600 KM Brevet

Clermont Florida, 2005

Distance: 600 km or 375 miles.
Time limit: 40 hrs
Date: 2-3 April 2005
Terrain: rolling to flat
Conditions: Rain first 6 hours, then clear and very windy
Temp: 65F (start), 75F (2 PM), 47F (day 2, 6 AM), 70F (1:30 PM finish)
Wind: 20-30 mph headwind for 110 miles, otherwise mostly crosswind

Finishing time: 33 hours, 33 minutes
Riders: 21 started: 3 DNFs, 18 finishers.

Well this was it, the last ride of the brevet series.  Having already successfully completed the 200, 300 and 400k brevets this year, a successful finish here would earn me the notable "Super Randonneer" award.  I didn't start the year with that goal, but here I was. The course was a 276-mile loop to the south that returned to our hotel, then a 100-mile loop to the northeast that again finished at our hotel.  The forecast warned of heavy rains in the morning, followed by strong northwest winds.  That meant wet for the first half of the 276-mile loop and headwinds for 110 miles of the return leg.

Arrived and checked in to the Quality Inn, Clermont FL late Friday afternoon.  My father joined me and signed on as a brevet volunteer to help RBA Michael Grussemeyer.  I was relieved to find John Preston and Boris Fayfer in lobby.  Both are strong riders that I rode with on the 200k and 300k. I later saw Danny Stevens (a strong rider from the 300k) unpacking his van. Its nice to see some familiar faces especially good riding mates.

Brought several meals, many snacks, and milk in cooler, so I had all the food I needed for the whole weekend.  Good thing too as the Denny's (only restaurant nearby) was closed for remodeling.

Climbed in bed at 8:00 PM.  My concern that my snore prone father would keep me awake, turned-out to be unjustified.  But, I still could not sleep, as worry about the rain and headwinds kept me awake all night.  Total sleep-time was only one hour.  Wakeup call rang at 2:45 AM for a 4:00 AM start.  It was still dry and mild outside, but ominously humid and windy.

Enjoyed cereal, and hard-boiled egg in room and continental breakfast in lobby.  Put on rain gear for start and packed cold weather gear for evening. The rain started at pre-race briefing.


Rainy Start

As we rolled out of the parking lot at 4:06:39 AM, I adjusted the collar of my jacket a to keep the rain from running down my back. My original pre-race predictions were: finish day 1 (276 miles) by 10:30 PM (18 hrs 30 min), but I revised them due to predicted headwinds to 12:00 AM (20 hrs).

A Lead group formed with John, Boris, Danny, Richard, and me shortly after start.  I got the first flat of the day ~15 miles out.  The main pack passed, we rejoined and the passed pack picking-up Dave.

Picked up the Van Fleet Trail at mile 18 and rode it for 20 miles.  This is a great paved bike trail except some of its bridges are a little dicey.  Fellow rider Bruce was injured here on the return leg.  

The relentless rain made very sloppy and wet roads, but I stayed relatively dry with rain gear for first hour until water ran under sleeves through zip pits. Wet arms were better than sauna suit so I left the zip pits open.  Somehow my legs got wet under full rain pants (perspiration?).  The fabric then dragged uncomfortably over my knee on each pedal stroke. Solution was to pull up ankle cuff up to top of each calf and tighten the cuff's Velcro closure so they wouldn't fall back down.  Sure I looked like a dufuss, but I basically accomplished my goal of keeping my shorts dry.  Waterproof booties kept my feet pretty dry for about an hour.  After that rain running down my calf eventually soaked my feet and shoes.  My wife's $0.25 shower cap over my helmet worked well to keep rain and gritty road spray off head and hair. But, despite my best efforts, after 2 hours in the rain I was soaking wet everywhere except my head and my shorts.

Another flat, this time Boris.

Rain and more rain for first 5 hours. Somewhere about 3 hours into the ride I hit a low-point of depression.  Discomfort from wet clothes and shoes, the grid road spray that covered my face, the flats, and the enormity of the remaining distance (at least 17 hours more to get back to the hotel) made me question my resolve to continue and curse the series of decisions that put me in this situation. Yes this was insane - I wanted to stop.

