400 KM Brevet

Gainesville Florida, 2005

Distance: 400 km or 250 miles.Time limit: 27 hrs
Date: 19 March 2005
Course: Out and back style: Gainesville - Madison – Gainesville
Terrain: Hilly/rolling/lightly undulating/some flat
Conditions: Sunny and very cold start, mild in afternoon
Temp: 36 F (4 to 6 AM) to 69F (2 to 4 PM)
Wind: 3-7 mph NW (headwind, outbound leg)/ 3-7 NNW, 3-7 W, calm (quartering tailwind/crosswind on return leg)
Sun rise/set: 6:31 AM /6:41 PM

Start: 4:00 AM
Finish: 8:29 PM (16 hours, 29 minutes)
Riders:  8 started: 0 DNFs, 8 finishers.

Outbound queue sheet
Return queue sheet

Once again this would be my longest single day ride of my life so my primary goal was to just finish. Secondarily, I wanted hoped to finish less than 18 hours.

Arrived at the Quality Inn Gainesville, FL at 5:00 PM on Friday after a 3.5-hour drive from Melbourne, FL.  I planned on sleeping in my car since, there were no hotel rooms available due to the GatorNationals event. It was already in the 50’s and expected to drop to the upper 30’s that night.  I wondered if I brought enough layers of cycling clothes.  Inside the lobby I met fellows entrants Mark, Lou and Larry (Team Jacksonville) as we waited for RBA Jim Wilson to arrive for the bike inspections.  Team Jacksonville generously offered me to stay with them overnight. It was a great overnight experience, not just for the warm floor space, but for the companionship. All of them were far more experienced brevet riders that me and I enjoyed their stories of rides past.

We woke at 2:00AM for a 4:00AM start since my roommates had to forage for breakfast at a local restaurant.  It would have been nice to join them from the social point of view. But, instead opted to take my time preparing for the day.  I had the breakfast of a king thanks to a well stocked cooler all from the convenience of my hotel room: orange juice, milk and cereal with raisins, banana, hard-boiled egg, muffin and protein drink. As they left Larry thoughtfully gave his room key in case I wanted to leave the room for any reason.  I didn’t know it at the time, but having this key in my possession at the end of the ride would be hugely important.

Cold start
he dark and cold 36F that greeted us that morning was a rude wakeup, especially for us Floridians! As we gathered in the hotel’s parking lot for the sign-in, I was anxious to start just to warm up.  I used the brief wait to eat a tasty muffin provided by Jim Wilson the RBA.  A few miles after starting, the chill faded and was replaced by a nice warmth that was building under my layers.  I made slight adjustments to my jacket zipper to keep from overheating. 

As we put Gainesville behind us I noticed a rider going off the front. His name was Bill Woodruff.  Bill brought his bike along on a business trip from Virginia and was seriously underdressed for this unseasonable cold.  No doubt he was riding fast to warm himself. Unfortunately for him, Team Jacksonville was a highly experienced and disciplined brevet group. They rode at their pace (of about 17 mph) and not one mph over.  Without a helmet light, however, Bill could not read his queue sheet or odometer that, as luck would have it, stopped working about 10 miles into the ride.  Realizing that he could not navigate in the dark, at the next intersection he waited for us and said, “You guys go ahead, I can’t follow from the front.”

Sunrise unveiled heavy frost covered farmlands. Strange to see so much white in Florida this far from the beach.

We rolled into the first control at 62 miles. After using the restroom, I found Larry on the floor, shoes off, rubbing his thoroughly frozen feet. He said, “They feel like two blocks of ice”. That was understandable, even with full neoprene booties my toes were numb. Larry had only cycling shoes.  Although the warmth of the convenience store felt good, I could feel myself start to perspire, so I waited outside with some of the others. Sitting out in the cold with that little bit of perspiration quickly brought a chill over me.  As I sat on the curb holding my bike, I was shaking so much my bike shook in my hands.  “We have to start moving”, I said, “This cold is going through me”. Finally we were on our way after a longish 19-minute stop.

Reluctant breakaway
I lead the group out of the control and rode harder than usual for about 10 minutes to warm up. When I looked back, I was surprised that only Bill was there.  My first reaction was to ease up and wait for the group, but as I did Bill took over and kept the pace high. Decision time: do I wait for Team Jacksonville, or go with Bill?  I was wary of going with Bill because on the 200k and 300k I rode with at least seven riders.  With only Bill, I would have to do half of the work.  And even worse, although he seemed strong, what if he couldn’t make the whole way. Riding the last 100 miles alone on unfamiliar roads wasn’t too appealing.

Bill seemed to find this pace much more to his liking, and as I pondered this dilemma we pulled further ahead of Team Jacksonville.  I decided to stay with Bill, for now and see how it went.

The roads to Madison were backcountry roads in good condition. Traffic was pleasantly minimal to non-existent. By 9:30 AM it had warmed enough to remove my jacket and I stopped briefly to stow it under my saddlebag.

When the mood stuck us we chatted side-by-side. He seemed a little surprised that this was my longest attempted ride. When I asked him he had ever done a ride this long, he said, “Well I finished RAAM, I guess that qualifies as a long ride.”  It turns out he was an official finisher in the 1987 RAAM, finishing 11th just ahead of Jim Penseyres (Pete’s brother). After learning that, I didn’t feel so bad letting him do most of the pulling.  When I mentioned we had just passed the 100-mile point, he said, “…then it’s already my farthest ride in years.”  Amazing, even out-of-shape he could still drop me any time he wanted.

