Missing the Group Ride


In a nutshell here was my day. I arrived 10 minutes early at the commuter lot. Wrong commuter lot.

Made it to the right one as they were pulling out. I left eight minutes later, did not grab a cue sheet instead relied on Garmin. That did not work. I soon “lost the scent” and decided to do my own ride. Cramps. First cramps in a year. Not enough water.

Was caught five miles in by 23 year-old from Shippensburg University. I told him my name but he never told me his, so it will be “Aaron.”


Aaron asked where I was riding and I told him “nowhere – just riding.” We talked and rode for the next 25 miles. He had raced yesterday and was doing a recovery ride. I refereed yesterday and was just “finding my legs.”


Aaron and I rode side by side where the road permitted and took turns in the wind. He had also downloaded the turns to the PPTC ride to his Garmin and they were working. Out of the blue he says, “do you know where you are in case I should happen to drop you?” I laughed and assured him that I could figure out how to get back to Warrenton. And off he rode, never to see him again.


I rode and eventually caught four guys with the ride. I stayed in their group until four miles from the end when one guy said something really jerky to me. I backed off, thought about what I might say, and when I arrived back I kept my cool, did not call him a name but told him that was a jerky thing to say. Taken aback, he didn’t quite apologize but told me he was kidding. I didn’t believe it.


My legs felt horrible today. I refereed yesterday, ate two hot dogs for dinner, did not eat breakfast, had one water bottle on the bike. What, was I supposed to do it differently?

Shortest Group Ride Ever


It was listed as a “CC” ride out of Gainesville. I had hoped that Terry Moran would go and I would shepherd him through the 39 or 49 mile ride. But he was injured so I thought I would go myself, even though the pace was slower than what I normally ride.

Although I had turned the cue sheet into a GPX file and downloaded that to my Garmin, I have ridden everyone of these roads before so directions were no problem. I pulled into the parking lot at 8:55 a.m. (wheels down, 9:00 a.m.) and quickly got ready to roll out.

Rolling through Gainesville

The first riders took off and I quickly joined them. I was following a couple who were riding two abreast and his Gatorade came flying off the bike, almost causing an accident. We have water bottle cages on our bikes designed to hold water bottles – not Gatorade bottles. I wasn’t sure about riding in this group.

Just two miles from start we passed Antioch Road. As I rolled past I decided to go back and ride solo. I did a U-turn, the last I would see the group. I turned then went up Antioch Road and figured I would add a couple of miles then fall in behind the group at The Plains. The group ride would be fun because I would be in chase mode. Not hammer mode, just casually riding knowing that I would catch the group.

Hopewell Road, near The Plains
Hopewell Road, near The Plains

I miscalculated. The distance from Antioch Road to The Plains via Rte 55, the way the group went, was 7.4 miles. I figured my route was 2-3 miles father. It was actually only one mile farther, and even riding conservatively, it would only add four minutes to my time.

The Plains

On the road joining the route at The Plains, I figured I was behind the last rider and that I would soon catch some riders. I didn’t, but neither did I worry about it because I was just out for my own ride. Approaching Great Meadows I thought I saw a couple of riders ahead which I timed them at two minutes before I stopped to take pictures. I caught them at Marshall where Greg and Jennifer had pulled over with a derailleur issue.


Greg got the chain back on her big gear which would enable Jennifer to finish the ride. Although she talked of calling a cab, I suggested that she simply turn around and ride back to her car in the big gear. I’m wasn’t sure where they were from but Greg asked if there was a shortcut back and I assured him that staying on Rte 55 was the shortest way. I told them, correctly, that it was about 12 miles.


They headed back and I headed to Marshall. Then the thought struck me. Even chasing, I really wasn’t having much fun on the bike. I went about a quarter of a mile then turned around. I had remembered Haymarket Bikes is in The Plains. I caught them in The Plains and told Jennifer there was a bike store here.

Jennifer, who was walking her bike up a hill since it was stuck in the big gear, said that she would ride on and take the bike to her local bike shop. This, in my opinion, was not a good decision. The bike shop could have fixed her cable in 20 minutes and she could be on her way. But we often don’t make good decisions on the bike. Or while pushing it.

I turned around then went back Hopewell and Antioch Roads, thinking again I was adding 3-4 miles more than Rte 55. I now know it was just one mile farther.

I made one stop. I passed a wine glass alongside the road. I know people throw out bottles and cans but a wine glass? I stopped and picked it up lest it broke and there was glass on the shoulder.


