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.



MG posted an Errandonnee challenge a couple weeks ago – basically, run errands on your bike while completing a “control card” like you would on a randonnee.  It tickled my fancy, so I decided to give it a shot!  The challenge ran from February 9-20, and the goal was to complete 12 errands, out of at least 7 of 11 categories, with no more than two errands that count per category.

It was easy to start.  While the northeast was blizzed by a blitzard, I had to scrape my windshield because it was so cold in Alabama!  and I was driving down to Birmingham to the start of the second brevet of the year (my first of the year).  The Horse Pens 40 surprised me in a couple of ways, including how easy it was to bike three U.S. highways (78, 411, and 11) within 30 miles of the biggest city in Alabama.  (Parallel interstates help!)


Errand: Wild card
Destination: Horse Pens 40
What I learned / Observation:  I wondered what this was when I started the ride, turns out it’s a festival ground – go there in the summer, take your camper, lawn chair and beverage of your choice, and listen to a bunch of musicians.
Miles: Included below
Date: 2/9/13


Errand: Coffee or Dessert
Destination: Gas station east of Leeds at I-20
What I learned / Observation:  Hey, mocha is coffee.  And honey bun is a carb-loading dessert.  But chilled Starbucks mocha does not sit well while I’m pedaling.  A sour stomach is not pleasant on a randonnee.  Or Errandonnee.
Miles: Included below
Date: 2/9/13


Errand: Bike Shop
Destination: Birmingham Bike Shop
What I learned / Observation:  Lots of stuff.  But for this I’ll list the bluebirds flocking between Odentown and Leeds early in the morning, before the frost had melted.  Oh, and I look dorky in bike glasses etc.
Miles: 129.  Hey, does anyone ever finish a 200k brevet with 125 miles on the odometer?
Date: 2/9/13

OK, so I started at the bike shop, but I got back there, so I surely get some credit for a ride to the bike shop, right?  It was a lovely ride, too.  Temperatures got up into the mid-50s, sunny all the way.  The cue sheet was superb, I only missed one turn and it really was my fault.

Oh, yes, and how I hate the garden-club inspired street signs in a certain Birmingham suburb!  Why would anyone want to neglect all of the standard colors, fonts, and sign placement, for a cute but unreadable plaque off in the bushes?  May the people responsible for that decision go to an unfamiliar place in the country and have their GPS fail as the sun goes down and find that the county decided to scrimp on road signs!

Now the next Monday I had a work/lunch/bike shop run, but something happened to the camera on my cell phone; all the pictures were 0 kb.  See that file name?  Isn’t that proof??  No???  So it took a while to recover and get on track again.  Grr.  Well, back on track:

Pig Patiently Pauses

Pig Patiently Pauses

Errand: Work
Destination: Work
What I learned / Observation:  Way light traffic the day before President’s Day weekend.
Miles: Included below
Date:  2/15/13


Errand: Breakfast or lunch
Destination: Cafeteria at work
What I learned / Observation: As cold as it was, I was very grateful the café had something besides burgers and fries. And I call it carb-loading!
Miles: Included below
Date: 2/15/13


Errand: Grocery store
Destination: Star Market
What I learned / Observation:  Hey, the girls’ school is having their musical this coming weekend!  How can we work going to that into our schedule?  It’s always been good!
Miles: 21
Date:  2/15/13


Errand: Any store that is not the grocery store
Destination: Target
What I learned / Observation:  Looks like the geese that live around the duck pond all year have found some place else to spend the winter.  But the pond still looks like goose sludge.  Yuck.
Oh, and something’s still wrong with the front derailer.
Miles: 20
Date:  2/17/13


Errand: Coffee or dessert
Destination: Cyn Shea’s
What I learned / Observation:  Oh, man, this was the best orange cranberry anything I’ve tasted!  They must soak the dried cranberries in melted butter overnight to plump them up and disperse the cranberry flavor.  It’s a good thing Cyn Shea’s not terribly convenient for me, or I’d never be able to pedal uphill with all the extra weight.  Yum.
Miles: 1 (walked over after I took the bike down to the shop)
Date:  2/18/13


Errand: Wild card
Destination: ATM
What I learned / Observation:  No protestors around the abortion clinic just down the street.  They’ve had to call in the cops a few times in the last few weeks.  Was it too cold, or just too early, for them?
Miles: Included below
Date: 2/19/13


