Potomac Pedalers Backroads Century
It was just 48 degrees when I arrived at Clarke Co., H.S. I stayed overnight in Charles Town and didn’t have everything with me that I would have preferred. I knew that I would be cold and I was. My only cold-weather gear was a light riding jacket (windbreaker). The toes, fingers, and legs would have to warm up on their own on this day.
The start time was supposed to be 7:30 a.m. but there wasn’t a mass start. Whenever riders wanted to get on the course they were free to leave. Some, I’m sure, were headed out at 7:00 a.m.
I waited until 7:30 to roll out. There were a number of other riders starting and it was a matter of sorting out who I would ride with. Never in a previous century have I started with one group and stayed with them the entire way. These things have their own dynamics. I just hoped to find one or two riders who rode about the same pace as me and we could work together until the first rest stop. At that point, I might leave in my own and form up with other riders. Or none at all.
I soon found a group of six riders and most of them wore the kits of Evolution Cycling — a racing team I trained with in January and February. They slowed when they realized they dropped a couple of their riders and I slowed with them. It’s better to stay with a group.
We soon formed up and picked up a couple more riders along the way. Despite a missed turn when I was at the front, we organized and averaged 20 mph to our first rest stop at Mile 29. I have never averaged more than 17+ on anything longer than 25 miles. Today I averaged 20 mph for 29 miles.
I was excited. I thought about riding the remaining 71 miles at my pace content with the 20 mph pace which left me drained. But when we rolled out I jumped in with them again. At times I thought I might have to drop out but I matched every acceleration.
I carried a camera with me hoping to capture some nice photos. Shortly after we left the rest area in West Virginia we were treated with a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains enveloped in the low clouds. It was postcard quality and will remain that way in my mind.
On any other ride I would have pulled over and took some pictures but I knew the pace I was on was special. And I knew that if I pulled over I could never rejoin the group. So no pictures of the ride.
Here in Jefferson County is the only place in West Virginia where the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah River come together. Of course those are mentioned in Country Roads, John Denver’s famous 1971 hit, and the theme song of West Virginia University.
With one exception, there were no hairy-legged monsters in our group. All the guys had shaved legs which indicates that they are serious cyclists.* And they are to average 20 mph on a ride. But it also makes one secure in following closely. That is, until one rider lost his attention for one second.
He lost his attention span and saw that he was 1/2 inch from ramming the rider in front of him. He both braked and steered to avoid him which almost caused all of us to go down in a heap. But we didn’t dwell on it. One rider chastised him briefly and soon we were back hanging on each others’ wheels.
We got back to the parking lot at the school which marked our halfway rest stop. It had warmed up to 65 degrees so I could remove my jacket and put it back in the van. Heck, I was soaked with sweat at that point.
I checked my bike computer and we averaged 19.5 for the first 50 miles. I was at my van and thought 50 miles at 19+ was great and worth calling it a day.
The route was designed as a north 50 mile loop into West Virginia to the edge of Charles Town. The southern 50 mile loop went to Boyce, Millwood, and south of US 50, all in Virginia.
We rolled out and I was with them again. Before our next rest stop our group split. And I made the split. I kept wondering why the heck I was with the front five riders while seven others dropped off the pace. We reorganized at the rest stop and a dozen of us rolled out together.
We had some climbs and here I dropped back with three other riders. I can climb and finish the steep hills but when the young racers hit the 3-4% half-mile grades I can’t always keep their 20 mph pace especially after having ridden 70 miles.
But the key is to remain calm and ignore that little guy, Kazoo, who sits on your shoulder and tells you to let them go and finish by yourself. So three of us rode together although we dropped Mike, a rider who started cramping.
We ignored the temptation on the next flat just to hammer it and catch the lead group quickly. We could have caught them but we would have been toast. Instead, we lifted our pace slightly until we were able to integrate with our main group.
We stopped at a rest area at Mile 75. After five minutes Mike arrived. We waited for him to refuel then took off. Our group had grown to 16 as other riders were talking about our group that was smokin’ it. They wanted in for some fun.
The last 25 miles was really a lot of holding on and getting dropped twice but each time catching the back of our group. The last time I was aided by a train. That is to say that everybody got stopped at a railroad crossing. But Mike was dropped for good. In our run-in to the finish we picked up other riders along the way but ultimately shed them. In the home stretch, we were still standing at a dozen riders.
We pulled back into the parking lot five and a quarter hours after we departed. This was riding time only; it does not include the time sitting at picnic tables at rest areas or standing in line at the porta-johns.
Hey, I can ride with these guys (as long as I hang on and they do most of the pulling).
This was a bittersweet day and ride. I am incredibly excited about my speed for the day but also realize this is probably my last ride for quite some time. Whether I can regain this level of fitness I don’t know.**
*Well, I shave my legs so I don’t know if that alone qualifies me as a serious cyclist.
**Impending cancer treatment