Sweet Onion 600k
After the 200k, 300k, and 400k this was the last Brevet needed to complete the series and finalize registration for Paris Brest Paris. Going into it, I felt ready physically. I paid for Strava’s “Fitness & Freshness” tools and it said I was stronger than before last years’ 600k. Last year, after the 400k, my foot was hurt and I wasn’t able to do any riding for the entire month between the 400 and 600. This year the two events were closer together and I was able to do a solo 100k in between.
My main concern was failing because of a mechanical or medical issue. With so much time and money invested in Paris I was ready for registration to be finished! Marcy and I are leaving for our anniversary trip to Vegas next week and I’ll be renting a bike there. I was hoping the rides I’d do there would be a nice celebration of meeting that registration goal, but going into this ride I was very nervous.
I’ve been working with Jeff at Suwanee Creek Bikes to make sure the bike was ready. On the 300 and 400 we had some wheel issues. He re-tightened both wheels and I did a solo 100 to test it out. We had done a bike fitting earlier in the year and everything seemed really dialed in.
Saturday morning I woke up and made the drive from home to Athens. The weather forecast looked great. Low 50s at the start warming up to 80 during the day, low 60s overnight and then the same on Sunday. There were 7 of us starting. 4 locals: Me, Dick, Betty Jean, and Graham. One guy, Paul, from Colorado, and two guys from Michigan - I never got their names.
We all stayed together, pretty much, for the first two controls, which were pretty close together. By the third control we had started spreading out. Betty Jean, Graham, Dick, and Paul were at the front, the Michigan two were at the back, and I was in the middle. We weren’t separated by much though.
Control 3 was an open control, meaning you could go to any store in the city (Eatonton) and just had to get a receipt proving you were there. McDonalds was the suggested store but Betty Jean had given us a tip to go next door to a Mexican market. I headed there and the other 4 were just finishing up. Her recommendation was great, I got a fresh piece of cake and a Mexican soda.
The next stage was long. I really prefer the shorter stages as it breaks up the day. This one, though, was 139km. About halfway through I was feeling pretty depressed. I had hit a wall and was just in a low place, mentally. It was hot and there wasn’t much relief from the sun either from clouds or trees.
I wanted to find a church porch to rest on, something with shade. I had food on me, just no where to relax and eat it. I was surrounded by big farm fields though, I hadn’t seen a farm in hours and didn’t think I’d see one for a long time. Literally 2 minutes after I had that thought I saw a yellow traffic sign that said “Church”. It had a porch, with an awning for shade, and it even faced North so it was nice and cool. I sat, drank some water, ate some Fritos, and texted Marcy.
As I sat, the two Michigan riders passed by.
Back on the road and 20 minutes later my mood improved 100%. It was still hot (and windy, ugh, the wind), but I was having fun.
I stopped and had some ice cream.
I missed a turn (luckily my Wahoo told me immediately) but in the process of turning around I noticed this bridge
It had dozens of these turtles under it!
Eventually the long stage ended and the control was in Dublin. Like everyone else, I had gotten a room at the Red Carpet in but I decided not to check in. Everyone else was checking in and then would get some sleep on the way back. I was hoping to just ride through.
I went to Huddle House and had some eggs, a waffle, hashbrowns, toast, biscuits and gravy, and a bit of soda. Then I went to the gas station next door and bought some cheese crackers, chips, and water.
The next stage was 70k to Vidalia. The sun set right as I set off and, at the same time, I swear everyone told their dog to go outside and start chasing cyclists. About an hour away from Vidalia the lead group passed me on their way back which put them two hours ahead. I never saw the Michigan riders, I don’t know if they slept at the 300k point or if they got a hotel in Vidalia or what.
In Vadalia I got some nuggets from McDonald’s and then the course turns around - this is the halfway point. So it’s 70k back to Dublin. About halfway back I started getting sleepy. I still felt good - sprits were high, body felt good - but I was doubting my ability to do another 350k without any sleep.
I was bit ahead of schedule so I decided to get 2 hours of sleep. I got to the hotel at 3:30. It took a little while to wake up the lady at the counter but my head hit the pillow at 4am and I was asleep by 4:01. I woke up at 6am and I was on the road at 6:30.
So 2 hours of sleep for a 3 hour stop. Not great, but I think in Paris, when I won’t have to deal with a hotel, I can do that a lot quicker.
I didn’t eat nearly enough before going to sleep so I woke up a bit nauseous, probably from an empty stomach. I started munching on the cheese crackers I had bought in Dublin way back at dinner the day before and started feeling much better.