Errand: Work
Destination: Work
What I learned / Observation:  Two flocks of robins, about a half a block apart, with 15-20 robins each.  On the road.  Why?  It was cold and dry, no worms floating around like after a spring flash flood.
Miles: Included below
Date:  2/19/13


Errand: Dinner
Destination: Panera with my wife.
What I learned / Observation:  American woodcock “peenting” just past the creek, in the field behind the trees.  I’ve never heard one of them in the quarter century I’ve been living here.
Miles: 25
Date: 2/19/13


Errand: Lunch
Destination: Cafeteria at lunch
What I learned / Observation: Interesting coming over the hill.  Traffic behind me was polite and well behaved.  Could it have had something to do with the earth mover coming down the hill?
Miles: 18
Date: 2/20/13

Total number of categories used: 8

Total miles: 214

This was pretty fun.  It’s a bit disturbing to see how focused my rides are around food: two lunches, a dinner, coffee, dessert, grocery store, and of course the stop at the ATM to get – what else? lunch money!

Does it matter?

The sausage has been made in D.C., and now we get to see it.  The new conference transportation bill apparently eliminates some funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, which has organizations like Adventure Cycling, American Bikes, and League of American Bicyclists up in arms.

Does that matter?  Well, in my town, we’ve seen signed bike routes go up.  One goes across the second-worst (IMHO) crossing of a major north-south artery.  One was well known as the best bike route across town by most local cyclists before the signs went up.  A couple of other routes have white lines painted up to the difficult intersections, where you’re supposed to take a transporter beam across the right turning traffic to go straight, or they stop with a “Bike Route XX ends.”  Not very helpful.  All in all, besides the expense of the signs and paint, no changes were made to the roads, and certainly there’s been no education of law enforcement.

Oh, we have a new bike path!  It goes from a parking lot on the north end of town across a field and up the hill.  There is stops.  In the middle of the woods.

Call me an old grouch, but I don’t like bike paths or bike lanes.  In my experience, most have at least one of four major shortcomings:

  1. They are poorly engineered.
  2. They are poorly maintained.
  3. They go places that aren’t useful for transportation or touring.
  4. They are flat out unsafe.

One might add #5, it costs an awful lot of money to do a good job building and maintaining a bike lane, and these are fiscally restrained times.

I would say the only decent, useful bike path we saw on our TransAm was the one through Breckenridge, CO, and the quality plummeted when we left the town limits.  Alma to Fairplay was unrideable because of poor maintenance, and the Frisco bike path was unsafe because of steep climbs, limited sight distance, and of course the fact it turned into a driveway.  Neither would ever be considered for a safe cycling route except for the fact that somebody called it a bike path.

So we’re not building any more of these monstrosities?  Whew, what a relief!

The part of the bill I really regret is that managers of federal roads can now ban bicyclists far too easily.  Where were the major organizations when that was considered?  AC’s advice was to lay low, they and LAB were doing quiet lobbying.  It was completely ineffective.  Why are we all staring at bike paths, anyway?  Look at Adventure Cycling’s routes.  Out of 41,000 miles of routes, I’d guess 37,000 miles are on ordinary streets and roads.  (2,500 of the difference is the Great Divide mountain bike route, which is apparently a mix of dirt roads and trails, connected by — wait for it — ordinary streets and roads!)    Give us back our access to the roads, and let anyone who wants to ride in a bicycle ghetto lobby for it locally, I say.

Cyclists, be afraid!

This is the time of year a bicyclist anticipates with fear. No, it’s not a political party ramping up some alert level to try to get (re)elected, and the motor vehicle drivers (aka “cagers”) aren’t worse than usual.

Rather, it’s when the weather turns cooler. In my case, down to 39 degrees (F) for this morning’s commute. The reason to be so afraid is —


It happens to all of us, at some temperature. I was celebrating a couple months back when the lows dipped below 70. Last month they dipped below 60. I can survive that! But today it was out of the range of picking the warmest “summer” jersey, and time to find a long sleeve jersey, and leg warmers or tights. For some people, that temperature hits at 60, or 50, or 35, but it hits every cycling commuter who lives north of southern California or the Gulf Coast.

Oh, if you’re worried, it took me a few minutes, but I found them. And (just barely) got to work on time after that!