The only question was, how could I quit and save-face?  I thought of my father riding in the support van ahead.  Later we would learn that a rider fell, dislocated three fingers (they were bent back at 90 degrees to the back of his hand), straightened them and continued. Compared to heroic deeds like that, what would my father think of his youngest son quitting because he was wet?  I decided to concentrate on turning the crank arms and nothing else. Surprisingly, focusing on that simple task made me feel better. Fortunately the temperature was comfortable, neither too warm to get overheated under the rain gear, nor too cold to get chilled by the wet.

Around 9:00 AM the rain became increasingly intermittent.  A half an hour later, after stopping at a convenience store, the sun peeked through the clouds and amazingly just a few minutes later the roads were dry. The sun was out, the roads were dry and we were in building tailwind all the way to the lunch stop! Yes, life is good!

Near Sebring we rode on some agricultural roads though orange groves. This part of the course had many turns and that made navigation difficult. Especially since some of the roads had no street signs, and my trip computer was off by several miles. Apparently water got under it and it stopped working until it dried out. Thankfully, John's GPS was working fine and he confidently led us through this region. We stopped just once to check our bearings. Moments like this made me so glad to be on John wheel and I doubled my resolve to stick to him like glue. I decided to never again attempt a ride of this magnitude without a GPS of my own.

Our next control was convenience store @125 miles. We didn't stop too long there, since our lunch stop was just 1.5 miles down the road. But I found a hose on the side of the building to rinse the grit off my bike. My father greeted us at the lunch stop.  We were his first customers.  The lunch spread provided by RBA Michael was fabulous as usual: chips, sandwiches, drinks, the works!  As we ate my socks and shoes dried a little after removing them and laying them out in the sun for 10 minutes.


Return leg headwinds

Four miles from lunch we turned WNW for 40 miles directly into a 20 mph sustained, gusting to 30 mph, headwind. This was wide-open rangeland with no trees to break the wind. We struggled to make 16 mph. Depression set in. I could only pull at 14 mph as pulling at 16 put me into the red-zone. With still 140 miles remaining to tonight's hotel rest stop, I wanted to avoid extended red-zone efforts. John asked me to pull at 16 as long as I could, then pull out. That was all of about 10 seconds so I wasn't much help in this section. Richard pulled at 17 and sometimes up to 20 between gusts. Danny and John also pulled strongly, John held back a little to avoid driving the group too hard.  In the slipstream of the group, however, I was no real danger of being dropped.

Richard bonked and felt very drained at Zolfo Springs, then recovered.  At 164 miles we finally turned to the NNE.  So we had mostly crosswinds now and all to brief periods with a quartering tailwind. Took some short breaks on the roadside. Encountered some nasty railroad tracks - bumpy and on a diagonal. We would learn later that just a short time after we passed a rider tumbled over one of these tracks and dislocated his shoulder.

We had a longer than usual stop of about an hour before sunset at mile 184 to eat some more substantial food. Some had cold sandwiches; I had a cup of banana pudding.

At sunset we found restaurant heaven in Bartow (mile 201). We all stopped and enjoyed a hot bowl of Wendy's chili. As we started out in the darkness where was a definite chill in the air. Michael and dad passed us in the van a short time later and stopped just ahead to service us. Welcome Gatorade, chips, milk and a couple of cookies.

Shortly after, we encountered a maze of turns that seemed to loop us in every direction. It was disorienting and difficult especially in the dark. Thank goodness for John's GPS and his expert ability using it. We flew through the turns, hardly slowing.  Without the GPS we would have to stop many times to locate street signs, recheck the route sheet and worry that we made a wrong turn.  Have I mentioned yet that I'm a fan of GPS?

