Mason English Department Chair's Challenge: 224 miles, 24 hours!

We made it!  But just barely.  Although we were only required to ride 224 miles in 24 hours, we planned to go 229 miles to the Key Bridge Marriot.  In the end, we "controlled" (randonneur languge for having your presence documented at a particular place and time) at the same 7-11 in Falls Church where we began.  We had just enough miles at 24 hours into the ride.
We started out strong, with beautiful warm weather and had a lovely ride paralleling the Potomac on the Maryland side--only a flat tire slowed us down a bit.  The weather continued good until outside of Martinsburg, WV, when a powerful thunderstorm came through--the winds must have been 50 mph (it had been getting steadily windier and cloudier all afternoon).  Fortunately, a very nice family invited us into their house, where we waited out the storm. 
Because of a steady headwind, the rain delay, and a number of long climbs, we got into Berkeley Springs, WV about three hours later than we were hoping to.   Still, we had a good time in Berkeley Springs, where we met English Department colleague Dean Tacuich for dinner at a place called the Earthdog Cafe, which had just the right kind of food for hungry bikers--hamburgers, hot dogs, and lots of French fries.   (We also ran into Department colleague Deb Shutika.  Small world.)
By the time we left Berkeley Springs night was beginning to fall--and so was a lot more rain.  We road through the next storm, which was not as powerful as the previous one, and then it rained a good deal for the next few hours. We were heading for Winchester, VA.  Our first miles to Winchester were quite pleasant along a road that climbed steadily, but not very steeply, out of Berkeley Springs.  But then--it was now about 9 pm--we got to what my Team Captain, who planned our route, had made the heart of the trip, a ride through Shanghai, WV.
The approach to Shanghai took us up an extremely steep ascent--and up, and up.  I can't say how many miles, but it went on and on.  And because we just had our bike lights, we couldn't see the end.  I fell behind the other three riders, and found myself alone on the most isolated and difficult part of the trip, with the rain continuing to fall, and the temperature becoming much cooler as I climbed.  The wind was absolutely roaring through the trees.  It was at this point that I decided this trip was a lot like writing a dissertation--you just keep going.  I was working very hard climbing the hill, and getting chilled at the same time: it wasn't pleasant.  Finally, I saw the lights of my riding partners, who were stopped because one of our team member's handlebars broke.  While he resourcefully fixed them by making a splint with a stray piece of straight metal and duct tape (!), I got into warm clothes.
By the time we made it to our control point, a convenience store in Shanghai where we were supposed to have our time and presence documented, the store had closed.  There being no other businesses in Shanghai, we pondered what to do.  Finally, we took pictures of ourselves at the store.  All of this lost us more time.  We did not resume riding until about 10:15 pm.
Because we were running so late, we decided to take an easier route to Winchester, along Route 11.  It wasn't too busy, and it was blessedly flat compared to some of the smaller roads we had been riding on.  Also, we finally had some tailwind.  Nonetheless, we did not get into our Winchester control until 1:00 am. 
We had less than six hours to go by the time we left the control, and still about 70 miles left.  Our Team Captain suggested we again take an easier main road--this time, Route 7.  We lost more time, though, because we got lost in Winchester trying to find 7.  We ended up in a residential subdevelopment where we got our second flat.  By now it must have been 2:00 am, and since there were three other riders working on the flat, I thought I could help the team most by lying on the sidewalk, and, using my bike helmet for a pillow, taking a quick nap.  At least as we turned directly east we had a strong wind at our backs, our reward for enduring the same wind out of the west on the first half of the ride.
Our next challenge was Snickersville gap, a long climb through the last of the mountains before hitting the piedmont.  It was indeed a slog, though the descent on the other side was very welcome.  Still, at 4:00 am in the sleepy dark, the descent was also scary, as was our continued trip to Leesburg on Route 7.  My Team Captain was determined to finish the ride in the required time.  I was skeptical and ready to take a nice trip down the Washington and Old Dominion bike trail even if we did not (our original plan was to get on the trail at its start in Purceville, where we had a control).  He was right--against all odds we finished successfully--but it involved some hairy riding on 7 where that road is like an interstate highway.  The cars and trucks were blowing by me.  Worse, I was feeling woozy with many miles and lack of sleep--not the best condition to be riding on a busy highway.
I passed a sign at about 5:30 am that said "Falls Church 21 miles" and I thought, and thought, "this is crazy."  I had not known we could adjust our endpoint; I believed we had to make it to Falls Church and then on to the Marriott in Arlington.  But even 21 miles in an hour and half at this point seemed impossible, no matter how hard the tailwind (I don't think it was as strong as the headwind we fought on the way out, but that feeling may be human nature).
The skies were brightening as we headed into Tyrson's Corner (still on 7) and for the last effort to the 7-11.  Our time in was 7:05.  Apparently, you get a five-minute break on your time, so that was okay. 
At the ride's end I thought:  once is enough.  But twelve hours later, I've found myself thinking about how, if I did this again, I could do things better.