A Day on a Brevet

United States' flag
North America » United States » Maryland » Hyattstown
March 27th 2006
Published: March 28th 2006
Edit Blog Post

Total Distance: 0 miles / 0 kmMouse: 0,0

200km Hyattstown Brevet

Camera PhoneCamera PhoneCamera Phone

Early bird riders gathered for warmth, coffee and a restroom in a diner at the foot of the hill.
4:45 AM, and I was awake a quarter hour before my alarm clock. I rolled over in my sleeping bag to look at my tent ceiling, not twelve inches from my nose. “Oh well, might as well get going,” I thought to myself, unzipping my way into the cold darkness outside. The tent fly zipper stuck for a moment, reminding me of another cold morning in the French Alps when the condensed moisture of my breath had frozen and jammed up the zippers of my tent just as I most desperately needed to heed the call of nature…

In the confines of a one-man pup tent I struggled into not one but two pairs of winter bicycling tights, jammed a knit wool cap down over my ears and strapped my bike helmet on top of it, before lighting up the pre-dawn darkness with my new Petzl Myo XP headlamp. In a few minutes I had tossed my tent and sleeping bag into the trunk, munched on most of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and headed off for my second attempt at my first brevet of the season.

I followed my GPS to the start of the ride, surprising myself by being the first to arrive. I had wanted to give myself an adequate amount of time though to prepare my bike and make last minute clothing changes.

The air had a definite bite to it as the temperature hovered just above freezing. I shivered and pulled on an extra layer that I knew I’d probably only shed in another few hours when the sun might rise above the ridgeline, if the clouds parted at all. The forecast called for a 40%!c(MISSING)hance of rain, mixed with snow, as well as winds from the west. In short, not an ideal day for a 200 kilometer bike ride. But as the glow of dawn creeped across the sky, the parking lot at the Hyattstown Christian Church filled with cars and vans, bicycles mounted above and behind.

I recognized a few faces, and a few more bicycles from my past rides with the DC Randonneurs. Thirty four riders cheered the arrival of the thirty fifth and last rider, Paul, as he pulled in a ride that was as retro as his attire. Although the handlebar basket and racks, front and rear, as well as the upright handlebars and platform pedals might suggest
Start of the RideStart of the RideStart of the Ride

The temperature wasn't much above freezing, and the weather forecast wasn't much better.
a slower rider, and while Paul’s canvas sneakers, wool flannel shirt and pudgy face might reinforce the slow stereotype, he stayed near the front of the group, and finished hours ahead of some other riders with far sleeker physiques and bicycles. (I only wish I’d taken a picture of Paul…)

I kept my pace high with some of the faster riders, figuring that if I had to slow down, I could fall back and ride with slower riders. After a couple dozen miles I found myself falling into an easy pace with four or five other riders, most of them riding in their first brevet,

“So how do these secret control points work?” George asked me. Having ridden a grand total of two brevets previously, I was the default veteran randonneur amongst rookies.

“Well, ah, there’ll be somebody standing by the side of the road with a clipboard and they’ll shout, “Surprise! Secret Control Point!”


“Well, that’s how I remember it from last time.”

We traded names and hometowns, occupations and riding experiences as we worked our way towards the biggest climb of the day up and over South Mountain. George, who lived
Somewhere in MarylandSomewhere in MarylandSomewhere in Maryland

I can always find one willing portrait subject- myself.
nearby and had ridden many of the roads, gave us tips on the climb ahead of us, “There are a several steep sections broken up by easier parts,” George said, “So go ahead if you need to, I’m going to ride it at my own pace.”

We pushed up and over the mountain, four neon yellow riders threading our way up along the banks of Hunting Road Creek, the distance between us expanding and contracting as we gained elevation at our own individual paces. I unzipped layer after layer, venting heat as I made my way higher. As the climb leveled out towards the top, I slipped on my fleece mittens and zipped up my jacket for the descent ahead. Twisting down the mountainside, I shifted into my biggest gear and pushed my wheels as fast as they would go, whooping for joy as my speedometer clipped past forty miles per hour.

Halfway through the day, we stopped for lunch outside Earl’s Market in State Line, Pennsylvania. While stretching my legs, I looked over to see several riders fiddling with the derailleur cable tension on a gorgeous titanium bike,

“See, your first click was just taking up the slack, the cable was so loose,” the kneeling cyclist told the cyclist standing next to him, “That’s why you couldn’t get into your biggest gear. Understand?”

“Um, no, not really.”

“OK, well it’ll work for now, but you’ve got to fix it when you get home. Your barrel adjuster is maxed out.”

And what beautiful barrel adjusters they were! Italian Campagnolo components, slick and refined. His Campy shifters made my Shimano shifters look like discount bin, Japanese knock-offs.