Unfortunately, I was, once again, back on that 139km stage - just going back the other way. Also, the forecast for Sunday turned out to be really off. It was not a nice sunny 72° day. It was cold, and raining, and very very windy.
My spirits were still high, but I was very aware that this was going to be a long day. I had originally hoped to finish before sunrise. I had even entertained the thought that I might finish by 6pm and be home for a late dinner. But, with this wind, I was looking at a 9pm finish now.
In the meantime though, there was a Huddle House a couple hours away and I hadn’t had breakfast. The closer I got the more I was craving it. Until about 20 minutes before I got there I realized it was Sunday morning and the place was probably full from the church crowd. Sure enough, when I got there every parking spot was full. I didn’t even try to see if they had any tables. I just went across the street to a gas station.
I saw a bike out front and at first thought some local idiot was out riding his bike in the wind and rain but then recognized that it was Dick’s bike! He was abandoning due to the hills. He isn’t attempting to qualify for Paris so no sense in killing himself like the rest of us.
But he did let me know that the gas station had a little cafe in the back! I got some chicken, Mac and Cheese, a soda, and a corn dog.
Dick told me that their group of four left at 6:20, which means I only left 10 minutes after they did! I wasn’t nearly as far behind as I thought. And then, right as I was leaving the two Michigan riders pulled into the Huddle House. I didn’t even know they were behind me.
The wind did die down a bit and eventually the crazy long stage ended. I passed the same church that I stopped at on the way in and I couldn’t resist stopping again for a breather. Their parking lot is gravel and this time something punctured my tire as I rolled through it. I heard that awful sound of air escaping but then the wonderful sound of a tubeless tire automatically fixing itself!
It did, however, make a mess of my bike by spraying glue everywhere.
But I was ecstatic that I didn’t have to deal with a flat. As I was checking this out one of the Michigan riders passed by. I didn’t see him again for the rest of the ride.
I quickly got back on the road, I wanted to see if the tire would continue to hold air. I’ve never had a tubeless “flat” before. Luckily, it did. I’ll have to bring Jeff a 6 pack of beer. He really saved my there.
The end of the stage was a climb into Eatonton. Tons of long slow climbs that brought my average speed for the stage down to 15 kph. My math isn’t great after 30 hours on the bike but my mental calculations were that if I continued on at this speed I would finish exactly at 10pm, the cut off time for the ride. However, I needed to stop and eat. Preferably a real sit down meal. So anytime spent stopping and eating would put me over the limit and I’d be disqualified.
The second rider from Michigan caught up to me towards the end and we rode, well, not together, but near each other on the final climbs in. Apparently he had done the math as well and was equally as nervous as I was. It was crazy to think that after all this time we might not actually meet the cut off time. Ugh, and then in order to get to Paris I’d have to do this all over again. I don’t even know when the cut off date is for registration!
I thought the control was at a McDonald’s so I had been craving a couple cheeseburgers but it turns out it was at a gas station. The other rider decided not to eat at all. He grabbed a water and immediately left saying he was too concerned about 10pm. I told him ‘good luck’ but that I had to eat. I bought some water, a Coke, some cookies, a chocolate milk, and some popcorn. Chocolate milk is an easy source of calories so I figured that would help quickly. I ate maybe 25% of the popcorn, filled one of my water bottles with the Coke, and the put the cookies in my front bag so I could eat them while riding. I was able to do almost all of this while sitting so I got a bit of a rest. It took maybe 10 minutes so I don’t think it was too much of a gamble.
The next stage was only 47 km. I managed to average 19 km. It again ended at a gas station. They said the other rider just left 10 minutes ago so he was doing the same speed. I grabbed another Coke and pack of cookies, put on my reflective gear since the sun would set soon, and set out.
Just one last stage to go - 41 km. (What the heck… this stupid 600k is actually 622 km.)
The sun was getting lower and I had really hoped to finish before sunset, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Still, the sunset ended up being gorgeous. I wasn’t able to get a photo but the sky was a deep, deep purple and perfectly backlit this old farm.
For the last section I averaged over 20 kph. For the last half hour Marcy kept texting encouraging messages. My Wahoo shows the text of the message for a few seconds and it’s incredibly motivating. I flew through that last half hour because of those messages.
I finished at 9:16 pm - 39 hours and 16 minutes total time. Longer than last year’s 600, but also a longer distance so this one was a bit quicker. And now, once the results are sent to the ACP I’m all registered for Paris! My goal until August will be to increase speed and climbing ability. I definitely don’t want to be finishing PBP this close to the cut off time.