Bill powered on and about 6-10 miles from the halfway point and lunch control stop in Madison, he dropped me on some steeper hills.  He then slowed a bit to allow me to catch up.

Lunch and turnaround
We rolled for lunch at 122 miles at 11:15 AM.  Madison is a quaint little college town.  We arrived just as RBA Jim Wilson and crew had finished setting up a great lunch spread. During this somewhat leisurely lunch, I stretched gently to avoid stiffening up. Then, after using the restroom at the nearby library, we were on our way again at 11:50 AM.

The course home retraced the outbound route exactly except for a 10-mile section closer to Gainesville. It was great to be back on the bike again. Although still cool, the sun warmed our arms and backs, our bellies were full, the winds were light and we were headed home.  What a great day to be on the bike!  During this euphoric moment, I notice that I had not turned my route sheet over.  I thought, “Oh well the first 18 miles are on the same road (SR6). So, I’ll change later”.  As we left Madison, we came upon a fork in the road with US 90 and SR6.  I was leading and when straight onto US 90.  Fortunately, Bill was alert and almost immediately noticed we should have beared left to stay on SR6.  After getting back on track, I turned my route sheet to the right page. Oops!

Being front runners on this out-and-back course allowed us the monitor the progress of the other riders.  We waved to Team Jacksonville at 12:03 PM, and waved to other 3 riders at 12:33 PM.  So Team Jacksonville was 61 minutes back (about 13 minutes ride to lunch + 35 minute stop at lunch + 13 minutes from lunch to back to where we saw them).  That meant that we gained an hour in 62 miles, so we should finish about 3 hours ahead.  Boy was I glad I had a hotel room key. A hot shower and a warm sleeping bag would feel great after the ride; I wouldn’t want to wait in my car for them to finish.  Plus I had all my food in the room!

Off course
We settled into a routine where Bill and I shared the work about 70%/30%. At 153 miles, as Bill was pulling I lapsed into daydream. Then we made a left onto a quiet county road.  “Wait, something’s not right”, I thought as I came abruptly back into the present. Seems like were going north, we should be zigzagging east and south. As I slowed to look at my route sheet, Bill powered away. It said to go right on 795. I remembered which way we turned, but momentarily didn’t know my left from right. “Ok, I write with my left-hand so …”.  No time to think now, have to catch Bill and talk this over. After two miles of chasing, I caught him just as he was turning left onto an unmarked road that he thought was 54th street (our next turn on the route sheet). Amazingly the road was also very rough and bumpy, just like 54th street – the only bad stretch we had on the outbound leg.  Additionally, it was unmarked so we had no way to confirm the error. Bill seemed a little surprised when I suggested we made a wrong turn, but after talking it through, we both realized that we should turn around and check it out. While retracing, I was comforted by the direction of our mid-afternoon shadows - indicating we were going south. To get my odometer in sync with the route sheet, I paused it when read the same distance as our next turn, 54th street.  For the next 3 miles we had to be extra alert to avoid riding past that inconspicuous rutty little street. After a few nervous minutes, we finally saw the 54th street sign and as I turned onto it I restarted my trip computer. Now we were back on track, odometer sync’d and heading for home!  I never thought I would be so happy to ride on a crappy bumpy road.

Between mile 175 and 200 my back, and butt were noticeably sore and felt drained of energy.  After two longish 17-minute stops at controls #4 and #5, I started to feel better.  I just hadn’t eaten enough on the bike since lunch to sustain a fast tempo.  I still lagged a bit on the hillier sections, but felt better overall after the last control.

Secret Control - where are you?
Where is that secret control?  We had been warned that it would most likely be somewhere on the 16 mile section starting at mile 214. This portion jogged to the west of the outbound route and added about 5 miles to the return leg making a total of 249.4 miles. Despite our intense scrutiny of every roadside object, with every passing mile I became increasingly nervous that somehow we missed it. I even resorted to taking digital photos of landmarks along the way as an alternate may to prove we rode this section. Then in the dim twilight a red light blinked on the roadside ahead.  Could it be?  Yes, in the last mile of the leg there it was. As expected on the back of the sign was a bag of stickers, one for each of our brevet cards.  I pulled on my jacket to take the edge off the dusk chill. Relieved that the last big obstacle was behind us, we called our wives, and then set off into the growing darkness for the final leg.

As we rejoined our outbound route, Bill swung off a pull and said, “OK Mr. Navigator, take us home.”  Without a light to read the route sheet nor a functional odometer nighttime navigation was extremely difficult for him.  A handlebar mounted light let me see where I steering and a helmet light allowed me to not only see the sheet and odometer, but also was great for illuminating street signs and shining at motorized cross traffic.  This combination of lights and perfectly synchronized odometer allowed us to flawlessly navigate the last 20 miles.

We finished in 16 hours 29 minutes – a little over 3 hours ahead of the next finishers, Team Jacksonville.


Lessons learned

Fellow riders are a blessing.  Let’s face it, Bill was a powerhouse and being much stronger than me there were times when I felt like a boat anchor holding him back. Yet Bill’s nonfunctional odometer hampered his navigation during the day and at nighttime with no light to read his route sheet it was even worse. In fact, I recognized when Bill made the wrong turn onto 795 and got us back on track holding our time losses to under 30 minutes. But lets not forget that I also led us astray and it was Bill who alertly righted us.

The bottom line is that riders help each other in a variety of ways. Some contributions are predictable and others unanticipated. Undeniably we finished much faster as a duo than we would have separately. Even more importantly his companionship made the adventure much more fun and interesting.




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