To qualify for the famoust Paris-Brest-Paris 1200 km a rider must complete a series of events under the sanction of Audax Club Parisien (ACP) . Successfull completion of those rides gives one the title Super Randonneur. I have done all distances in Bulgaria, but in different years. This will be my second consecutive ACP Super Randonneur series completed. It includes 200 km , 300 km, 400 km and 600 km events in a single calendar year. So this 600 km brevet was the only obstacle between me and France. I was determined. My dream since I started randonneuring as a teenager was getting close to being accomplished.
The route is designed by Lynn Kristianson. I met her briefly in 2011 on my very first rando ride in USA . No GPS at that time, and the chance of missing a turn was definately higher . On one of these turns I met her. She was nice and helpful to guide me back on course. I was later told she either love you or hate you . And I want to believe she liked me. She is OTB. We lost her right before the Shenandoah 600 km. DC Randonneurs is one of the premier rando clubs in USA. From what I know she has lots to do with it . She is one of the founders of the club. Her routes are notoriously tough. At the same time what a scenery opens in front of you after climbing those mountains. I also feel good about PBP after completing 600 km with 22 000 feet elevation gain with time to spare.
Back to the ride.
As we left early in the morning, the fog was thick as a blanket .
It creates surreal mesmerizing effect over the Shenandoah Valley . We were very lucky with the weather on both days. Clouds were protecting us from the sun and the wind pushing us forward . Hamid told me that we will get double tail wind . I laughed . It turned out he wasn’t lying . The wind was behind us, pushing us along the road like a good friend until the end . . .
I arrived 1.5 hours before start. That, after 3 hours of sleep, plus 2 hours of driving . I like getting my brevet card , inspection and bike ready before everyone. Then I can use the rest of the time for final preparations. I am very particular on what goes where as far as equipment and supplies. Riders were lining up 30 minutes before the official start time. They were smiling and taking photos of one another. A feeling of a big event.
The start was given and we proceeded into the foggy morning . It was foggy and hard to see until 9 am. The fog was so thick, it felt like riding in the rain. I even had to take my glasses off because it was hard to see.
Later on, the sun appeared on the horizon. It was poking through the clouds and meting the fog. We were pleasantly greeted by the gorgeous vistas of the Shenandoah Valley. Feeling and view that cannot be expressed with words. Just leaves you speechless. . . We were moving along route VA 11 south towards Staunton.
I noticed this sign wrapped around like a good friend by pretty vegetation. It was picture time. Suddenly Chris Mento appeared out the fog behind me . He was asking me if I am ok. I told him that it was time for picture, and further explained that this is the only way to remember where I was, and what was I doing.
We were riding strong into the next big hill. After a control at a campground I caught up to Chris and we joined forces. He is such a great riding partner. With nice sense of humor and stories for days. As he was standing up a lot on the hills, I stayed seated. My goal was to conserve energy.
Here is another great shot of me and Chris by Marry Gersema.
Then it was time for the usual cow picture with a farm in the background. You can tell that the cows are not stupid. They were relaxing in the shade.
Plenty of beautiful houses were positioned on those hills. What a pleasant picture. Far from civilization and services. I can see myself living in one of those one day.
Every time I look to my sides while riding I was left speechless- Fog was coming from the the mountains with pretty green colors, like a masterpiece from an artist. The higher we climbed, the more beautiful the scenery was. . .
Further into the ride we crossed few rivers in the early afternoon. I took a picture of this guy just relaxing on a big flotation device under a bridge in the middle of the river . I was jealous.
Another control stop – another gas station.
There was no place to even park my bike.
Few dark clouds were forming above my head and it looked scary for a moment. I am so glad they never materialized. Just provided a nice shade from the sun.
At the control before the next climb we joined forces with Gardner and Theresa. What a great riding time we had together. Gardner was pulling ahead of us, and slowing down occasionally so we can catch up:) He was not too happy about us slacking off.
There were some nasty climbs from mile 160 to mile 205 ( click on picture for elevation profile). On one of them I heard that some people walked. No shame in that. It felt like at least 15 % grade on the very top of that disgusting hill-top. I had to go zig zag to lower the grade 🙂
Next picture sums it all up. We were on Big Hill Rd – I learned that road names with Hill in the name are named like that for a good reason. What a gut – buster !
