May 24, 2018 | estimated read time: 8 mins
Last year my goal was to ride a 200k. I was able to do that, and so this year I increased the goal to 600k - a full Super Randonneur Series of 200k, 300k, 400k, and then finally the 600k.
Before this ride started, after the 400k, I was having serious foot issues. I had a lot of foot pain on the 400k and it just never went away even with a lot of rest. I saw a podiatrist who concluded I had been compressing the nerve at the ball of my foot and had Plantar Fasciitis. He suggested I take 2 or 3 months off from riding, work on some stretches, and let my feet heal. But, he said, since he knew I wouldn’t listen and would do the 600k anyway I didn’t need to worry about permanent injury but would just have to endure a lot of pain. He did say a lot of the problem was that I had high arches and my Sidis had no arch support so I bought some insoles from Specialized.
This made me pretty nervous though and I figured there was a high chance I wouldn’t complete the ride. My plan was to start out fast and then I’d be ahead of the control closure times when my foot started hurting so I could stop and rest. I strongly considered not riding but I had to try.
The ride started at 6am. There were six of us - David (who like me hadn’t done a 600k yet), Brian, Jeff (from TN), Ken (from AL), and Betty Jean.
Betty Jean, Brian, and Ken are all very fast and so I rode with them at the beginning. At one point they were in a pace line and when one of them (I can’t remember if it was Ken or Brian) rotated to the back I explained I wasn’t going to hang on much longer and he should go in front of me. They joked that if they pulled me all the way to lunch I’d have to pay for them, which honestly sounded like a fair trade! The pace wasn’t too bad until we got to a highway. They were doing nearly 20mph and it was just way too fast for me. I should have dropped off but we were almost to the first control so I figured I’d just hang on until then. We made it and I let them know I couldn’t continue if I was going to have any hope of not cracking.
By then the sun had come up and already it was starting to get warm. I bought some water, put on sunscreen, and started towards the second control. I don’t mind riding alone, even if it is at a much slower pace. One of the benefits is you can stop and take photos. It wasn’t long before I came across this church next to a field.
By the time I got to the second control though (mile 85) my foot was killing me. I took off my shoes and sprayed my feet with BioFreeze. Soon, Jeff (the rider who came down from TN) rode up. He said it was way to early in the day to be having these issues and I explained the situation. He immediately goes “oh, well just move your cleat back”. Kevin (the ride organizer) comes over to check on us as we’re having this discussion and agrees. They ask where my cleat is and I say it’s all the way at the front. I had a bike fitting a decade ago (when I raced track) and it was placed there for sprinting. Jeff says move it all the way back, Kevin says move it back 1mm at a time and see how it goes. I split the difference and move it back about 25%.
The fast group had talked about a lunch stop called the Cotton Gin about 17 miles further along but it closed at 2. It was about 12:30 by this point and Jeff and I both wanted real food so we figured we should get going. We started at an easy pace until I realized we didn’t have until 2, they’d be closed then. We had to get there by 1:30 so they had time to serve us. That motivated me to speed up a bit and I got there around 1:40, just as the fast group was pulling out. I got a table and just a few seconds later Jeff arrived, followed by Kevin who joined us for a while. Jeff was craving a beer but they didn’t serve alcohol. They suggested he go next door to the convenience store and grab a bottle of wine, which he did and shared with me.
Lunch arrived and as if often the case after 100 miles it was incredible.
After lunch the next section was awful. It had gotten very hot and there was just absolutely no shade. A good portion was on a highway with a 55 mph limit, which is never fun. The highway had a rumble strip and then a shoulder that was sometimes okay and oftentimes filled with old truck tires. Luckily all the cars were very nice. When the shoulder was filled with debris they would always move to the left lane. However, I ran out of water about 5 miles before reaching the next control and there just wasn’t ANYTHING out there. I got to the next control just beat. I bought water and food and sat down in the shade to rest. The good news was my foot felt so much better! Jeff was absolutely right about moving my cleat.
Jeff joined a while later and I remarked “you look like I feel.” He said he was done. The heat was just too much. We sat and rested for quite a while trying to recuperate and watching the clouds on the horizon grow darker and darker. The stop was kinda fun. It was a gas station and there activity everywhere. A young guy in dreds pulled up in a beat up F250. He looked a lot like my brother before he shaved his dreds. It had a bent frame and he didn’t turn it off while filling it up with gas. I asked “what happens if you shut her off?” He responded “I don’t know, I just bought her today and I don’t trust her yet.” Who buys a rusted truck with a bent frame?! The store also had a lot of drunks just hanging out in the shade like Jeff and I were doing. I chatted with one who worked at the same factory for 40 years. He said he loved it, never had to worry about having work and retired at 67.
I knew if I didn’t leave soon I never would. I tried to encourage Jeff. If he waited David would be there soon and they could ride together. I headed out and it started raining almost immediately, which actually felt great. However, I was still on that stupid highway riding on the shoulder and the water must have hidden some piece of steel from a truck tire. I got a slash straight across my tire and I heard that awful “hissss” of air.
I went up the road a bit to an intersection so it’d be a bit safer and began booting the tire and changing the tube. Two farmers stopped in old pick up trucks. The first one offered tools. The second one offered a ride. When I declined he said “My son made it all the way to the collegiate level racing cycling so I’ve given hundreds of cyclists rides.” I was floored, that was the last thing I expected a farmer in an old beat up pickup to say. Then an SUV stopped with bikes on the back and a family (Danny, Sue, and a boy that they called Goose) got out. They offered a floor pump which really is a great help when changing a tire on the side of the road. I was surprised yet again when Danny asked what type of ride I was doing (I explained the 600k) and he said “oh, cool, I’m doing a 1500k in Denmark next month.” I pinched my first tube and Danny gave me a second. Really a fortunate encounter.
Unfortunately the rip in the tire was just too big. I set back out and immediately the tire exploded.
I had a bit of luck in that this happened in front of an abandoned store. I sat under the awning and texted Kevin asking for help. I was pretty sure my ride was over though so my wife and I started texting about how this affects next years goals. Do I still attempt Paris Brest Paris next year without completing a 600k? Should I try to find another 600k even if it meant using up vacation time?
I ended up waiting about an hour and then Kevin and Jeff showed up. The heat had killed Jeff and he DNF’d. This was bad news for him but for me it meant he was giving me his tire! First the cleat adjustment and now the tire, this was twice that Jeff had saved my ride. Between the two flats and slowing down for the heat though I had lost a lot of time - I continued on towards the turn around point.
I reached it about midnight and was ready for a bit of sleep. All I had to do was make it the 1 mile to the hotel when I heard a train horn. The worlds slowest, longest train come across the road and made me wait until I could reach the hotel.
Finally at the hotel Kevin had pizza and chicken for us. This was my first time sleeping on a ride which was a unique experience. I had reserved a hotel room which worked out well - Kevin had one room and Jeff had another so it was good to have a room to myself. I ended up getting about an hour of sleep and then headed out. I took a short break about halfway to the next control, resting on a church porch.
Right as I was leaving a police SUV came tearing through the parking lot and stopped right in front of me. They said they had received calls from residents saying that there were people out on a bike ride at night and what am I doing? I said I’m out on a bike ride at night. Okay, I wasn’t that sarcastic. I explained that we were doing a timed event and we couldn’t stop at night or we wouldn’t have time to finish. They seemed satisfied with this answer. They asked were I had come from and were impressed I had ridden 20 miles! They asked where I was going and at 4am on an hour of sleep I could not for the life of me remember the name “Dublin”. Of course, it was written on 10 pieces of cue sheet paper on the bag in front of me. Also my Wahoo said “Route: Dublin 600k”. I’m sure they thought I was drunk but all I said was “um… um… I can’t remember.” Somehow they accepted this. They asked how many people were ridding and then they left. An odd encounter. I’m not sure what the residents thought we were up to.
I was feeling alright, not too tired, not fighting sleep. Ready for sunrise but okay. Then I got back to that awful highway. It was 10 miles back to the control and uphill the entire way. The hills seemed giant. I finally got there and had 1 hour before the control closed. I decided to sit and wait the entire hour to rest, I was beat. If the entire day was going to be like this - racing the clock - it was going to be a long day. After about 30 minutes David showed up. I asked if the hills got him too. He said he got as fed up as I did. He just went to sleep in someones yard and figured if he didn’t wake up in time then he’d just call Kevin for a ride.
I ended up leaving about 15 minutes before closing and then the next section was that hot section again. This time I thought ahead and brought extra water bottles but it was 9am and already this hot?
Luckily once I got off the highway it cooled off. Off in the distance I started seeing lightening and I was hearing some loud thunder. I checked the weather and it said I was headed into some rain but that it would only last an hour. That’s not bad, it was still hot enough that rain would feel good. The thunder got louder and louder though until at one point there was a huge clap of thunder with the lightening very close by and at the exact same second my phone dinged to announce a text message. My first thought was “Kevin is texting to say seek shelter.” It seemed like the building storm was that bad. The text was from my wife who used to work for the Weather Channel and is a bit of a weather geek. She said there was a storm coming and I was headed right into it - the radar was all red. I asked how bad it was and she said it would be bad for a bit but not long - it was moving East to West and I was moving West to East. I changed the batteries in my headlights, put on my reflective gear, and put my rain jacket at the top of my bag. I finished right as the storm arrived. She wasn’t wrong - it was bad. The wind was strong and the rain was heavy. And then the rain turned cold and I started shivering. I stopped under a tree and put my rain jacket on. Luckily I was on a section with rolling hills so I was rolling down some nice hills through the storm and I got through it all in about 20 minutes. If she hadn’t texted I probably would have found a barn and hunkered down since previously I had seen the forecast that the storm would last an hour.
It wasn’t long after that when I reached the 2nd to last control. My foot began hurting again and I moved the cleat the rest of the way back which, again, fixed the problem. The last control was 45 miles away and for some reason I guess I was just too tired to do math. I had it in my head that it would take 6 hours to finish that last section. Eventually I saw that the closing time for the last control doesn’t even give 6 hours and it clicked that my math was way off. That gave me quite a bit of motivation and I worked out that it was possible to finish the ride before sunset if I really hurried. However, when I reached the last control more storms were coming in and 12mph winds had picked up. Any idea of time trialing 45 miles were out the window.
I continued on and soon the winds died. I had 30 miles to go and still time to finish before dark, if not technically before sunset. I put on some music and was hitting about 18mph. My Wahoo was showing great motivational text messages from Marcy like “go go go go”. Unfortunately my bluetooth headset died right as Black Sheep was explaining that we don’t punch girls or time clocks. The last couple miles were hillier than I remember from the way out so I finished slowly but I still finished!
I pulled into the hotel right at 8:59 for a total time of 38 hours and 59 minutes. The allowed time is 40 hours.
Finishing this ride allows me to register early for Paris Brest Paris, which will be next years goal!