I thought I might catch Greg and Jennifer but didn’t. I assumed they were ahead of me and beat me back to my car. They probably weren’t.

It wasn’t the group ride I expected. Only in looking at the route I took do I now realize I only added one mile to my chase and, except for Greg and Jennifer, had probably came in ahead of the group at The Plains. I wasn’t chasing at all. I was still ahead of the group.

When I had caught them they didn’t act as though they were off the back of the group and was surprised to see a rider. In fact, in retrospect, they acted more like a couple of people off the front of a ride and weren’t surprised that I came along when I did.

Gainesville, Va.
Gainesville, Va.

It was fun trying to support them although they really didn’t take my advice. But I had gone into the red yesterday climbing Mount Weather and a recovery ride was in order today.

Last in the Group Ride


I remember my first group ride. I got dropped. Everyone got dropped. The ride blew up. I finished last. Sometimes that happens.

This was a Potomac Pedalers group ride, rated BB (which is B+, better than B, not quite A). Sometimes, especially when the BB ride is the fastest ride available, some A riders slip in and the speed creeps up. And the ride blows up.

There were 15 of us at start but someone mentioned a second group was following at a CC pace. So eight of us rolled out at a BB pace. It was a beautiful early Fall day although it is still summer.

This was the three of us

As we rode there were three of us who stayed together on the climbs while the other five dropped back. Still, we tried to soft pedal on the flats to keep everyone together.

We stopped in Warrenton at the Great Harvest Bread Co. I had been talking to a rider, John, who was an XTERRA rider and knew Scott Scudamore. It was good to reminisce about Scott. As we rolled out of town three riders moved to the front and I was on the back. A 100 yard gap opened up so I left my position as 8th wheel and bridged up to the lead group.

Three of us, and I don’t know their names, rode ahead of the others but stayed, and worked together. As we approached Marshall we sat up, no, we stopped, and waited for the other five.

One guy I really like was from Great Britain. I will call him Mick because it sounds British. He had brought a friend, who was on just his fourth ride. Mick’s friend was a spin instructor but this ride, with its rolling hills, was too much for him. Mick asked me if he should double back and ride with him. I told him that, yes, WE should.

And it was then I had the realization. Even though I had been in the front group of three, this was a ride, not a race – why be in a hurry to be first in a group ride (I know, I have before. Sigh). We doubled back.

As the group went ahead we came back to Rte 55 near The Plains. Mick asked which way and I told him right. Then I pointed to the rider up the road about 1/2 mile. Mick said “let’s catch him.”

Mick started out and I was tight on his wheel. Then I passed him to take my turn. We closed the gap in no time. That was fun.

We headed on the back roads to Antioch Road. Here it trends downhill and Mick left his friend behind for good. I doubled back. I rode with Mick’s friend to the end for which he expressed many thanks.

I could have had a higher averaged speed (17 mph). But it was fun being on a group ride and actually being part of a group. Even if I finished last.

Nokesville to Summerduck


My annual mileage is actually behind where I was one year ago when we had 60″ of snow and I was slow in recovering from cancer surgery. This winter wasn’t severe but we’ve had many days colder than normal.

I was invited to join Joe Penano and some riders from The Bike Lane team on a 70-mile ride out of Middleburg, Va., but was afraid that I wasn’t up to their level of fitness and would slow them down or get dropped. Instead, I opted for a Potomac Pedalers ride where I would know no one.

It was listed as a BB/A ride and I hoped it would be more BB than A. Or that we would have enough for two groups and I could join the BB group. Even then I was worried that I did not have the fitness to keep up with the BB group.

Maybe, even more, was the first time I when I first did a PPTC ride from Nokesville I did a BB ride and got dropped. I learned that A riders sometimes jump in the BB rides and naturally ramp up the pace. I was hoping we’d have enough for two groups, an A and a BB.

There were 10 of us. One group.

Our ride would take us to U.S. 17 to Summerduck in Fauquier County and back to start.

We started fast and went faster. Ten of us were in a paceline although I wouldn’t say we were maximized for speed. Each person as they moved up front took monster pulls instead of my preferred 20-30 seconds at the front. When it was my turn I pulled for about a mile (monster pull) then moved over just as the group was ready to hammer a downhill. My bad. I lost contact although the group did sit up and wait for me to come back.

