Last step before PBP#2 – Northern Virginia 600 km

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Well, this is it. Just one ride away from final registration for Paris-Brest-Paris 2019. This brevet is also organized by Hamid Akbarian with Northern VA Randonneurs. Map below


It is broken down in 2 x 300 km to help prepare riders for PBP . I was planning on riding straight through in order to simulate what will I experience at PBP and my aspirations for fast finish. The event starts in Stephens City, Va and goes north to the battlefields of Gettysburg and back to Stephens City. Afterwards , on day two, we bike south towards Staunton, VA and back to Stephens City.  As evident by the elevation profile , the beginning of the ride is rather challenging.  At least we still have fresh legs on day one.

My goal is to go below 70 hours in France, so lets just say it now. I believe that I have the legs to even go below 60. However,  too many things can happen so one cannot really plan for it but rather adapt and move on ( weather, mechanical & medical issues and so on).

This was also good test for my newly build Cervelo R3. My stem was left longer than needed and aero bars cut short in order to cover the requirements by the French (aero bars cannot extend beyond the brake hoods).  I needed to know how would they perform. I was riding light , with 3 bottles, small saddle pack with spare tire and pockets stuffed with food. The lights of choice were once again my rechargeable Exposure Race for complete darkness and battery powered Bausch & Muller Ixon IQ.

The ride start time was 5 am which meant good amount of time to sleep the night before. A mistake I made was that I didn’t stop drinking coffee weeks before the event in order to really feel the effects of it.

There were 8 tough randonneurs at the starting lineup – Me , Mimo DeMarco, Damon Taaffe, Joseph Ray, Andrea Matney, Damien Cartron, Gary Waggoner and Edward Boltz.

Breakfast at Waffle House before the grand depart


You cant get enough Waflle House
I am here. Lets go. Photo by Hamid


Good morning everyone. Photo by Hamid
The starting eight. Photo by Hamid

After short instructions, we departed. What stuck in my head is ” small gravel section ” according to Hamid 🙂 I guess I am about to find out soon.

Into the night we go. Photo by Hamid

The morning was glorious and sky clear. The mist was still covering everything like a blanket and slowly disappearing. No traffic, complete silence, just chirping of birds. I love riding early in the morning. How can you not – We were able to see two blood red sunrises within 24 hours on the same event. Whoever ordered those, Thank you.

Pretty sunrise

Damon was leading the way and I was following behind.  He kept pulling away from me by about 1/2 a mile but I could  always see his taillight in the distance. The new bike must be a good climber because I was closing in on him every time there was an incline. Perhaps, his climbing game was off on that day. The first Big climb came around mile 66 and was supposed to be about 7 miles (according to my notes) . Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as it looked on the map. I just kept steady cadence , watched my hearth rate and pedaled along. Luckily, we didn’t had to climb the second one before  lunch  stop at historic Gettysburg. Well, it was more of a breakfast for us since our arrival time was 10 am.  Hamid was awaiting us and taking pictures  with trunk full of goodies.

MIle 92 and 1st control in Gettysburg. Photo by Hamid


I had two things in mind before eating food – charge my devices again and ensure I can use the largest ring in the back for the upcoming hill. This seems to be the only issue with my new bike and I was able to quickly solve it. In the meantime, a cyclist arrived looking for a tool to tighten his cleats on his new  bike shoes. We chatted for a bit, I ate some sandwiches, basmati rice with beans, strawberries. Delicious ! It was still early and I wasn’t that hungry so I packed few cheesy roll ups and departed. Damon was long gone before me. . .

Unscrew , pull and tighten up again that derailleur screw. Photo by Hamid

The climb on the way back south proved to be more serious but manageable. My gears were working as they should and things were not as bad.

Further down, we  crossed into Shepherdstown, WV for to the open control. I didn’t thought I needed liquids and pushed on. Big mistake! Not only did I ran out of water for about 40 miles , but I also lost my red bottle behind the seat (picture below). This happened as I was crossing  railroad tracks yet again. Ok, I think I am done with this fancy bottle holder behind me. I keep loosing bottles even after it was reduced to 1 cage and  replaced with better one.


