I believe the Rando Ramble for March is the only route Bob has designed that I haven’t ridden. The first time it came around for me I definitely wasn’t ready, or there was bad bad weather, I forget. Last year I had my mountain bike decked out with the heaviest studded tires on planet earth and was ready to give it a shot even though there was an inch of fresh snow on the ground. In that attempt the last I saw of the group was 200 yards from the start when they skipped the Gwynns Falls Trails section in lieu of the main roads. I made it as far as Ellicott City before turning back and transforming the ride into a ‘West-Baltimore-trails’ day. This year I was cautiously optimistic. The weather looked above freezing and the precipitation wasn’t supposed to start until the afternoon. Most importantly I’ve trained 4-6 days a week since January, ate clean aside from 2 occasions and lost over 25 pounds to help make the task of hill climbing a little less torturous. Sounds pretty good right? Well the only way I’d know is to wrestle myself out of bed at 5am, hit the pavement and find out.
Sunday morning came and that’s just what I did. Everything was laid out the night before so even with breakfast I was out of the house by 5:30. My plan was to leave the vehicle in Hampden with the hopes of hanging out at a local establishment after the ride for a drink or 2 and dinner. The best riding of the day for me was pre-dawn in Druid Hill Park and coming down the west side of the city on Monroe. The sun was just peeking over the horizon as I approached the starting point. Following Frederick rd. to Frederick is about as simple as it gets. My plan was to get ahead of the day since I’m permanently slow so I made a right when I got to Frederick rd. A bridge was out on Frederick near the Gwynns Falls — now I know why all the gps tools kept re-routing me when i was planning. There was a foot bridge so I was still good to go without a detour. Climbing towards Catonsville I saw Mike headed for the start. In my mind the clock started ticking and I figured I had about a 20 minute head start given where the rendezvous point was. I found out later that they left a little late and my lead was more like 30-35 minutes.
The first part of the day has some of the larger climbs and descents. I was fresh enough to remain mentally collected climbing into Catonsville and for the large climb through Ellicott City with nary a look-behind. A few miles west of the quick jog on route 40 through the tiny rollers that seem to go on forever was when I started wondering how I was doing. The little hills are the ones that really mess with my mind. I don’t get up any speed on the descents, and when I’m going up-down-up-down for 45 minutes I can’t really tell if there’s a net elevation gain or loss which really is the true test of how your performance is stacking up with the average speed. 7 miles out from the rest stop I was zoning out up a hill when P.J. caught me by surprise at the first moment I wasn’t expecting it. It’s kind of amazing how easily a cyclist can sneak up on me when I’d been training myself to only listen for the hum of a car approaching me from behind. They kept moving and were distant memories not 2 rollers later. Bob hung back and we talked for a little bit even though I didn’t have much to say.
At the Starbucks break, the plans were forming for the approach to Frederick. With the weather threatening to deteriorate in the afternoon, the group consensus was to bail on the brew pub or sit-down lunch and just grab a sandwich or some other quick food before hitting the road. Giving the way the morning went — me rolling out half an hour ahead of schedule, riding non-stop and still getting caught at mile 24 — that generally meant they’d be ready to saddle up just about the moment I arrived even though we were only maybe 15 miles out. Faced with the concept of riding alone along busy Frederick for 4o miles or riding alone along busy Frederick rd. for 70 miles I did the only thing my brain would let me do which was cut the ride short.
Good news is that my outlook improved after a venti latte and an amalgamation of other ‘bike snacks’. The 16 miles leading up to the break turned out to be a net elevation gain so even though there were rollers on the return trip they weren’t as soul-crushing and I didn’t have a true hill to climb until I got past Ellicott City and the Patapsco River again. Bad news was that what is normally my favorite part of west-side bike trips turned out to be frozen over and I spent most of it slowly walking after 2 or 3 failed attempts at pedaling slowly.
After 20 minutes or so of walking I finally came to a place in the trail that wasn’t hardpack snow or ice. I quickly cleared the slush and mud out of my fender with a stick, and the trip back through Catonsville went well. I love that nice wide boulevard (Edmonson?) compared with Frederick. When close to the Frederick rd. intersect I missed a turn but just took the next right and was back on course in 5 minutes. All that remained was to cut back across the grittiest part of the west side, up through mid-town and home. My cue was mapped to go up Maryland, but I took the extra street across to Charles so I could enjoy riding past the monument and Penn Station like olden times. The little downhill stretch before Penn was faster than usual and I was beating a sequence of red lights for about 5 blocks by 2 seconds. From there it was up Falls Rd., through the JFT switchback and within a half-mile of where I was parked. Not quite finished, I zig-zagged across Hampden and headed for my old neighborhood. After riding past my old house (they put up a fence but it still looks pretty much the same) I decided to go to Joe’s Bike Shop in Mount Washington and pick up a few essentials. As I climbed up Bellemore the drizzle turned into a steady rain. Back at Hopkins I stopped into the office to get some stuff from my desk, stretch for a few minutes, fill my water bottle, and be dry. There was a loose plan that I would ride around in Baltimore when I got back and possibly catch up with the guys upon their return. After I was out of the rain for 10 minutes all I wanted to do was stay out of the rain so I headed for the truck, cranked up the heat, threw the rando in the back and was on the road in about 2 minutes.
I was glad to get home, have a hot shower and put some dry clothes on. Got farther than last time. Maybe next year I’ll finally earn the beer.
Distance: 81.9mi | time: 7:22 | mv av: 11.1 | elev: 6578′