On Saturday I set off to Glen Echo park (with some friends) to ride our first DC Randonneur event ever – the 106K Glen Echo Populaire. I had wanted to see what these randonneur events were like for quite some time – they seemed right up my alley, long distances, timed but not a race, fun, relaxed, good people, rest stops with real food. But after having looked at the routes for a few of the rides, I quickly discovered just how hilly northern Maryland and Virginia were.
eep. Well that puts a damper on the fun.
I was (and frankly still am) a bit worried about how hard it would be to finish a 200K brevet – but thanks to some expert advice from Mary & Ed, I felt confident that this Glen Echo populaire was a really good idea. And there I was at the starting line (well a few hundred feet behind).
68.39 miles, about 4,00 feet of climbing. Here is the route:
The first stretch up MacArthur Boulevard and Persimmon Tree Road were pretty benign, and the real eye-opener started shortly after we turned up River Road (a local cycling favorite, but I was a rookie). Here were some HILLS. I felt pretty good here, but knew that I was still less than 10 miles into the ride. The first control was of the “Information” type. There was some good (and corny) joking about the true answer to the question “Homany posts hold up the front porch”. My thought was that zero hold up the porch, but 4 hold up the roof of the porch. I deferred to the common notion that 4 was the correct answer too. We also got to see our first “tandem-splosion”, which likely led to a “tandem team meeting”… but we decided to ride on and not gawk at strangers. Oh, we also flagged down a person who missed the turn off – so citizenship award points.
Montevideo, Darnestown, Sugarland and Bucklodge Roads offered some beautiful vistas of rural Montgomery County and some gentle hills made the ride to about 20 miles pleasant. Some rollers kicked in around that distance, but it wasn’t too painful. It also helped that we occasionally caught up to (or were caught) by other riders who seemed to about match our (slow) pace up the hillier sections. Things did start to get nasty as we hit Slidell and Peach Tree Roads, memories of which consist of bombing descents followed by immediate momentum loss up steep, but short climbing.
The second control, at the turn-around point in Hyattstown offered a glimpse of many riders who were just finishing their meals and heading back on the road. It also offered a huge mental boost with hot chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and hot cocoa. Not fancy, but perfect for the moment.
As we saddled back up we knew that Peach Tree was waiting, and it hit hard. The food hadn’t quite absorbed into my system, so the first few hills were mentally and physically tough. But some soft-pedaling allowed for some good recovery time and things started to get a bit easier. Passing Comus Road, with Sugarloaf Mountain to our right, Peach Tree smoothed out considerably, and the ride into, and out of the third control in Poolesville were downright pleasant. We saw some cows who were happily chewing through a hay bale… I forgot the randonneur rule of taking the “obligatory cow photo”. Also no panda shots, not so easy with my giant camera. Anyways, things felt great for just over 20 miles…. until we hit River Road again.
What can I say. There was a downhill (or maybe it was an illusion) that even felt hard to gain speed on. I don’t think I’ve ever gone faster on some descents (I topped out just over 38 mph), and I can only recall one other time when I was as deep into the single digits as I was on the climbs (and the other time was on a fully loaded tour).
We made it back, eventually, with about an hour to spare to the cutoff limit. Not too bad – 5 hours on bike, about 1 hour total stopped. My legs were tired, but not completely dead. Perhaps the best part of the ride was the chatting afterwards. Many people stuck around to attend the clubs annual meeting, so we talked, admired bikes, listened to PBP stories and had a good time. Oh, and got a nice pin!
What I have learned about randonneuring, the people who do it, and myself:
- Controles are a fun way to get to know people riding along, whether small talk before you shove off again, or sharing a meal together. They are also a lot more fun than the rest stops on organized rides where everyone is fighting in line for porta-johns or orange slices. Having a real meal, or carrying your food with you is actually much more pleasant.
- Time Challenging myself against a clock is a great way to push yourself. If you come in with a good time…. its reason to be happy and celebrate.
- Hills. I don’t like hills, I’m really slow. But I was very happy to ride alongside, or close to more experienced people who were going about the same speed. Not being overtaken by somebody going 10 mph faster than you when you are fighting the urge to get off and walk is a relief. Now, at the same time, most of the DC Randonneurs are in top shape, so elevation gain doesn’t seem to be as concerning to them as it is to me. I now know that 4000 ft of climbing over 68 miles drains me (not fully, but pretty well). So yes, I will pick my training rides to improve on this, but I will also pick brevets that are on the lower-edge of the climbing spectrum.
- Gearing This ride pushed me to use almost all 27 gears on my bike at one time or another. Typically I am pretty lazy when it comes to shifting, so I only used about 3 gears in the city. Thinking, planning ahead, and getting the right gear for the conditions (both road grade, surface, and how you feel) is actually a little fun.
- Nutrition I need to eat a little more on the rides, but not too much more. I could feel my energy draining at times, but I didn’t always eat when I felt that way. I do however standby my previous conviction that Snickers bars are good energy, for cheap, and the fact that it is candy provides a nice mental boost as well. Man can’t ride on Snickers alone though, so I think I will explore alternating between them and Clif bars (and real food) to find a balance that works the best.
- Everyone is friendly! I’m sure there are exceptions, but we didn’t really observe them today. In fact, as soon as we told people we had never done a populaire/brevet before, they were more than happy to give advice or kind words. It sounds like the season gets more intense into the spring/early summer, then chills out in the fall/winter – so perhaps the attitudes will change a bit, but I don’t think it will be too drastic. I think a lot of people shy away from organized cycling events because the demeanor of *real cyclists* can be unpleasant and not welcoming (See video below). I’m happy that this group seems above that for the most part. Conversations mostly seemed to revolve around lugged frames, bags, tire width and food, not carbon fiber, energy gels, and Dura Ace vs. Super Record.
- How I/we fit in: This was an interesting one to think about. First of all, nearly everyone (but not all) was a good bit older than us. So I don’t think that after getting to know people we’ll often find ourselves texting to coordinate a trip to the bar on Saturdays. But that is ok. Everyone is a little bike-geeky. So am I. For the most part, people weren’t wearing garish “kits” and acting like your stereotypical jerk on a training ride. Another good thing. Like I said above, people were friendly, so I would say it works pretty well.
Overall, a fun group of people and challenging (but satisfying) rides. I think I’ll do some more!