Blue Ridge to Bay 1200k

When I first signed up for the Blue Ridge to Bay 1200k, I was unsure of my ability to complete the ride. It just seemed like so much more than I had ever done. Nervous as I was, I dove headfirst into the challenge and made the drive down from NJ the morning of the ride. Naturally, I forgot my water bottles, and even worse, when I went to turn my rack light on as the pre ride meeting was wrapping up, it would not light up. I took the light apart thinking it was just a dead battery, but it turned out to be a broken solder. Luckily, years of randonneuring taught me to keep two backups of everything, so I was able to zip tie another onto my bag but not before the entire group had already left. Such is life.

The W&OD bike path didn’t have any plans to make my day easier however. A few miles in, I realized that my front tire was going flat and had to stop to change the tube. A few miles after that, my rear wheel came out from under me while braking on a downhill hairpin descent, and I scraped up my right knee (luckily the bike was fine, save the bar tape). Riding into Washington was a real treat. I took my time getting pictures of the monuments and of course the Watergate.

This was the best picture I could get of the Watergate. It’s bad, but I had to. “Very new, very modern.” – Richard Nixon – Forrest Gump

Somewhere on the way to the next controle, I caught up with De’Anna and Steve. Some things are a blur – I can’t remember when, but we caught up with Rudi and Emily at some point later in the day. We realized eventually that we were all on our first 1200k. We didn’t know it and didn’t necessarily plan it at this point, but we would be riding together for pretty much the entire ride.

Gettysburg

Day 1 was without a doubt my worst day. The weather was really bumming me out, and a flat tire towards the end of the day in the dark didn’t do anything to improve my mood. I really owe Rudi a lot for cheerfully fixing my flat for me. By the end of the day, I was seriously considering throwing in the towel and withdrawing from the ride. I decided I would get some “sleep” and see how I felt in the morning.

I woke up a couple hours later, resolved to finish the ride I had spent so much time and money on. The five of us left together or around the same time. We bunny hopped back and forth until the climb up Skyline Drive, which had some of the best views on the whole 1200, and then again through Fort Valley until Front Royal. The remaining 60 miles were stormy and mostly ridden together.

Another couple hours of sleep and we were off again. My memories of day 3 are a bit more hazy, but highlights include a feast of a breakfast from McDonalds featuring hotcakes, apple pies, and a sundae; a tortilla chip stop at Chipotle where Rudi accidentally filled his Camelbak with lemonade and then proceeded to spill it all over by not properly fastening the bladder; laying down in the grass outside Wawa with my long anticipated hoagie (yes they are called hoagies) and chips; and getting shown around the route by Emily who was familiar with many of the roads and sights.

Day 4 featured another rear flat and downpours. I remember questioning my life for a bit until I waterproofed myself at a Burger King. The mental game was never too bad because we knew we were on the home stretch the entire day, even though it was a 200k. I also had the luxury of knowing that my PA Rando friends, CJ and James, were waiting at the finish with the promise of a shower and beer.

I’ve always felt that the ride is defined by the people we share it with rather than the conditions we face on the road. I can think of many times I rode through miserable weather or on miserable roads, but as long as you ride with good people, the ride is never as bad as it seems at times. So even though we faced everything from downpours, to cold, to oppressive heat, I will always remember the BRB 1200 for the friends I made and the experiences we shared.

Awards!

Tuscobia 160

The Tuscobia 160 was my second snow race and second qualifying race for the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI 350). Although the terrain was not as challenging as the Arrowhead 135, which I raced at the beginning of 2018, other racers warned that Tuscobia is frequently colder.

This year we all lucked out, and the lowest the temperature got according to my Garmin unit was the low teens. I’d guess the windchill was close to 0 or less overnight. The course was also phenomenal. Most of it was already pretty packed down making for fast riding.

After my experience at Arrowhead, it was my goal to ride my next winter ultra through the night and stop only minimally.

The route is out and back on railroad grade trails in northern Wisconsin with supported checkpoints at about 45, 80, and 115 miles. We were allowed to have drop bags with food and gear at the checkpoints. There was a bonus tent to warm up at about 15 miles to go that was a godsend as well.

The first few miles of the race were extremely fast. Actually, pretty much the whole race was extremely fast except one section a few miles from the halfway that was crowded with 160 mile runners on their return to the finish and only had a single rideable lane.

One of the most difficult parts about winter riding is dialing in your gear for every temperature range. It’s counterintuitive, but one of the biggest issues you might encounter in a winter race is overheating. I made the mistake of wearing too much at Arrowhead heading into the first night. This time, I was dressed better, but I was still sweating a bit too much. I had to back off the pace a little bit to dry off, but I wasn’t too upset.

Somewhere between the first checkpoint and the halfway point, I started to pass the 80 mile riders who were heading in the opposite direction. It was encouraging to hear everyone’s words of support as they passed by. Everyone in these races is so friendly. I got a special shout out from my buddy Hank who was doing the 80 miler as well.

At the halfway, I had a Wawa classic hoagie that I brought all the way from New Jersey. That really hit the spot after hours of granola and trail mix. The volunteers also gave me a couple grilled cheese sandwiches that were also pretty amazing. The sun was just about setting when I made my way back to the trail.

By the time I got to the third checkpoint, my stomach really wasn’t feeling great. I had fallen behind a little bit on food intake and hydration. Nothing I had seemed palatable to me, and all I really wanted was something warm like mashed potatoes or mac and cheese (note to future self…). Unfortunately, the checkpoint was out of vegetarian chilis and soups, so I just refilled my water and pressed on, forcing myself to eat my granola and Raisinets.

Eventually I felt a little better, but fatigue was really starting to set in. I’ve ridden almost 40 hours straight before, but the constant pedaling necessary to bike on snow takes its toll in a way that road biking never could. I had the good sense to get off the bike when I was feeling extra tired and walk for a few minutes. I did end up falling asleep for a split second while standing up on more than one occasion. I listened to dubstep to keep me going.

I was feeling a bit down and out of it by the time I got to the bonus checkpoint at about mile 145. I didn’t realize how close I was to the finish. In my stupor, I thought there were about 30 miles left to go. I think there were three of us in the tent, and we talked sparingly while we drank hot chocolate. One of the racers mentioned that we had 15 to go, and a new wave of energy hit me. I rode as hard as I could for the rest of the race and finished just a little after sunrise for an overall time of just about 25:30. I had hoped initially to come in at 24 hours, but considering the fatigue and food issues I dealt with, this wasn’t bad at all. I can’t wait for the next one.