My 285 km Brevet

Sharp eyed readers might notice 285 is not one of the standard distances that most brevets ride.  Last Saturday, I had a great ride on a beautiful spring day on good roads with low traffic through some beautiful terrain.  How can I call that a failure?

I drove up to Cookeville Friday for the Harpeth 400 km brevet. Rain had mostly stopped, but the wind was blowing the remnants of the front through.  I arrived in time to check in, undergo bike inspection, and pick up my brevet card before we went out to eat Mexican with the group.  Don had brought his brother Ken in from Seattle, and we agreed to ride with Jeff the next day.

I woke up with indigestion about 2:00 and didn’t get back to sleep until after 3:30, but then I slept soundly.  Right through two alarms.  I woke peacefully at 5:25 for a ride that started at 5:00. Bad way to start the day.  Lucky for me I had my brevet card, but the rest of the riders were long gone.  I rushed to get ready and on the road by 5:55, having lost the first hour, but I hoped I could catch up with the other riders through some short control stops.

I’d picked up a new GPS for this ride, which quickly picked up the name, “Goofy the Garmin” for its habit of beeping to alert me to bends in the road.  Really, did you think I was going to go down that gravel driveway to a barn?  I passed Tennessee Tech, and the roads after that were quiet and rolling.  Skies were clear and blue, wind was calm (and would stay that way almost all day), and the trees were in the stage when their new leaves were the same color as high-vis jerseys. Continuing on, I got towards the end of the ridge.  The road builders chose to stay as high as possible for as long as possible, so I got to watch the gullies come up to the road on one side and then the other, tip-toeing along the top until the sun came up, and until the ridge finally ran out and there was a fun descent down the ridge, into the lowland fog, to the quiet Roaring River.  Down at the bottom was an intersection; three roads converged like a Benz emblem, and Goofy the Garmin was silent for once.

Five miles or so further, I’d passed a couple of ripples showing this part of the Roaring River was not part of a lake yet.  Then I hit the first real turn.  Goofy said turn left, just like the cue sheet said, so I turned left and rode up the road to the intersection where Goofy beeped to turn right and cross the bridge.  I was a bit confused by the road sign.  I was supposed to be on three or four Tennessee state highways, but it only listed one.  Six miles later, and there’s a river on the left where I’m supposed to turn left.  A few miles further, the cue sheet can’t be this wrong.  I stopped, wiped the accumulated moisture off the face of the GPS, and zoomed out (Goofy was zoomed in from a previous ride when it tried to tell me to turn down an alley!), to find I was supposed to have turned left from the OTHER side of the river!  Aaugh!

Backtracking, with an early 17 bonus miles, I started to worry about making the control cutoff.  Fortunately for me, the first control wasn’t until mile 50 or so, but after losing ANOTHER hour, it was going to be close!  I’d given up on catching up with anybody by this time, but it was still possible I might pick up an hour or two and make the finish on time.

When I got back to the bridge, the fog had burned off, and what do you know? there’s another bridge just a couple hundred yards down, past the mouth of the Roaring River, across the Cumberland River.  No time to divert to Gainesboro for munchies, and besides, I had food and water to spare.  Half an hour up the right side of the river, though, it was time for some of those in Whitleyville.  There was an old community center and fire station there, good enough to shed ear warmers, but it was still a bit chilly, so the arm and leg warmers stayed on.

There was a hefty quarter mile climb into Red Boiling Springs, where there were a couple of interesting looking B&Bs.  I wished I could stop and find out about this little town, but the clock was ticking.  Then another steep but short climb out of town, with 50 minutes to make 8 miles to the control in Gamaliel, KY.

Rolling terrain again along the top of the plateau, where I passed a couple of really nice looking houses and one of the biggest old tobacco barns I’ve seen.  Whoever lived there must have had a monster allotment back in the day.  I made it to the control with 20 minutes to spare, checked in, then settled down for first lunch, a two piece chicken dinner.  They took that literally, two pieces of chicken and two potato wedges. I ate about half, filled up on water, and headed out after the control closing time.  It warmed up while I was in the air conditioning!  So off came all the warmers and hit the road.  Relatively heavy traffic for a half a mile, but polite, until I turned off and they all went straight.

By the time I got to Moss, TN, I was ready to finish off the lunch. As rushed as I’d been, the camera had stayed in the bag, but after I mocked Kentucky for all the Lincoln historical sites, I had to shoot a picture of Honest Abe’s Log Home World Headquarters.  Honestly, I doubt Abe ever came within 50 miles of here.  But they had a nice, shady porch with tables and chairs, which was a good place to relax and eat some more.

Honest, Abe, where were you?

Honest, Abe, where were you?

Ten miles down the road, and down the hill, into Celina, the first place that looked like it might have a grocery store since Cookeville.  I think it was here a bank sign noted it was 84°, up a bit from the 42° when I started.  Goofy the Garmin was beeping all over the place, and with three cross streets within 0.1 mile, it was pick one and go with it.  I didn’t get very far off course before I asked for directions to the Dairy Queen. Ice cream, ice and water!

