This weekend I participated in the Rappahannock Rough Ride. It offers a number of alternatives – 33 and 58 mile road rides or 20 and 30 mile off-road efforts. Having ridden the short road ride last year, I came back this year for the longer road loop. While it was a lovely ride – all apple orchards and horse farms – I can’t say that it was among the better supported rides I’ve done this year.
So, what went wrong, and how could they improve it?
I am, of course, but one rider. What annoyed me may be welcomed by others. Keeping that in mind, here’s what made the ride less than great for me:
1) Closing Route 211 at the start. I found it a bit strange that the police closed a (1-2 mile) section of Route 211 while ride participants got moving. I know, what an ingrate, eh? I whine about not getting respect on the road, and then when the road is closed to cars, I complain! Really, though, I don’t think it was necessary or terribly helpful. First, the shoulders on Route 211 (at this point, anyway) are wider and smoother than the road that runs behind my own house. Even if you didn’t want to take a lane, you certainly could have put plenty of space between you and any cars. Second, closing the *entire* southbound side of 211 for the benefit of people on bikes was bound to piss off some drivers that we’d meet later in the day, on smaller roads. How to improve this in the future? Perhaps a cop on the entry/exit points to 211, with lights flashing to get drivers’ attention. If necessary, the left hand turn across 211 can be assisted by temporary stops by the cop on that end.
2) The rest stop support was pretty thin. The reason that many people pay to participate in a supported ride, instead of heading off on their own for the day is . . . support! Now, I know my tastes run different than most (I don’t like sweets, and I’d rather funnel a quart of Pepto-Bismol than ever taste lemon-lime Gatorade again), but I think they could do a bit better than bottled water, the aforementioned evil Gatorade flavor, orange slices, and Chex-mix bags. The century ride I did the week before was excellent – a broad range of fruits, salts, and proteins (hummus in pita bread!).
To top it off, by the time I got to the second rest stop at mile 43, they’d run out of Gatorade. This is not cool. When you head out to ride 60 miles on a sunny day in the upper 80s/low 90s, water is not enough. I’ve taken to carrying electrolytes (in pill form) with me this year, but I doubt anyone else behind me was doing that. My other complaint here was the wastefulness of it all – the water was all bottled, and it took ~1.5 bottles to fill up a standard 24 oz sports bottle that you carry on your bike. So, in addition to having a pile of plastic bottles building up all over the place, half of them were half full! C’mon, even if they couldn’t bring themselves to fill giant Coleman water coolers with a hose (you know, the water we all grew up on), they could have at least done that with the big 5 gallon jugs or something. I also noticed a lot of Chex-mix bags thrown away after a handful. Chex-mix is a great salt, but a whole bag (even the “single serving” size) is usually too much for a rest stop. Solution? Buy giant bags, dump it in a box, and let people scoop out a handful (with a ladle, if you want to pretend that we’re not already of questionable hygiene . . .). Does all of this seem petty? Perhaps it is. But I wouldn’t have focused on it if they didn’t do what leads me to my next item.
3) Don’t close up camp when you’ve got a good number of riders out on the course! If anything soured me, this was it. Admittedly, I started a bit late, and definitely finished near the back (if you’re reading this and think I’m blaming you . . . I am! ;)). But we certainly weren’t the last to start nor the last to finish. Yet not only had the last rest stop run out of Gatorade by the time we rolled through, but when I rolled back into the start/finish area, the organizers had packed up and gone. No post-ride water, food, nothing. And their absence made me wonder what the point of the ride sign-in/sign-out sheet was. Let’s do the math here a ~60 mile ride started at 10am. I arrived a little over 5 hours later, and they were gone. This means that they either 1) thought that a constant 12 mph pace on a recreational ride in hilly terrain was ridiculously slow, or 2) they didn’t care if they left the end of the ride out. While I’m normally lacking in sympathy for slow roll riders, I don’t think that at 12mph was at all an unreasonable pace (and that doesn’t even allow for stopping at the rest stops). Nor would the many riders who I passed on my way to the finish, either. In the future, I think they should junk the sign-in/out (really, were they going to go looking for anyone who didn’t sign out?), and either stick around a bit longer or announce that they’re packing it in by X o’clock.
So, what was good? Everything else. Met lots of friendly folks along the way. Sunny day (if a bit warm, near the end). Beautiful countryside. The course was well-marked (tho’ some of the arrows could use a bit of touchup . . .). And they did heed my complaint about the t-shirts last year – this year’s featured the their most excellent logo (at right).
Will I do it again? Probably not. The problems above aside, it’s an easy area for heading out on a self-supported ride (which I’ve done a couple of times, already). Would I recommend it to you? Sure. My issues are fixable, and the registration fee goes to a good cause. Otherwise, you can take the Rappahannock Rough Ride map here and fashion your own ride. If you do that, be nice and send them a donation.
Photos from the 2006 Rappahannock Rough Ride. Logo presumably copyright the Fauquier Free Clinic.