We were descending for a while until the control before the sleep stop. The reward for going up for miles is that eventually you will go down. As we were descending , riders were going up. And we were descending for a looong time. That was a bad sign, I thought. Still feeling strong, but started using ibuprofen at first signs of tingling in my knees. I did not want it to materialize.
Somebody decided to build Raphine on top of that mountain and I wasn’t happy about it ! At the same time I was excited to be on top. It was finally Sleep time 🙂 Gardner and Theresa told me they will take a 4 to 4.5 hours sleep. I claimed I will sleep 3 hours, but overslept. After 4.5 hours my body felt fresh. My drop bag with fresh clothes and some microwave food was waiting for me there. The only place open at this time was a truck stop. The shower was like a gift from heaven. . . When I woke up, there was a person sleeping under the table and another in the second bed. Now that is a true Rando event. I felt bad, but my calculation were that he wasn’t sleeping there longer than 1.5 hours.
When I got up ready for departure were also Kelly Smith and Michael Wali. They told me that Dunkin Donuts was open, so I got a coffee and a muffin. I had no idea what to eat anymore as my digestive system was crap from eating all this junk food !
This might be one of the best photos I have taken. Here is DC Randonneurs President Michael Wali riding into the Sunrise. (Click on picture to enlarge)
We soon descended to the first control of day 2 and I had pickled eggs. I told you already – I didn’t know what to eat anymore. Also had an egg sandwich since vegetarian options were limited. My stomach didn’t like the idea too much.
Plenty of bugs in the morning hours – I am so glad I have my mask( neck sunblock) .
The climbing was almost over. The energy in my legs as well . . .We were slowly descending into the lower grounds. Amazingly, the wind was still behind us on the second day of this bike adventure. My bicycle was moving on its own without much pedaling. OK , that is a lie. This was much-needed considering how exhausted and sore we were. I started feeling a bit sleepy again and generally uncomfortable. So a decision was made to stop for 5 minutes every hour – stretch a bit, apply creams and elevate my legs. I remember lifting my legs on a light pole in a ditch, staring in the skies, inhaling and exhaling. That is true rando life, a life in the ditch . . .
We shared stories with Mike about his experience at the Sunshine 1200 km in Florida and the upcoming PBP. Amazingly, he told me that he still need to ride a 400 qualifier since his 1200 is not ACP certified. Our 400 was on the same date as the Sunshine 1200 and he wasn’t able to take part.
The speed suddenly increased. He was telling me to go and not wait for him. He claimed his pacing was very bad, either going too fast or very slow. I needed to go to work after the ride , but told him that riding fast for the last 60 miles wont save me much time – maybe 5 , 10 minutes. But I still pushed myself because I felt good 🙂
We were at the last control before the finish. There was a big climb right after the control . A quick resupply and I proceeded. Just 40 miles or so left. Mike told me that he will take his time and stay a little longer at the control.
Up the hill I go. As I approached the top, I heard somebody yelling. It was Mike. My GPS confirmed my suspicion – I was off track. Quick U-turn and started descending to catch up to him again. We were soon on the crest of the mountain overlooking the valley. It was stunning. We are greeted by big rollers, after big rollers. I pushed the gas and finished in respectable 36 hours and 34 minutes.
To fight cycling amnesia and bring interesting moments out I started recording my voice every 30 miles or so . This will hopefully bring memories and paint a better picture!
Here it is. Voice transcript:
Mile 25 – Hit a rock while descending. I feel lucky to be alive. Still riding with Chris .Great vistas. Speedometer stopped working after a bump on the road.
Mile 67 – Average speed 14.7 Mph . Still foggy
Mile 100- 7 hours and 17 minutes. 14.5 Average speed. Time off the bike 15 minutes and 28 seconds
Mile 126 ( 200km) – Stop at Staunton, VA. Mary told me I a camel for not resupplying for the first 100 miles. 150 oz of water and lots of food in the Carradice will do it. 45 min wasted at a control at a gas station 😦 Everyone is shopping beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets here . 200 km in 9 hours and 30 minutes with 55 min off the bike .
Mile 225 – moving average speed 14 Mph. Stopped 2 hours and 11 minutes. Riding with Paul and Chris . 20 miles before sleep stop.
This is by far the most scenic and tough randonneuring event I have ever done. And I’ve done plenty. Ok, Bulgaria is pretty and tough as well . . . .
France is not just a dream anymore. Mom, I know you are proud of me. I did accomplished my dream. Finishing or not PBP , just qualifying, going there and attempting will be a huge success.