A few hours later as we prepared for the return climb out of the Shenandoah Valley, we saw our friend with the cranky Campy derailleur standing at the side of the road with another cyclist looking again at his bike. George and I slowed down, calling out, “Got it fixed?”


“Well let’s see what we can do,” I replied as I came to a stop. The busted ends of the derailleur cable peaked out of the shifter body, refusing to budge.

“Dang man, doesn’t look good,” I muttered as I looked it over, “But you’ve got a spare cable with you, right?”


“Well, OK, then you can have mine.” With

When in doubt, eat at Sheetz. I only wish that they had scheduled our control points at Sheetz- the mac & cheese rules!
a set of hemostats and a pair of imitation Leatherman pliers we worked the broken cable out and were all set to replace the cable when I looked at my spare cable and noticed the single kinked strand of wire at the end. Knowing all too well that the cable would jam up as soon as I tried to install it, I tried to trim the cable with the imitation Leatherman wire cutters, but I instead jammed up the wire cutters and mangled the cable.

“Look,” I told our stranded friend, “take this cable and find somebody with a pair of wire cutters in the next town, then you can trim it, install it and finish the ride.”

Confident that our fellow randonneur would be able to repair his bike & finish the ride, George and I headed off again. “Only two more big climbs,” George told me. We settled into a decent pace, both of us hoping that we could get our average speed above fourteen miles per hour. But with the headwinds and climbs during the first half of the ride, such an average seemed a distant possibility. George led on the climbs, keeping our speed
War CorrespondentsWar CorrespondentsWar Correspondents

George & I posed for a quick portrait in front of the [url= http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/western/gathland.html /]War Correspondent’s Memorial[/url], at the top of our climb over South Mountain.
up, while I would lead on the flats and descents, hunkered down on my aero bars while George rode in my draft, kicking our pace up to 18 or 19 mph.

“Those aero bars really help, don’t they?” George remarked during one climb,

“Oh yeah, they’re so comfortable! Plus you go faster.”

“Do you ever have control issues?”

“Not any more, I’ve been riding with aero bars for, shoot, fifteen years now.”

The truth is, there’s far more I can do on my aero bars that would be difficult and dangerous without aero bars. While riding on the aeros my forearms do most of the steering on the padded armrests, leaving my fingers free to open wrappers and unfold cue sheets. Without my aero bars, I’d be forced to ride no-handed or even stop before performing such tasks.

The sun slipped lower in the sky, forcing George and I to consider whether we would finish the ride before night fell. I had equipped my bike as though I were going to ride through the night anyway, complete with two headlights and two taillights (as per randonneur regulations), so I had no concerns about the
She Makes It All WorthwhileShe Makes It All WorthwhileShe Makes It All Worthwhile

Abigayle Velo Asleep.
impending sunset. George, however, was riding more leanly, and had no lighting. As we approached the final sustained climb to Mountville, George pulled away, leaving me to plug along up the hill. I shifted down so low that each revolution of my pedals equaled a revolution of my wheels, but still felt the burning in my legs increase. My head rocked forward under the extra weight of my headlamp, and my lower back continued to cramp from the effort of holding up my head. My feet felt like numb bricks locked into the pedals, and my arms ached from all of the bumps along the way. My lungs felt raw from eleven hours of exertion, and I focused on deep, full breaths as I worked my way towards the top. Grasping for inspiration, I concentrated my thoughts on my little daughter, Abigayle Velo, waiting at home for me, a bundle of warmth in my arms. My tempo picked up, I shifted into a higher gear, and the final ten miles slipped away before I pulled into the church parking lot. As I came to an exhausted stop, Lynn looked at her clipboard and declared, “Wes, your daughter would be proud of you.”


28th March 2006

What a great ride
Wes, Congratulations for a well written blog. I was way behind you all the way, suffered and barely made it with 34 minutes only to spare, but it was all worth it. And despite the forecast, the weather was great, even if it was a little cold. Maybe see you on the 300 in May. Bernard
3rd April 2006

Control Issues
Hi Wes, I think you misinterpreted the question "Do you have any control issues" :]
4th April 2006

Helmet Accessory, bah humbug!
Hey, Wes, that's my head sticking out of your helmet in the top photo on the left, and I just want you to know I resent being called a "helmet accessory"! It was fun riding with you while I could keep up. I suffered badly over Catoctin but felt better after Earl's, particularly once the turn South gave us a bit of a tailwind. Felt great by the end of the day. Would have finished earlier, if I hadn't spent 20 minutes giving that guy a derailleur cable and helping to install it and adjust his derailleur. It sounds like he chewed through a lot of cables and time--his derailleur was all zip-tied up when I got there. Then an hour later he came flying past. I like to think it is because it is easy to go fast on a titanium bike when you don't carry any spares! Hope to see you on the VA200.
9th March 2007


Tot: 1.568s; Tpl: 0.056s; cc: 11; qc: 55; dbt: 0.0292s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb