Four years ago, I interviewed 12 randonneurs from different parts of the country about randonneuring. One of the questions I asked them was, “What is your favorite distance of the Super Randonneur series (200, 300, 400, 600K) and why?”
With this year’s Super Randonneur series in full swing, I’ve been pondering this question again in my own mind and took a new look at their responses.
As I read through them, I think about how my brevet distance preferences have shifted over time and wonder what they would say today if I asked them what brevet distance is their favorite.
George S., Hudson Valley Randonneurs: My favorite distance within the SR series is the 600K. This event seems like a real, unalloyed adventure to me. I love the other distances too, but on a 600K, it feels like anything can happen. The challenge of how much or how little sleep one will need and riding at night are also thrilling components of a 600K.
Dan D., Great Lakes Randonneurs and Minnesota Randonneurs: First off, I have to say that any brevet is a good way to spend a day. However, my favorite distance in the Super Randonneur series is the 400K, directly contrary to conventional randonneuring wisdom.
I like the 400K because it packs almost every aspect of randonneuring into a one day package. A 400K invevitably includes several hours of night riding, numerous controls and the need to manage your food and liquids. Additionally, the time limits are generous enough that there is plenty of time for conversations and longish meal breaks with other riders.
Two of my wackier randonneuring memories come from 400Ks. On my first ever 400K in 2008, we ran into epic rains and flooding that caused numerous roads on or near the route to be washed away. A group of eight of us ended up spending the night in a Red Cross Shelter set up in church eating pizza and sleeping on the floor.
On another 400K, the group I was in noticed that a farmer on the route had set up a zip line in his front yard. By sheer luck the farmer was outside and invited us to give it a try. MG has referred to “necessary stops” in prior posts. At the time, a zip line adventure seemed like a necessary stop.
Barry B., D.C. Randonneurs: I like the 400K. The distance is challenging, and I can complete it without sleep.
Lynne, Oregon Randonneurs: I’d have to say the 200. More folks to ride with, and often at (for them) a more social pace.
I am not a fast rider, but I can ride a 200k with very little preparation and have a great time.
That said, the two 600s I’ve done have felt downright epic, and that is pretty cool, too.
Andrea, D.C. Randonneurs: Favorite distance of the series? Why, that’s like asking which is your favorite child!
Vélocia, San Francisco Randonneurs: I tend to enjoy the 200 and 300K distances the most. Somehow it seems like they’re more social and fun. The longer rides tend to be more serious with fewer new riders.
Joe B., D.C. and Pennsylvania Randonneurs: The 600K is the most interesting because a lot of it ridden at night. Nothing is better than a dog chasing you in the black of night. Talk about fear.
Katie, New Jersey Randonneurs: 200K’s, preferably flat ones with my stokerific friend “Jet-Pack Jon B Levitt (JPJBL)” on the back of Team Tandemator. Our goal is to complete rides under the “3 B” auspice; Biking, Brevets and BEER (stress on the last part).
My other favorite distance is the Fléche, if for no other reasons that I’m usually waaaayyyy out of shape and the weather is ridiculous to the point of being just absurd. Fléche experiences seem to make the best stories.
Rob H., San Francisco Randonneurs: I absolutely don’t have a favorite distance. Of course I’ve done more 200km rides than any other. SFR over the last two years has hosted 200km brevets nearly all through the calendar year and this complements the RUSA R12 award which a lot of riders shoot for, and it also appeals to all the newer riders that have been coming to SFR events in the last two years.
One of my favorite events though is the Fleche. I’ve ridden one of those in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011. I really love the team aspect of that ride, and the relaxed way we can complete the event. This year it rained on us for about 10 or 11 hours, but even that didn’t ruin the fun we had.
Chris N., New Jersey and Pennsylvania Randonneurs: I think my favorite distance is the one I have just successfully completed!
Actually, it would have to be the 200K. I have ridden so many of them now that I feel really comfortable and confident. I can usually sleep pretty well the night before the start. Most of them start at a reasonable hour, not at the god-awful hour of 4:00 am. In the summer months, a 200K can be completed in daylight. The distance is short enough that I can have fun and be quite relaxed but long enough to still present a challenge.
Joe P., Seattle Randonneurs: They are all good. A couple of my friends told me that it was good preparation for longer rides to be able to make 300s routine; it seems like good advice.
Bill B., D.C. Randonneurs: Hmm. That’s a hard question. I enjoy the 200K the most because it doesn’t require sleep deprivation or renting a hotel room and I can usually ride hard without bonking.
But I get the most satisfaction from the 600K because when I started randonneuring it seemed impossible to ride 375 miles in a weekend — and it still seems amazing.
Thanks again to everyone who dedicated their time and experience to the Rando Q&A series. As for me, my favorite distance changes.
When I first began randonneuring, I liked the 600K distance best because I felt it did not have the same sort of time pressures as on a 400K event. I saw the 600K as a physically intense weekend getaway into the country– two complete days of steady pedaling.
