Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cap 2 Cap

As Richmond VA works to become a more bike friendly area, one of the coolest projects is a mixed use trail stretching the 55 miles from downtown Williamsburg – the original capital – to downtown Richmond – the current capital. This has been under construction for eight years and each of the past couple of years, there has been a fund raiser ride, called the Cap2Cap. (About 35 miles remains to be paved and all but one small section is currently under construction.)

The ride has expanded to four different distances. There’s a full century, a half century, and a quarter century, along with a short fun ride.  Rides begin at both ends of the trail and, oddly, don’t follow the trail at all.  Instead, they wind in big loops over local roads.

Let’s do the Half…..

MB and I signed up to ride the half century beginning in Richmond and sent in our entry fees a few months before. We also ordered event jerseys (another fundraising effort) so we could look like teammates.  (Really, it was for the fundraising. We noticed that about 25% of the participants had the jerseys on, though, so it looked kind of cool!)

Packet pickup at a brewery??? 
Why, yes, I think I will!

The organizers arranged for Friday night packet pickups at a local craft brewery, Hardywood Brewing. They’ve been open for almost two years and are growing very quickly. (Along with biking, Richmond is also becoming a craft beer town.  Coincidence? I think not!) Of course, you could get your packets on ride day and skip going to the brewery but why would you?

Good food, good beer, good times!
MB and I met at my office and road down together. There was a huge crowd due to: a) packet pickup, b) food trucks in the parking lot, c) beer, d) live music being played, e) all of the above. We parked several blocks away and walked back to enjoy e) all of the above.  We concentrated on the beer.

After hanging out for an hour or so, we headed home.

Off to ride

It always seems counterproductive to me to load up your bike and drive somewhere to take a ride.  But when the starting point is about 25 miles away, you need to do that.  So, we loaded up.

As I walked to our shed for the bike rack and bikes, it started to rain. Hard.  Really hard. My first thought was, “This is going to suck.” But by the time I’d gotten the rack out and started to attach it to the car, the rain had nearly stopped although it was still pretty overcast. The weather forecast wasn’t promising.

I went back inside and told MB that we might be in for a wet ride but it appeared to bother me more than her. (Yeah, I’m a wuss.)

We loaded up the bikes and the gear and headed to the starting point, a place called Rockett’s Landing. It’s an historic site right next to the James River that has made a remarkable comeback in the past 15 years as it went from abandoned, former manufacturing blight to a funky neighborhood with apartments and condos that have been created from old warehouses, coupled with some very old and historic homes.  It’s got a very cool vibe!

Just a small section of Rocketts Landing
By the time we found a parking spot, the clouds had broken up and the sun made an appearance. It suddenly looked like it might be a decent day! 

We rolled down near the starting area with about fifteen minutes to kill before the official start. I positioned us just behind a police car that I figured was going to be leading the pack for the first couple of miles; about 400 other cyclists were queued up about 100 meters further down under a start/finish tower. There was a large clock showing elapsed time from when the century riders had gone off an hour before.
All dressed up with 50 miles to go!
I get nervous in huge starts like that. There are a huge number of riders, in close formation, who rarely ride in groups. (Like me.) I get hinky because that’s a great place for a big pile up and I didn’t want to be the guy who needed to be “cleaned up on aisle 3!” That’s why I moved us up into a potentially safer spot.

Hizzoner the mayor was on hand and counted down the last ten seconds till the start. As I suspected, the police car began to pull out and we tucked in behind it completely out of the crowd during that first crazy few minutes.  The cop turned right, out onto the start of the route and we rolled on with MB setting the pace as we had agreed.

Rolling along

The first few miles had some rolling hills and the early adrenaline allowed us to hold a pretty good pace.  Other riders began to pass us within a half mile of the start but by then there was plenty of room for everyone.

I had never ridden on this, the eastern, side of town before. It turned out to be a delightful course with few hills, decent quality pavement, room to ride, and idyllic scenery.  Lots of old farm houses, some occasional new development / suburbia and reasonable traffic. I would venture to say that there were fewer cars than I usually encounter on the other side of town but it’s probably a toss up.

Around the 14 mile mark, we came upon the first SAG station. It was in a state park (whose name escapes me now) with decent rest rooms as well as the porta potties we all know and love.  Snacks were plentiful and we took advantage of these along with water refills.  All in, we were stopped for about fifteen minutes.  After a quick stretch, we headed off again.

Urban Bike Club

We were only a few minutes down the road when we were passed by a group of about 10 riders, all in their teens and kitted out in the uniform of the Richmond Cycling Corps.
I had read various articles about this group over the years. They use cycling as a platform for changing the lives of youth that live in housing projects in the Richmond area.  They’re headed up by a couple of very impressive guys, both really good cyclists with a heart.

This group of kids were all grinning and pedaling along, clearly enjoying the day’s ride. They also had their own camera person, a videographer who was riding on the back of a scooter recording the ride.  It was very cool!

Another mile or so up the road, we were passed by two more riders in the same outfits. One was a young team member. The other I recognized as one of the directors of the program. He had a hand on the little guy’s back and was helping him charge back up to join the rest of the team, evidently recovering from a mechanical of some kind.

Another Rest Stop

Around mile 28 we hit the second SAG stop, set up in the parking lot of a country convenience store.  There was clearly a big crowd on this ride as there were several hundred riders hanging around, catching a break. I was actually worried about getting snacks but we managed to grab a few cookies and refill our bottles before taking off again.

High Speed Limits, Limited Shoulders

The next section of the ride started along a two lane road that was fairly wide with a decent shoulder of about two feet.  The speed limit, almost immediately went from 45 to 55 mph, making me a little nervous.

In western Hanover, where I live and ride, this type of condition can be a little dicey.  If it’s a workday, drivers can get a little antsy about getting to work or wherever and may take more chances than a cyclist would like to see.  Since it was a weekend, I was less concerned but wary just the same.

We had traveled about half of the 7 miles that we were on this road when I saw a tractor trailer approaching from behind at a high rate of speed. I alerted MB to it and she hugged the edge of the road, along with the other five or six riders in our proximity. As the truck approached, it swung several feet over into the oncoming lane, passed all of us at once, and whipped back onto the correct side of the double yellow line missing the rider in front by about 10 feet or so (I expect it seemed much closer!) while avoiding a head on collision with a pickup truck by about 3 feet. 

The driver of the pickup truck blew his horn and gave a one finger salute to the tractor trailer driver who continued down the road.

We learned later that two Cap2Cap riders had been struck in a hit and run by a tractor trailer, somewhere behind us, on the same stretch of road at about the same time of day. I don’t know if it was the same driver or not and none of us got an ID on the truck. The two riders had to be Medivacced to the hospital with severe injuries. One was released a couple of days later but the other is still in the hospital, having lost a leg to amputation and with severe organ and tissue damage.

(As of today, VA State Police have identified the driver but there has been no announcement of charges or results of the investigation.)

I was glad when we finally made a left turn onto far less frightening pavement.

There was one other accident that passed about 5 miles from the end. This one didn’t have a motor vehicle involved, but a cyclist who appeared to have a pretty bad leg and head injury. She was being attended to by EMTs as we rolled past.

Last Stop

The last SAG stop was at another convenience store where we managed another quick snack, some cookies and fruit, and bottle refills.  While we were heading to our bikes, a local patron (who looked like an extra from Deliverance, frankly) admired our bikes and mentioned that he’d heard that people paid “a thousand dollars for some of them.”  I told him some folks would think that was a cheap bike.

"Y'all look good in them tight pants!"
He responded with, “I think I’ll just drive!” Then he laughed through his missing teeth and wandered off to his pickup truck.  Yessireebob!  (You have to wonder what it looks like when several hundred people, mostly middle aged, suddenly show up in a place like this and we’re all wearing brightly colored Spandex.  It’s got to be pretty weird!)

Kick it in, second wind

With about twelve miles or so to go, we headed off again. Long rides, for me anyway, always seem really long when I know that I’m within striking distance.  Those last five to ten miles seem to take forever.  This one was no exception.
The good news was that it was, except for one small climb at the end, nearly flat.  The bad news was that it turned into the wind the last five miles.  You know the old saying, “Hills make you stronger, the wind just makes you mad.”  It’s true.

MB and I switched off and on, taking the lead for several miles. A woman joined us in that for another couple of miles as we rode past the airport.  Then we rode downhill into this park like area that neither of us had seen before. It was glorious!

We turned onto another road, under a railway trestle, and then up a hill. I knew that we were close to the finish.  After slowly grinding out way up the hill, we spotted signs that looked familiar and we charged down a slight hill and turned back into the Rockett’s Landing area.  Another turn and we crossed the finish line in less than four hours.

It was time for BBQ, cold beer, and some bluegrass music by a local band before loading up the bikes and heading home. With that, MB completed her first half-century ride.  And is still talking to me!

Next up for me, the Tour de Cure century ride!  (Wherein, the old guy finally learns how to properly climb the Blue Ridge Mountains and lives to tell the tale.)

Happy with a beer and BBQ.


  1. Man, I hate hearing about a cyclist down. It happens though, doesn't it. Too bad.

    Rocketts Landing sounds like a warning of some sort. Those beat up old places that get revived are always cool, though. Especially when there is beer. You guys make a good-looking cycle couple.


  2. It does happen, and it just makes me sick to my stomach when it happens. Too often, it's preventable. I'm working very hard to bring bike safety to the forefront of drivers around here.

    Beer makes everything better or, as one local restaurant puts it, "Beer is the answer." It doesn't matter what the question is, apparently.

    You are too kind, TJ. I so married up! She's a beautiful person and makes me a much better man than I am alone. I'm stupidly lucky, my friend.

  3. I have to agree with tj. You guys are a good looking cycling couple! A tandem in your future??

    It distresses me to read of the truck vs bike incident. Especially the serious one. Head out in the morning on a charity ride to help out a cause and by the end of the day, fighting for your life having lost a leg. a sharp turn of life.

    Great ride report Brian and the beer at the end always fuels the last few miles!!