The solution was to take slow sips  and rely on my 3 isotonic SIS energy gels to provide some hydration.  Luckily, before the mid point, I was able to bump into 7/11 and hydrate properly. It felt like oasis in the middle of a desert and I downed almost 2 liters while waiting on the line to pay.

I believe I made it to Stephens City around 4:30 pm or about 11h30 min for the first 300 km. The plan was to take quick shower, change my clothes and push on. The plan was to cover about 60 more miles before darkness. Hamid once again provided delicious freshly cooked food. Is he an angel or what 🙂  Ali helped prepare some of it too. You gyes are amazing !

After being off the bike for almost an hour, I departed. This is not a race so I was in no rush but still moving along pretty fast. One need to listen to his body and play it smart. We are on our own for almost 400 miles after all.

It felt really good to be clean and wear new uniform. Immediately after I left, Andrea , Garry and Damien arrived. The fatigue was slowly setting in. My next control was in Broadway, Va or about 50 miles away. The remaining controls were all 7/11. This was great of us riding straight through as we can find supplies in the middle of the night.

Things started to get a but sketchy from here on. It was pitch dark, road markings hard to see and we were in the wilderness. About 15 to 20 minutes before arriving in Staunton, VA I noticed Damon headlight. He was on his way back. This mean he was already 3 hours ahead or so. Holy moly! This was right after a mile of gravel but to be honest, it wasn’t that bad.  However, the next section of gravel came soon and it wasn’t pleasant at all. A bit longer at almost 2 miles but too bumpy for my taste. At least it was keeping me away.

As I reached Staunton, I almost stopped at the wrong 7/11 but followed my GPS to the correct one. If I am not wrong, they had 3 x 7/11 there within a 2 mile radius. Well, this is where I had a nice meal and took my first 15 min cat nap. Next to the dumpsters behind the building 🙂 The glory of being a rando. I still had about 90 miles to go . . .

On the way back north to Stephens City, we followed the same roads and knew what to expect. The two gravel sections were first but at least this time somewhat downhill and apparently with tailwind. This explains why it was so hard for me earlier. I was also hoping to start seeing the other 6 riders. I figured If they slept 3 or 4 hours , then i should start seeing them before or after Broadway, VA.

Sadly, my GPS froze. I had to run the RidewithGPS app and listen to the directions. Luckily, I was able to reset it but it took forever to recover the file and turn back on. It sounded like a perfect opportunity for another power nap. Phone set to 15 minutes, then on my chest and ZzZzZz. Once awake my GPS looked to be functioning properly. Lets go.

Upon arrival at Broadway, I felt sleepy again and took no chances. Time  for another beauty sleep 🙂 I couldn’t wait for daylight, and luckily my SIS isotonic caffeine gels kind of saved me and kept me awake. The short naps were really refreshing and allowing me to continue for few hours before i needed to stop again. The progress was slow, but it was a progress. Better safe than sorry they say.

It was such a treat to see the blood red sunrise again. I was super cold as the temperature quickly dropped from 85 during the day to 50 at night. The remaining distance was just rollers and nothing really challenging. They were somewhat steep but very short. I just paced myself and attacked the inclines as much as i can to save on energy going up.

Surprisingly , I start bumping into the other riders early in the morning. it sounds like they had a nice sleep the night before. We exchanged few words and moved on. I was really close to finishing under 29 hours and decided to go for it as i felt better and better. I was actually going faster than anticipated and my overall average speed increased by 0.3 in the last 40 miles. In the end, i finished in 28h55min or my fastest 600 km. Apparently,  I was 55 min away from reaching R70 status ( finishing full series in 70% of the allotted time). I still have a chance to fix my 600 result next year and earn this award.

Hamid was at the finish line to greet me and hand over a bottle of wine. How nice of him. Every single rider received one. Damon was already rested and ready to depart but at least i was able to say bye and take a picture with him. Kudos to him on a sub 24h finish and 3rd R60 achievement. Simply amazing !

Two not so smart randos finishing 600km straight through. Photo by Hamid


I am done, feeling and looking cooked !

Congrats to everyone else finishing their series. 



Left to right – Damien Cartron, Andrea Matney and Gary Waggoner





Next up, Flying to CA to crew for Ultracyling legend Marko Baloh on his record 10th Race Across America !