About five miles from our rest stop we hit a hill and I was in last at the bottom. At the top, I was only 10 meters or so behind but did not have the recovery to hammer the pace. Ten meters grew to 40 and then 100. Then I lost contact. I pulled out my cue sheet and knew I was in trouble. I had switched Garmin to kilometers while the cue sheet was in miles. But a quick math lesson and I found myself back to the group at our rest stop. There was another rider behind me and he came in 3-4 minutes later.

Averaged 18.5 mph, I didn’t think I could continue this pace for the second half of the ride and was content to ride home alone. But we took off and I stayed with them. My mind kept thinking just get to me Sowego Road or Brentstown Road or Fleetwood Drive. Then I would sit up and soft pedal home.

The ten of us stayed together and the pace increased. We eventually dropped a rider and around 80 km. I lost contact and dropped back 30-40 meters but was able to catch the group at Brentstown Road. One or two riders waited for the dropped rider and the rest of us took off. I was still hanging in there until we hit a rise and a felt a sharp twinge in my quad. Cramp! Crap!

I immediately sat up and pulled myself out of the group. I knew then to soft-pedal the rest of the way and be content with what I had accomplished.

Only once did I ride this year as much as 16 mph and that was the Reston Bike Lane ride which always moves. I had hoped for 16, or dare I think, 17 on this ride. I came home at 19.0 mph.

I spent a lot of time in Heart Rate Zones 2 and 3 (two hours 23 minutes), 24 minutes in Zone 4, and two minutes in the red. I worked hard.

Clearly, my fitness is lacking but it was a great ride with an A class group.

Beware the Hairy Legged Monsters

Yesterday was the “shop” ride out of The Bike Lane in Reston. It was an enjoyable day and ride until…
…until we turned on Lawyers Road. We’re never on Lawyers Road long and tend to single file on the side of the road once we sort it out. Yesterday we were still in a double line. We were doing 20 mph. Kelley Noonan was beside me when the rider in front of her inexplicably veered sharply to the left. By braking, his rear wheel took out her front wheel and she crashed hard. I heard that another rider flew over top of her.
So stupid!
Riding is fun and riding in a group is more fun but one must be careful and ever vigilant, sometimes for hours. We’re not sure of the person’s name who caused this crash. We heard he was on his first group ride. Hopefully he learned that you don’t make sudden moves while in close quarters in a group. Rather than offer an apology he remarked to Kelley “that was really intense!”
I had State Cup soccer matches to referee in the afternoon and didn’t mind cutting the ride short. Three of us escorted Kelley back to the shop rather than complete the ride.
Today was the Potomac Pedalers Annual Picnic. It was the first one I attended. There were rides for all classifications of riders. The “A,” “BB,” and “B” riders were offered the longest ride of the day — 51 miles. They departed five minutes apart from one another.
I’m thinking I could ride with the “A” riders unless they really ramped up the pace. So I chose to go conservatively and join the BBs.
We started with 20 riders but soon sorted that out to 12. The other eight must have dropped back and joined the B group which was coming. We rode a pace line basically the entire route. Every remaining rider took their turn moving to the front, doing a pull, and then moving over and drifting back to the end of the line.
At mile 20 I found myself in front and did a pull for 3/4 mile then dropped back to the end. Oh my. Was it my fault that three riders dropped during my pull? We were down to nine and stayed that way until we reached the store/rest area. There we would regroup.
We left the rest stop and started slowly. Our 12 dropped down to 10.
Mindful of yesterday’s crash, I was only comfortable following one rider. We joke about the “hairy legged monsters” but shaved legs is often a sign of a competitive or simply a serious rider who knows how to keep tempo and keep his line. Or maybe not. But until you have time to figure this out on a group ride it’s a good starting place.
“Captain America” was the only other rider in our group who shaved. And he knew how to ride. Contrast that to one guy I fell in behind who would pedal furiously, then coast, the pedal hard, then coast, then stand, then coast. It was very difficult following him. My steady tempo would bring me too close when he decided to coast or stand. Plus he didn’t hold his line too well.
As much as a physical exercise, a ride like today’s is also a mental exercise. As some point one feels like they can no longer maintain the pace of the group. And today was a perfect day to “drop” and reintegrate with the riders we dropped or even the B group coming behind us.
Thankfully, I only had to fight that battle in my mind a couple of times. And the last time I was determined not to let it win.
Our 10 stayed together until five miles to go. After a missed turn, we turned into a wall of wind. We all fought to fight the wind and to stay tucked in behind the rider in front. Our pace line stayed together until I moved to the front. I only rode for about half a mile but when I dropped off I was surprised to see that we were down to six and no longer 10.
The last two mile stretch I was gapped by the group. I couldn’t stay with their pace — the one that I set. But I never was more than 50 yards behind and worked my tail off to close the gap and catch back on. As we approached Nokesville Park I had integrated and actually was first one back to the cars.
We went out at 18.7 mph for 27 miles and then returned at 20.2 for the remaining 24 miles. Overall, the 19.4 average was the highest I have averaged on any ride.
This was a big day for me. I didn’t set out to record my fastest pace and the conditions were not right for it with heavy head and cross winds. But after cancer, and with another year under my belt, I did not expect ever to ride faster than I have before. I will take a 19.4 clip over a 50 mile course at any time.