I then developed a preference for the 300K. I could watch the sunrise, spend a full day out riding, and generally finish before sunset. Sleep deprivation was minimal and recovery generally took a couple of days.
Around 2011, Felkerino and I surprised ourselves by finally shining on the 400K. We figured out how to ride effeciently and our bodies stood up well to the distance. I overcame my instinctive urge to want to stop riding when the sunset. Instead, I enjoyed pedaling into the evening, developed an appreciation for a good night ride, and found that Felkerino and I often had a surge of energy during the nocturnal hours.
This year, I’m not sure what I’ll find. What about you? Have a favorite brevet distance?
This weekend, Felkerino and I rode our first official brevet of 2015, the D.C. Randonneurs 300K out of Frederick, Maryland. I was feeling pretty lackluster about the whole thing, but the forecast indicated spectacular conditions, leaving us no excuses to skip out on a ride in the countryside with rando buddies.
My lack of winter cycling miles really has gotten into my head. As spring has popped all over the place, my urge to ride has returned, but too late for any brevet build-up.
The lapse in riding discipline means Felkerino and I are using the brevets to ride ourselves into brevet shape. I’m not sure what kind of sense there is to this method, but there you go. It makes brevets a little more mentally intimidating and physically difficult, but after yesterday’s 300K I’ve made some peace with that.
Even lacking ship-shape fitness, I knew from experience that Felkerino and I would finish, barring any major mechanical. After more than ten years of randonneuring together, I have finally found confidence in our abilities to pedal through a ride. There is also a familiarity with how these rides usually go, both when we are well-conditioned and when we’re gritting it out with rubbery legs.
The Frederick 300K course is front-loaded with climbing, and includes three significant climbs: through Catoctin Mountain State Park, a beast of a steep rise over Big Flat (not flat, NOT FLAT!), and a gentle but steady climb back over South Mountain. The final 60 or so miles of the 188-mile course are generally flat to rolling.
Not surprisingly, the climbs hurt, especially the segment over Big Flat. My knees yelled at me, which they seldom do on shorter brevet rides, and my recovery after the effort took longer than normal.
As we descended the other side of Big Flat to our second control at mile 71, my ego reminded me of how we had gone over that ascent in previous years. Less pain, more seated climbing, slightly faster. With more winter hills and miles, that climb would have had less lasting impact on my legs.
One of the key elements to randonneuring is accepting that time is always moving forward. We ride out into morning darkness. Oranges and yellows begin to rim the horizon, and eventually sunshine peeks over the mountains (if you’re lucky!). The sun gradually swoops up and over us as we ride.
As the sun glides through the sky, we urge ourselves forward to make the most of the daytime hours. Given that Felkerino’s and my lack of riding meant that we were moving a mile per hour or so slower than usual, we silently agreed to brief refueling stops throughout.
I carried extra pocket food, including a couple of sandwiches, to eliminate reliance on convenience store food. Sometimes eating junk from stores is a fun indulgence, but other times it leads to post-consumption regrets. [Insert post-convenient-store-consumption anecdotes here.]
Years of riding together have taught us that as long as we eat and drink properly, we’re fairly hardy. Our legs will eventually recover from hard climbing efforts and as the terrain lets up, we can move steadily. Based on our previous times on the Frederick 300K, I was hopeful we could complete our jaunt before the sun disappeared.
Conditions for this ride were extremely favorable, and reminded me that it is much easier to make progress when the sun shines all day and the temperatures are warm. You can just ride more energetically when weather goes your way.
Over the last year I’ve begun to see experience as a dear randonneur frenemy. It reassures me that Felkerino and I have a grasp on the tips and tricks of efficiency, nutrition, and how time passes on a ride.
But experience also conjures memories of the ways that off-season riding and improved cycling fitness pay dividends when it’s time to show and go on a brevet. It dispassionately warns of the physical discomfort you will likely endure if the requisite miles aren’t already in your legs.
We rode much of the day solo and eventually intersected with Patty, Dylan, and Roger in the last 40 or so miles. Their easy conversation increased my enjoyment of the day. I smiled and took a few photos.
We then grouped up with Paul D., Dieter, and Carol for the final twenty or so miles and again, time flew by in lively conversation. My body’s minor aches disappeared. Covering the distance of a brevet is always an accomplishment, but it is the social aspect– the opportunity to connect with new people and old rando buddies– that keeps me connected to the rando game.
At 7:05 p.m., we were done for the day, with sun still in the sky. My frenemy, experience, came through for us. I rewarded myself with a slice of pizza and control room conversation, and on the drive home, began anticipating the next brevet. Experience tells me I better bring my climbing legs.
Thanks to Mike for organizing, to the volunteers who helped, and to everybody who rode with us! Full set of pics from the day here.
The Written Ride, Voices In My Head. “In fact, there is a constant stream of little, flitting thoughts running through my head that really don’t amount to much at the end of the day. It is kind of like a dream state where the mind runs free and is not held accountable for its thoughts. Honestly, it is one of the great things about cycling.”
