Friday, September 27, 2013

Heart of VA

Last weekend, MB and I got to ride in a wonderful event that is the only fundraiser for the Richmond Area Bike Associate – the Heart of VA Bike Festival.  Here’s a quick ride report!

The Seasons are a changing…

It seems that worst of the heat is behind us. I can’t complain, it was a relatively cool summer for Richmond. We had very few days where it got to 100 and the humidity wasn’t overbearing, either, most of the time.
Weather for this ride was over-the-top beautiful! The temperature was 50 at the start time and never got much above 76. Skies were mostly clear with a few, large puffy white clouds here and there. These temps have decided to stick around for a few weeks, too, and I’ve been enjoying my riding time whenever I can.

Pick a distance

We decided to do a metric half-century for this ride, one of the two shortest distances available. For those of you who are metrically challenged, that 50 kilometers or about 31 miles. There were plenty of folks riding the full century (100 miles) along with the metric century but I’d venture a guess that a third of participants rode our distance.

What’s great about this distance is that it’s short enough that nearly everyone can finish if you take your time, long enough to feel as if you’ve accomplished something and, most importantly, finishes just as lunch is being served at the after party!

The Start

The scheduled starting time was 9:00 am and we arrived in time to check in, unload, hit the rest room, and line up with the other 150 or so riders. We strategically stopped about two thirds of the way back through the field so we wouldn’t be leading the group at the start; I get nervous with all those riders in a pack, not knowing who can handle their bike and who can’t.

At the go signal, we headed out to the road, past a fife and drum team that was playing each group off at the start.  It was a really cool way to start the ride!

Sorry for the poor pic!

Speaking of Cool

I was bloody freezing! I had dressed for mid-day temperatures so 50 degrees felt very chilly as we headed down the road. The first couple of miles descended a long, slow grade that was almost entirely shaded and this coupled with 18 miles per hour had my goose bumps in full bloom. (At the start, we’d been in full sun and I wondered if it was going to feel this good all day. Yeah, no!)

Suddenly, MB sped up to about 25; I had to push hard to catch up to her wheel.  When I asked what she was doing, all I heard was, “I’m trying to get warm!” as she pounded the pedals. By the time we turned off the main road at the 2.5 mile mark, I was pretty sure we were leading the ride.

The ride wound along going in and out of the sun and we finally began to warm up.

That’s when the first hill appeared.

It wasn’t very long, probably half a kilometer or so, but it was steep. I kept up my normal rhythm and climbed nearly to the top when I realized that MB was no longer in my mirror. I pulled over and stopped to wait as a friend of mine crawled past saying, “This is a damn cruel way to wake up!”

After a couple of minutes, I spied MB walking her bike. She’d been unable to get into a comfortable gear in time and decided discretion was the better part of valor. We remounted our bikes and continued on, comfortably pulling up the rear, now.

Absolutely Gorgeous!

For the next hour and a quarter, we wound our way through two lane blacktop roads of several rural counties, passing cornfields, and pastures filled with livestock. It was so simple to just ride along enjoying the views, which were very pastoral, and taking advantage of the perfect weather. We chatted with each other and with other riders along the way.

At about the halfway point, we pulled into the SAG station to refill bottles and grab some snacks. Everyone seemed to have a smile on their face. It was as if we’d all gotten into someone’s stash and imbibed during the rides so that no one looked or acted grumpy. It was such a Zen day for all the riders that I’m guessing everyone would have gladly ridden farther than they’d initially signed up for, so that it wouldn’t end.

After the break, we remounted and headed off for the second half of the ride which was more of the same although one four mile stretch was the absolute frosting on the cake.

It began with a turn off a slightly busier road (we’d been on it for less than a quarter mile but more cars had passed than the rest of the ride combined) and wound back and forth before coming out of a grove of trees. The view opened to an expanse of farm fields, several miles across, with this two lane blacktop that we were riding, wandering back and forth for as far as you could see. It was a false flat so that the road and field rose up in front of us but the rise was so gradual that it didn’t feel like we were working very hard, at all.  There was a group of four of us riding together at this point, and we all kept talking about what a great sight it was; one of those amber-waves-of-grain moments that you see on a bike.

At the end of the last field, the road turned to the right and went back into trees and gently downhill. We coasted for about a half mile, hitting 30 mph with no effort before reaching flatter ground.  MB and I, both, had the same thought during that section, something like, “this is going to suck when we have to climb up the other side of this” but it never came.  Evidently, that long false flat had been the climb to get to this point. Road riding bliss!

On to the Finish

The rest of the ride had us winding our way back to the county seat of Hanover, passing some small houses and some poorer sections, too. This is eye opening to me as I never feel as if I see this part of life from inside a moving car. On a bike, though, it burns its way into my brain and I find myself wondering who those people are, what’s their story……

We made the last turn back onto the main road and into the courthouse complex, passing the tent that was setup for lunch. Nothing was being served yet so we headed to the car, hung the bikes and cleaned up in the restroom before sitting down to a delicious BBQ lunch….with cookies! There was also a five piece jazz band playing a soft groove while we ate. Nice finish to the ride!

Another Gran Fondo this way comes!

The Martin’s Tour of Richmond is scheduled for October 5th and features a 106 mile timed ride around the entire Richmond region, finishing at the Richmond International Raceway. There are also 66 and 30 mile rides available. What’s really cool this year is the organizers have taken feedback from last year’s participants and will be having the riders take a lap around the NASCAR track as a finish to the ride!

Look! It's a lap around a city!

The ride is slightly longer this year, by about 4 miles, due to some bridge renewal work that is taking place in Hanover county. I knew this was going to happen as it's on one of my regular routes; just the same, that extra 4 miles is not fun as it's adding another climb into the ride.  Dammit.

If you’re within a couple of hours of Richmond and like to ride a bike, I recommend you come join us. This is a terrific course, huge crowd is expected, the support is top notch with coverage from the law enforcement to keep it safe and there will be people applauding the riders all along the course. It’s just awesome!
I rode the century last year and plan to do so again although I’m not as prepared as I’d like to be; I’m jammed up with the work for the last two weeks before it and won’t get as much riding in as I’d like.  But, it doesn’t matter though.

I hear the weather forecast is for more perfect weather!

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