Just Hanging On


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.

George Muschamp
I ran into George Muschamp, a co-worker, at the finish line. One hundred and two miles. 5:15 of riding time. The average speed was an incredible (for this ancient rider) 19.3 mph. This was two mph faster than any previous ride at any distance. This was the first time I rode a century with the same group from start to finish.

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

Getting Dropped on the Group Ride


Embarrasing. The definition is getting dropped on your group ride. Yea, it happened to me.

We met at Nokesville Park on Sunday for what was to be a “BB” ride with the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club. The BB pace is about 18 mph which is what I ride solo or think I do. In theory, I should be able to do a little faster in a group. The BB ride is one that goes off at 16-18 on moderate roads and 18-20 on flats. I do that solo. Even though I hadn’t ridden with them I wasn’t worried about the pace.

My biggest worry was shaved or not shaved. Been reading and talking with a lot of folks about shaving my legs. It’s not for aerodynamics although if one feels faster they will probably tend to ride faster. But it’s for that nasty thing called road rash. Not only does the shaven skin clean up and bandage better after a crash but I have read reports where the hair on the skin will peel the skin back like a banana, unlike the shaved skin. Yuck. Anyhow, with trepidation I revealed my hairy legs and pretty much was in good company. I didn’t notice any shaved legs amongst us.

We headed off on the roads around Nokesville and soon were in a single file paceline. I think very early on we dropped a rider. I’m not sure because I didn’t have time to look back. We were flying too. The average speed was 22-23 mph. One by one I moved closer to the front as the leader moved off the front and drifted to the rear. Even at this pace, it wasn’t too hard to keep up.

At mile 14 there was just one rider in front and he too peeled off. Now I was left to pace the group. I did not want to let anyone down by pacing at 16-18 mph and I kept the speed up. Way up. We were going about 24 mph and I was pushing it. After a half mile I peeled off and made my way to the back of the pace line. Having been worried about leading the pace line in my first ride, the guy in front of me said it wasn’t that bad.

Now I was letting the pace line pass me and as the back reached me he said to me “that wasn’t so bad, was it?” I didn’t respond. I was in the red zone. I tried to slip in behind him but had let me pace drop too much and the line went flying by. For about 10 seconds or so I tried to bridge the gap but they were 10 yards, then 20 yards, and after a minute, 100 yards ahead. I was losing ground.

For the next couple of minutes I tired to hold the gap but soon realized I screwed up. That was my first attempt at riding in the pace line and it was obvious to me that I slowed down too much. I kept visual contact for a while and even witnessed one of the early pace leaders get dropped too.

I thought I would catch them at the one rest break and reached for my cell phone which was beeping me with a waiting message. After listening to the call, I reached for my cue sheet and discovered it was gone. I had no clue where I was or where I was going.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Give me the sun and I can pretty much figure out my way back. I saw the sun and knew to follow the roads north. I did very little backtracking until I got close to the start. I had ridden about 15 miles with the group and would solo home for what was going to be almost 25 more. I would have been better off just turning around.

What was amazing was that as I got close I remembered the turns but none of the scenery. I was even doubting if I had been on the same roads. The focus in the pace line is the wheel in front and not the houses or farms along the route.

I later contacted the race leader and he apologized for the ride coming off way too fast. He said shortly after I was dropped it actually splintered into four separate small rides. Maybe that was to make me feel better. It didn’t.

EDIT/EPILOGUE – New to these group rides, I would learn that no one contacts the group leader. And that it is rare any of these rides stay together. They usually end up with small groups and solo riders. I also see that I ramped up the pace when I was at the front and made it too hard for me to jump back on. Live and learn.

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