ARTCRANK @ Antennae. “Charles Youel, creator of ARTCRANK, recently came to Antenna to talk about his wildly successful poster show about bicycles.”
Tin Lizzie Rides Again, Into the Woods. “The implications of children not knowing the outdoors are well documented; you only need to spend a bit of time on the Children & Nature website to see some proof. But beyond the individual development of nature play, there is a greater concern that children who have no connection to nature will grow into adults who see no value in national parks, state parks and local green space.”
The Bicycle Story, Lauren Trout: The One Woman Show at Saila Bicycles. “There’s something appropriate about a relatively unknown frame builder working under the name Saila (that’s alias spelled backwards). But though she’s not a household name, Lauren Trout’s got nearly a decade of experience under her belt building some of the world’s nicest titanium bikes.”
This rose-tree is not made to bear The violet blue, nor lily fair, Nor the sweet mignionet: And if this tree were discontent, Or wished to change its natural bent, It all in vain would fret. —Mary Lamb, Envy
I know flowers to be funeral companions they make poisons and venoms and eat abandoned stone walls
I know flowers shine stronger than the sun their eclipse means the end of times
but I love flowers for their treachery their fragile bodies grace my imagination’s avenues without their presence my mind would be an unmarked grave. —Etal Adnan, from The Spring Flowers Own
here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
An open door says, “Come in.” A shut door says, “Who are you?” Shadows and ghosts go through shut doors. –Carl Sandburg, Doors
O, to take what we love inside, to carry within us an orchard, to eat not only the skin, but the shade, not only the sugar, but the days, to hold the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom. –Li-Young Lee, From Blossoms
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all – –Emily Dickinson, “Hope” is the thing with feathers –
I used to do a “Link Love” every so often. This feature is simply sharing some of the posts or articles I’ve recently read that I think might be enjoyed by Chasing Mailboxes readers.
Today I brought Link Love back with the gems that follow:
Endless Velo Love, Transportative Bicycle. “Bicycles are an interesting machine. They have the power to transport physically, emotionally and mentally. Such simple contraptions, yet if open to the experiences, utilizing one regularly can provide an overall sense of well-being.”
Tales From the Sharrows, Rides 4/6 mice. “At the cost of ten minutes (no cost, really) I went out of the way to see things I wouldn’t normally see and at the cost of ten minutes later in the day, I went back, but a different way still. Because I could. Bicycle commuting makes things possible.”
Bike Like Crazy, Not Without a Fight. “Winter, though, never surrenders. Today it summoned all the strength it could to cover the countryside in snow, knowing that the effort is in vain.”
When people see Felkerino’s and my bike, they often comment and ask us questions. These comments range from funny or insightful to head-shakingly odd or irritating.
One of the comments I’ve heard, not infrequently and only from the mouths of men, is some version of this, “How do you like your tandem? I’m thinking about getting a tandem for me and my wife/partner.”
Felkerino and I are wise to this question now and our immediate response is to ask if the person’s wife or partner rides. Nine times out of ten, this is what we hear in response:
“I like to ride, but my (wife, partner) doesn’t. So I’ve been thinking about getting a tandem.”
This comment used to roll off of me like water off a stoker’s back, but over time it’s seeped under my skin. If someone’s wife or partner doesn’t currently like to ride a bike, why would a tandem bike change that?
It also makes me feel that the person is somehow inferring that the reason I’m riding a bike is because I’m out with Felkerino on our tandem.
Further, just because a guy can get himself down the road without incident does not mean that he would make a good captain. Hmmm, perhaps I should start administering some kind of tandem captain suitability test.
I would love to see more women cyclists, but I don’t think that the purchase of a tandem is a gateway drug to regular riding for most people.
When I met Felkerino, I was already commuting regularly, had completed RAGBRAI (the cross-Iowa bike ride), participated in multiple century rides, and I was training for a flèche (a 24-hour ride of approximately 225 miles). I was a daily transportation and weekend sport touring rider when we first began riding together.
I’ve definitely done a lot more cycling since Felkerino and I started hanging out, but it isn’t because we bought a tandem. My life was going in that direction, anyway. In fact, it was one of my female cycling friends who encouraged me to ride more, showed me good bicycling routes in our area, and introduced me to randonneuring.
If somebody wishes his partner would ride, a more thought-out approach would be to find out why she doesn’t in the first place. Is it fear of traffic? Is she intimidated about bike maintenance? Does no one else in her social circles ride? Is the bike just not her thing?
Perhaps this tandem chatter is more male-driven wishful thinking than anything else, but to assume a tandem will make a person suddenly want to hop on a bicycle (and ride with their partner on it) seems misinformed to me.
Only in the rarest of cases will the simple attainment of a tandem convert a non-cyclist into a rider. More commonly, couples will end up making a big investment that ends up as an unrealized dream sitting in a shed somewhere gathering dust.