Returned to southern terminus of the Van Fleet Trail for an unofficial stop at same store that was our second control earlier in the morning. This completed a 192-mile counterclockwise loop (within the larger 276 mile loop that started and ended at the hotel). After some refreshments and a short break we were back on the Van Fleet Trail for a smooth 20 miles north. But watch out for those bridges! Just a few hours after us another rider Bruce, stuck his front tire in a wide groove and tumbled over the handlebars where the trailing rider then hit him from behind. Bruce seriously injured his shoulder forcing his retirement; the other rider dislocated three fingers, but amazingly straightened them himself and continued.

Exiting the Van Fleet Trail at mile 251, we entered very dark and remote section 10 mile stretch just prior to the Mascotte control stop. But just a few miles into it Richard stopped and collapsed. Laying on his back he said, he would probably feel better if he threw-up, but could not. He suspected it was a virus. A few minutes after having a drink of water, he remounted his bike and rode strong the rest of the way to the control.

We took a long break at Mascotte control (at 261 miles).  I took a short nap with my head on table while Richard pondered whether he should continue or abandon. Richard abandoned and rode back to hotel in pickup truck.

Out again in the cold and dark for the last 15 miles to the hotel, I shivered uncontrollably for several long minutes until my effort warmed me from within.  John got flat tire on Cherry Lake Rd. While he changed it, I found the quiet of the countryside beautifully serene under a midnight star filled sky.

Arrived at the last control next to our hotel at 1:30 AM (276 miles in 21 hours, 27 minutes).

In my room, I dipped into my cooler and ate cold black bean pasta soup. Set a wakeup call for 3:30 AM before retiring, but it never rang. Woke up at 4:30 AM.


Start of day 2 – chilly and hilly

Out at about 5:55 AM Sunday to a clear pre-dawn sky and a chilly 47F.  The most challenging terrain of the entire brevet was in the first 30 miles – hills named the Wall, Sugarloaf, and Buckhills.  The Wall was no big deal, in fact, after climbing it I asked John if we passed it yet. He confirmed that we had. While the Wall was a pushover, Sugarloaf definitively was not.

Figure 1: Profile of Sugarloaf Mountain Rd.

The eastern approach is straight giving the cyclist a full and intimidating view of the slope all the way to the top. It kicks up very sharply reaching 13% just before the halfway point and averages 8% for its 0.36 mile length. For me 39x27 was not quite adequate, as I had to weave across the road to lessen the grade.  It was so steep that when pulling back on the handlebars during seated pedaling my front wheel lifted off of the ground.  This surprised and unnerved me a little.  However, Boris managed fine with a 39x25. After that we tackled the series of hills on Buckhill road. These were a little steeper and longer than most other hills in the area, but otherwise not notable except for their closeness to each other that made them just that little bit more challenging.

At mile 320 on the long road across Little Lake Harris, I began to worry about the secret controls. There was supposed to be at least two, but we had not seen any yet, had we missed them?  We called Michael (RBA) to find out. He said there would be no secret controls because of the emergencies he had to attend to. It came as a great relief to us to know that we had not missed a secret control that otherwise would have disqualified us. By mid morning the wind picked up but was mostly crosswind and the route was generally less exposed than yesterday's hinterlands. After a PowerBar and banana I felt surprisingly strong and took several long pulls. My only discomfort was a predictably sore butt and mild ache in my lower back. I missed turn while pulling, but John quickly corrected my mistake. It's so easy to lose concentration for a minute and go off course.  Time and time again I am reminded about how important it is to ride with a group.

We met Michael at the last control before the finish for an early lunch. It was now warm and sunny so I shed my outer layer and put them in Michael's van. Then onto the West Orange trail at mile 345 for 15 of the last 30 miles. As my odometer readings read less than 5 miles to go, I found it hard to believe that this great adventure was about to end. Suddenly, without adequate time to savor the last moments, we were rolling under the portico of our hotel and it was finished. It was end of a journey that began 4 months ago without me realizing then how far it would take me. I was now a "Super Randonneer".

Surprisingly, I didn't feel the "spike the football in the end zone" kind of jubilation that I thought I would. It was more like a right of passage had been made into some kind of cycling adulthood. I really feared the 600. Overcoming that distance, hours of rain, and miles of brutal headwind made me quietly rethink what is possible.

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