There was a new four lane road out of town that had been completed since the cue sheet was finished.  I took the old road, quiet, partly shaded, and winding, up to the top of the hill.  Goofy said go straight across the divided highway, but there was a rock cut there, a house sitting on top of the cut, with guard rails on either side.  Hmm.  I turned right, then went across and on to the old road again, until it came out on the new road.  Who knows what the relationship of cue sheet to road mileage is at this point?  Fortunately, Goofy found the right (marked) road to turn on, and I was headed to Standing Stone State Park. There were a few dogwoods still blooming, but with all the leaves, they weren’t as striking as they would have been a week or so earlier. The park had bathrooms, water, picnic tables, and did I mention water?

Dug into the food stash for a touring lunch.  Apples are great for a tourist.  You pull up to a good spot, hopefully with shade, relax as you chew on the apple, and when you’re tired of chewing on that, nibble on some cheese.  Works like that on a brevet too, they’re easy to eat and digest, but do you know how much time it takes to chew up an apple?!! Listen to the mockingbird singing.  Listen, bird, do you know how many times you’ve sung that song while I’m sitting here chewing on this apple?

Down the hill I rolled, then, across the dam, and I was happy to have eaten and drunk before climbing this hill!  And as soon as I got near the top, back down to the other side of the lake, up the lakeside, and up the hill past a cascade to the info control.  Then down and back up, only this one I’m walking.  One apple only goes so far.  Not a good idea to spend too much energy, there’s still a long way to go.

Finally on top of the ridge and rolling again, it was a long ridge line.  This route was the top of a figure eight, and the bottom of the figure eight was the motel at 150 miles, then another 100 mile loop to go.  I kept watching the odometer and trying to guess when the road would head down toward the lake and Gainesboro.  Unlike the southern side of the river, this road dipped down into the gullies (maybe this is the big downhill?) before climbing up again.  Flat, down, then up, repeat for six miles.  Finally, with a mile to the intersection, the road really went down, 8% straight into a stop sign at the bottom.  This looked familiar, I’d been here at 7:30 this morning!

It was an easy ride from there into Gainesboro.  Only when I got there, I couldn’t see the promised Dairy Queen.  The young police officer at the desk in headquarters was pretty enthusiastic about directing me back there, and it was time for some serious food and fluid intake.

It was still toasty as I headed back through downtown and up the hill.  I wasn’t too worried, since I had an hour and 45 minutes to make the 14 miles or so to Granville.  That should be easy to do in an hour, right?    OK, I just ate, so I’ll walk the steep 300′ climb out of Gainesboro.

A mile or so down the road, there’s another 300′ climb.  At 10:00 this morning, I could have done that in my middle ring.  Now, I’m so cooked it’s hard to climb in my granny, and I’m starting to cramp.  Well, maybe I should have sat in the AC for another 15-20 minutes and drunk some more.  Walk it off, coast down, and I’m on my way.  What?  Another 300′ ridge, same thing.  After coasting down this one, I found a spot in Flynn’s Lick to sit in the shade, eat a waffle and drink some more salty water.  OK, I know how to deal with this heat, and I’ll ride into Granville, though time’s getting short.  Another 300′ ridge, but this time I can ride it, I’ll just shift into my granny and …  dropped the dadgum chain.  Lost all momentum, it’s too hard to get back on the bike on this kind of a climb right now, and I’ve lost my time margin.

Time margin vanished, and then some.  I rode around the arm of the lake into Granville, watching the geese, ducks, and great blue heron flying by, but where’s the control?  Keep going, part way up a ridge only THIS time I’m riding it.  But I’m half an hour past the control closing time by the time I get to the store.  Fortunately, the store is open, so I can get some more water and a soda, but it’s time to write off the 400k for this week.  That’s the failure I alluded to at the top of the post.

I pedaled back to the motel at the end of the figure eight after drinking between 2 and 2.5 gallons of fluid in a day.  I didn’t know my gut could absorb that much.  After 15 hours, 175 miles, and 8,300′ feet of climbing, I’m cooked but I’m back in Cookeville and ready for a good night’s sleep.

It was a good ride, but this “failure” puts my goal of completing a Super Randonneur series this year in serious jeopardy.  I can ride either a 400 or 600 the end of May (recovery time and family commitments mean that’s my next good shot). To finish the other this year (I need to do both for the SR) would take a long trip.

There’s so many contributors to missing the cutoff.  Hills and heat are at the top of the list, with unfamiliarity with Goofy thrown in there, not to mention sleeping and starting late.  Might have beens pile up, but still… I had a good ride, and I’d try it again.

I don’t honestly know what to do next.  Finish a 400 km to get an overnight done?  Push a bit more to complete a 600k?  Physically, I felt better after 175 miles this time than I did after 195 miles in three more hours last month.  Skip long training rides to take off more weight, hoping that will make a difference in climbing and heat tolerance?  Load up the bike and go back to touring instead of randonneuring?  That sounds great, but it’s a whole lot easier to take a weekend and go someplace different, with a variety of brevet courses, than plan a trip of a week or more.

I’ve got to thank Robert and Jeff (the other Jeff!) for putting this route together, and for volunteering to honcho this brevet.  I’ve been waiting to read Robert’s ride report until I could get this posted (report not affected by other writings!), but I’ll indulge myself shortly.  Odds are real slim I’d ever have cycled in this area without a brevet to lure me up here, and he did a super job of putting the the route together.  Most of the roads I was on saw only 4-5 cars per 10 miles.  The scenery was great, looking at ridges rising above me, or over valleys to far ridges 20 miles out at the horizon; lakes, a cascade, woods, rivers, and fields.


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