The was one of the most spectacular sections of the ride. It was mostly downhill, much of the road was under a canopy of trees, and we rode through the Doughat State Park. There was a beautiful lake and great waterfall.

I arrived at the control at 9:10. It was a restaurant at the train station. A couple of riders, including Paul Rozzell were having some breakfast. I asked the waitress to sign my card and fill my bottles and I was out at 9:20. I stopped at a convenience store in town to reload some supplies and chatted with the cashier. He wanted to know where I was going and why I was planning to ride in the predicted heat. I told him I was riding to Fancy Gap and he looked at me like I had lost my mind. I told him that was only about 1/3 of the riding in the event. He said, "Boy, did you bump your head? Yup, I think you bumped your head!" I told him my wife feels the same way, and headed back out onto the road.

Clifton Forge to Christiansburg

From the profile I knew this would be a tough stage, but with 7500 feet of climbing over 79 miles, it was the killer.

3 steep climbs then lots of rollers. I flatted on the descent of the third climb. Too much speed and too many patches of broken pavement.

I stopped at a convenience store 38 miles into the section and provided this e mail update:

Let the whining begin!

The organizer is an assassin! 3 12-18 percent grades in the first 17 miles!

Here I sit on a 50 pound bag of dog food at CM Grocery (they were nice to let me stay in the cool store) having a dual tube steak lunch. 4 hours to complete 38 miles! Did I mention it is hot!

Enough whining; back to my steaks!

68 miles into this stage I stopped at the convenience store at Ellett road. Paul Rozzell was there (he passed me when I was repairing a flat on the descent of the third big climb). We discussed the lovely heat, headwinds, and seemingly endless rollers that comprised the previous 50 miles. We rode together to the control and arrived at Christiansburg at 5:15. At that pace I would not have qualified for a 200k brevet. Temperatures were over 100 with high humidity. We were out of there at 5:30.

Christiansburg to Hillsville

The ride to Hillsville was dominated by the Indian Valley Road. This road starts up a beautiful water course then transitions to a ridge line road. So nice steady climbing then a series of very sharp and steep climbs and descents. The views from along the road were awesome and much of the pavement was brand new.

We arrived at the control in Hillsville at 10:18 pm. where the volunteers were especially eager to please. I chowed down a PBJ and rolled out with several riders at 10:33 pm.

Hillsville to Fancy Gap

Only 13 miles of climbing, and with the cooler evening air it was a nice section. We climbed to the Blue Ridge Parkway and rolled into the control at 11:55 pm under a starry sky. The control was set up with the check-in point at one end of the campground and the food and sleep area on the other end. Volunteers shuttled the riders back and forth in a pick up truck. I must say the NC Randonneurs did a great job. I showered, had a grilled hamburger, and a big pile of beans. I was in bed at 12:45 am with a wake-up call for 4:30am.

Fancy Gap to Hillsville

I woke and chowed down my standard brevet breakfast (canned beans, chocolate milk, and Ensure) while I dressed in my room (private no less!). I had a cup of coffee and walked back to my bike to loosen up and was out of the control at 5:00am. Just a few miles into the ride, my chain started clicking. I stopped to check it out and noticed a link had popped.

I tried to repair it by removing the troublesome link and then reconnecting the chain. It worked, and carried me to the control but the link where I reconnected was stiff. I asked the control volunteer if there was a bike shop in town. I was convinced I would have more chain trouble. She checked with Matt, and he said he had a spare chain he could sell me and would be in Hillsville 'shortly.' While I was waiting, I decided to remove that link and replace it with a quick link I had in my repair kit. I should have done that first. In any case, I waited for some time and did not leave the control until 7:45 am., just 15 minutes before its close.

Hillsville to Christiansburg

The course retraced yesterday's route through Indian Valley. I paused to take a couple of photos because the views were great. The climbs on the return trip did not seem so bad, probably because it was still cool and the legs were somewhat fresh. I was In and out of Christiansburg at 11:12. I picked up a 3 hour time cushion over 45 miles and my legs felt it!

Christiansburg to Buchanan

I took a Subway break near the control before heading out for Buchanan and wrote:

I fixed the chain with a Fast link but decided to wait for a replacement chain to carry as a spare in case another link failed.

Now that I have the spare that will end my chain problems. The chain was only a few months old but it really got hammered yesterday with all the climbing.

Buchanan does not close till 1123 tonight so if its too hot this afternoon I may duck into a Subway or under a tree!

The control at Buchanan was a BugerKing/Exxon combination. I arrived at 4:45 pm and decided to take a long break to get out of the heat, and to let the sun get lower on the horizon to create some shade on the route. I bought a half gallon of Gatorade, Whopper Jr., fries and settled in to read the newspaper a previous patron had left. I did not leave until 5:45 pm, in the meantime a number of riders stumbled in, beet red from the heat.

Buchanan to Harrisonburg

This was a long section (89 miles) and I stopped about halfway at a Shell station at 9:55 for a 20 minute break and a couple of hot dogs and another quart of Gatorade.

I called Debby to say hello and to get the weather forecast for tomorrow. She said the temps in Leesburg would be nearing 100 at noon. She suggested I sleep short and start early to get done before it gets really hot. I was ready to get out of the heat ASAP so I planned to adopt that strategy.

It seemed to take forever to get to Harrisonburg. I cracked up and took this picture in a small town on the way to Harrisonburg! I finally arrived at 1:13 am, showered, ate, and was in bed for a 90 min nap and 3:00 am wake-up call. I had breakfast and was on the road at 3:40 am.

Harrisonburg to Middletown

The first few miles out of Harrisonburg were tough to get rolling, but since this section was generally downhill, it was not long until I was warmed up and moving. It was nice to start so early as there was no traffic on VA 42 at that time of morning.

It was a great sunrise as I rode through great Virgina farm country. I arrived at Middleton at 7:20, put on sunblock, had a cup of coffee, and was back on the road at 7:35.

Middletown to Leesburg (Finish!)

The first 20 miles were very nice. At one point, I crossed a river on a one lane bridge. When I reached the other side, a father and son were preparing to launch their fishing boat. I stopped to say hello. The boy, about 6 years old admired the blue tires on my blue bike. We chatted for a while and they were kind enough to snap a photo.

The ride to the finish had two tough sections, each climbing up and over a ridge. The second was climbing Route 7 over Manassas Gap. The road here was very tough. Lots of traffic and the shoulder had been recently chip sealed. Even at 10:00 am, the heat was radiating off the pavement. The air was still and I was sweating so much I had to remove my sunglasses on the climb.

I rolled into the finish at about 11:50am and beat the 80 hour mark (Just barely). I was very happy to have my sister Laura and niece Kate at the finish line. Of course, off camera, my friend and logistics officer Bill Boyle was there to collect me and shuttle back to Reston.

Bill and I found some lunch in Leesburg and I pounded many Cokes and water over lunch. On the way back to his house, the big challenge was staying awake!

Closing thoughts

I was happy with my ride, it was a great route, with good roads and very cool views. It was a double bonus having friends and family so close to the start/finish. As usual in randonneur events, the riders and volunteers were awesome. There was more climbing that I expected and certainly more heat.

With the big DNF rate, many riders were comparing this 1200 to PBP 2007. I rode that PBP and can say I do much better in the heat than in the cold. Maybe that's why I live in Tempe Arizona!

Link to Picasa photos: