Sunrise cows

Melting Time Under the Moonlight

A self-confessed person of routine, I don’t stay out late and I don’t rise before the sun most days. I eat three meals a day, work Monday through Friday, and try to sleep seven to eight hours a night. I’m a huge fan of sleep.

Randonneuring appeals to my affinity for routine. I select the events I want to ride, put them on the calendar, and map out a loose training plan for the year. Fitness becomes an additional routine and life continues.

This weekend Felkerino and I rode a 1000K (625 miles) checkout ride for the D.C. Randonneurs and, for a brief moment in time, my daylight-driven routine life was thrown out the window.

The ride consumed us– three 200-plus mile rides in three days. Completing the overall distance within the time permitted, rather than starting after sunrise or stopping when darkness fell, became primary.

We had gone into the event with a plan– make the most of the daylight and focus on constant forward progress– but could not avoid riding many miles through the night.

Each evening, the sun set, and I would curse my inability to ride stronger and faster. The challenging terrain, increasing humidity, unexpected heat of the final day, a flat tire, and a rain squall conspired to make our overall pace slower than I wished. I had also set slightly unrealistic expectations for myself.

As if to help me through the night hours, the waxing crescent moon rose into the sky, painted in peach. The temperatures dropped from toasty to perfect.

Car traffic vanished. Everyone but us went home. We saw lights glimmering in farmhouses, but human life was practically invisible on the roads during the wee hours.

The overnight finish was still miles away, but with the sliver of moon by my side and Felkerino steering steadily in front of me and blocking the bugs, everything felt alright.

Night is a different world. Deer came out with their babies to feed and run about. Other small critters were as surprised to see us as we were them.

Little frogs, excited by the rainstorms on the final night, could be seen hopping across the roads. Our headlight lit up their curious, leaping bodies.

Time as I knew it melted away. There was no bedtime and there was no proper time to be indoors. We sliced our sleep hours in half, if not more. Our minds and bodies focused only on the next milestone of the ride.

I thought of the rare pleasure it is to enjoy a night ride on quiet roads with my real-life and randonneur spouse. Him and me, the moon and stars, wildlife, and the peaceful hum of evening.

Regular life seemed so far away and unimportant. It feels good to melt time every once in a while.

Quickbeam at Memorial Bridge

Things to Do During Your Taper

Ah, the taper. Time to back away from the long efforts, rest the legs, eat good meals, and ready for the big day.

What’s a person to do with all this new-found spare time?

Ensure the bike is in good working order. Is anything showing wear and tear? Are any weird sounds coming from the direction of your bike? What do the tires look like? How does the saddle feel?

Figure it out. Tune the bike up. Do some parts searching on the internet just because. Somehow end up looking at running skorts and shoes.

Obsess about your training. Review your training log over and over. Ask it to tell you its secrets. If you are not maintaining a training log, try to recreate one from memory.

Compare your current training log to training logs of the past. See how they match up. If they don’t, what happened to make them different? Try to do all the math associated with this exercise without a calculator. It makes it more intense.

Make lists! You’ll need a list of what you’ll wear on the event. How many days is it? Three? Okay, that’s three separate lists. But wait, you need one more list for those items that you’ll have with you all three days, like shoes and rain gear.

What clothes will you want to wear all day and into the evening hours? Your tried and true pieces. But you just purchased new shorts and want to see how the chamois holds up on a long ride. Should you put these on your list? You know what to do.

Another group of lists should be made to cover food and nutrition. Yes, there will be stops for food along the way, but it’s always good to carry some essentials with you. What will they be? Go to the store and buy them. Don’t try anything new. Don’t do it!

Stock up on baggies. Randonneurs love baggies. Small baggies are useful for protecting cue sheets from rain. You can carry food in a quart-size baggie. Gallon baggies are perfect for parsing out each day’s clothing. It’s all baggies, all the time.

Bag some sleep. Knowing that the hours of shut-eye will be reduced during your event, focus on going to bed a little earlier.

When you get into bed, think about how over the next few days you will not be able to get this kind of sleep. No pressure!  Can you practice sleep deprivation? I say no, but it’s thoughts like this that are keeping me awake at night.

Check the weather. Where does your event take place? Towns 1, 2, and 3? Perfect. Enter each of these towns into your favorite weather website every few hours. What does the forecast say now? How about now? And now?

Look at the event listserv or Facebook to see if anyone has said anything annoying or foreboding about the weather. Wonder why no one but you knows the rule about never talking about the weather.

Adjust your event clothing selection, as appropriate. Prepare for the worst. Buy more baggies.

Write blog posts about your taper. Instead of twiddling your thumbs wishing your were out riding, publish a blog post. After posting, edit it a few times and check regularly to see if anyone commented or liked what you wrote.

Make a music mix to inspire you. Every event needs a soundtrack. Who will write yours? As for me, I’m going through a retro phase so I choose this.

What’d I miss? Surely I missed something? Make me a list of what I missed!

Felkerino and me. Photo by Jerry

Preparing for a 1000K Brevet

After a summer of bicycling, the Appalachain Adventure 1000K is fast approaching, and Felkerino and I will be riding it.

Given that the Appalachian Adventure is a late summer affair, Felkerino and I maintained a pretty big base of mileage since finishing the Super Randonneur series with the D.C. Randonneurs.

Felkerino and cornfield

Despite not tracking my cycling miles, I still have a good sense of our weekend rides throughout the summer.

Our summer cycling consisted of a few back-to-back overnight trips of over a century to 200K each day, a 969-mile tour in the mountains of Colorado, and a 540-kilometer tune-up ride through Pennsylvania three weeks ago.

We tried to keep our mileage up while also conditioning our legs in hilly terrain. The Appalachian Adventure 1000K is not a flat ride.

I also maintained general fitness with weekday commutes, trips to the gym for strength training, and a solid running base (mostly because I have some fall events planned, not because of rando-fitness. Even so, running does help my cardio).


Over the two weeks since our 540K outing, we have been keeping the legs loose, but not putting in any more big efforts. At this point, it’s time to taper.

We have the miles we have and we now focus on being rested and mentally ready.  In looking at our previous years’ training for a ride of this distance, our training and our taper look fairly similar.

Other people have their own ways of preparing for the 1000K and 1200K distance, but this has been a formula that works for us.

We put in the miles over some challenging terrain while avoiding burnout. We managed our other life responsibilities more or less effectively, and maintained our enthusiasm for long-distance riding.

The big event awaits us.

Quickbeam and the Potomac-summer

Bicycle as Escape

I never seem to tire of writing about bicycles. I love talking about them, dreaming about my next bike trip, figuring out the perfect bike commute setup, pondering the ins and outs of randonneuring… you get the idea.

This love of riding bikes led me to start Chasing Mailboxes. I was searching for an outlet to write more creatively, compared to the technical writing and editing I do in my work, and wanted to focus on a topic that I felt passionately about, but was not overly intimate.

Chasing Mailboxes is a platform to diary the sensations experienced while cycling, These may include moments of discomfort, jubilation, frustration, or even self-doubt. It’s remarkable how the simple act of riding a bicycle can serve as a petri dish for so many physical and emotional states.

Most days I keep in mind that, as immediate and strong as my sentiments are, they are thoughts about bicycling, not anything more profound or grand than that.

This week that feels particularly true. As part of my regular life and work I follow the headlines and news of the day. The news this week has not been good. I won’t go into detail about it here, but if you read the news you know.

Sometimes my bicycle and the writing I do about bicycling are my way of escaping. Bicycling gives me an open road where I can contemplate freely as the breeze flows over my body.

The landscape distracts and the physical effort takes me inside myself which, in a way, is an escape from the sadness and pain in the world.

Maybe that’s cheating reality. I just wanted you to know.

Not a historic photo. Yet

“Bikes” All The Go: From 1904 to 2014

Two weeks ago, I attended “Pedaling Through History: A Look at Cycling Collections Across the Library of Congress,” a one-day exhibit at the Library of Congress. I learned about it via Rambling Rider so hat tip to her and all those fancy things people say.

Lady Cyclers

“Pedaling Through History” was a compact display full of ye olde treasure. Photos, illustrations, books, letters, sheet music, newspaper articles, trade publications, maps featuring bicycle-friendly routes, and movie clips  were some of the items shown.

As I walked by each area, I thought about how things in bicycling have changed over time. The debate between the safety bicycle and the high wheeler are over. Bicycle-specific maps and routes now exist for many parts of the United States and continue to evolve.

No longer is there a proper way for a lady to ride and gone are many of the articles about how important it is for a woman to dress and dismount a certain way on her bike.

Pedaling through history 1

Of course, now we have articles that still offer fashion tips for the fashion-conscious, but these are less about “what a proper lady should do” and more about functional fashion on the bike, or practical clothing choices that aren’t lycra or kit.

Other parts of the cycling world have not changed much over time– or maybe they’ve come full circle. I skimmed a book from 1885, titled Amateur Bicycle Repairing, Or, Every Rider His Own Repairer, about (you guessed it) bike repair and maintenance.

Any book where repair techniques include the use of spirit lamps and fire is one I want to read.

When I initially posted this photo from Amateur Bicycle Repairing, some wondered if the man was holding a flask or a horn. Both are handy when doing your own repairing, certainly, but I believe it is a horn.

Pedaling through History

The exhibit featured a letter from one of the Wright brothers to his sister (I think) that was essentially a ride report. He even included some basic drawings to illustrate the ride’s hills. Perhaps the Wrights would have maintained a blog of their adventures if they had lived in 2014.

Wright Brothers letter

The item that most struck me by its similarity to today was a article in The Minneapolis Journal from April, 1904. Below is an excerpt from it:

That a bicycle is a convenience none can deny.

For instance, you can take a man who lives forty or fifty blocks from his work, if he is fortunate enough to catch a car right away, it will take at least thirty minutes to get home on a car, and the cances are that he will be obliged to stand up and hang on to a strap, or if he is lucky enough to get a seat, he is walked over and crowded to death, and has to pay for these privileges besides.

For instance, you can take a man who lives forty or fifty blocks from his work, if he is fortunate enough to catch a car right away, it will take at least thirty minutes to get home on a car, and the cances are that he will be obliged to stand up and hang on to a strap, or if he is lucky enough to get a seat, he is walked over and crowded to death, and has to pay for these privileges besides.

With a wheel it is no trouble at all to cover forty of fifty blocks in twenty minutes and have plenty of fresh air and the outdoor exercise which is very essential, especially if he works in an office bent over a desk all day. These are the very things that have set the people to thinking.

–“Bicycles Are to Be in Popular Favor This Year.” The Minneapolis Journal. April 9, 1904

If this article ran today, no doubt there would be comparisons to cars in addition to, or perhaps instead of, commuting by train. It even includes a paragraph about the importance of bike infrastructure and the number of bicycle paths in the city. In many ways, it is quite similar to a piece that would be written today.

Bikes are practical and pleasant to ride.

Bicycles are here to stay.

Bike-friendly infrastructure is still important.

Bike commuting combines transportation with exercise.

Bicycling is good for you.

Bicycles help create healthier cities.

Bicycles make for good stories.

I’m grateful to the Library of Congress for hosting this event. It opened my eyes to our rich bicycling history and reminded me of the ways cars changed our country’s perceptions and use of bicycles, as well as our infrastructure.

Bicycle Built for Two

“Pedaling Through History” also surprised me in the ways that our conversations have come back around about bicycling. It only took a century.

Not a historic photo. Yet
Not a historic photo. Yet

Like the Col. Horace Park of Amateur Bicycle Repairing wrote in 1885:

Bicycle riding as a pastime, as well as a physical exercise, combining business with pleasure, is here to stay.

Well said, sir.

Felkerino and Lane, crossing the closed road

The Wonder of the “Road Closed.” Detours by Bike

Summer is a busy time for road construction. Road repairs may reduce traffic to one lane, and in some cases may cause a temporary road closure. With those road closures come detours.


Road Closed. Photo by Felkerino
Road Closed. Photo by Felkerino

When I see a “Detour” sign during a ride, two thoughts pop into my head.

  • Is it really a detour? That is, can a tandem or single bicycle pass through even though a car cannot.
  • If the road really is closed, how many extra miles of riding does this mean?

Detour on Montevideo Road. A true skills test
2013 Detour on Montevideo Road. A true skills test

There are a couple of ways that road detours are laid out signage-wise.

  1. The detour sign is in close proximity to (say between a 1/4 mile to 1 mile) where the supposed road closure is.
  2. The detour sign is in one place, but the actual closure causing the detour is a couple of miles down the road.

I much prefer the detours where the road closure is close to the detour sign. That makes it easy for you or one of your riding friends to scout it out, without feeling like you might be wasting time and energy.

Jerry passes the skills test
Jerry passes the skills test

Detour setups where the road closure is three to four miles up the road are another matter. They’re a gamble. You could ride the three to four miles and it may be passable, but if it isn’t then you just rode 6-8 miles extra. For nothing!

road closed. detour
The road was closed here, but the sidewalk worked fine.

On the other hand, you might get lucky and end up with zero bonus miles.

Road closed near Harper's Ferry. The bikes fit just right here
Road closed near Harper’s Ferry. The bikes fit just right here

A passable detour takes many forms. It may mean slipping through on a strip of pavement that would not accommodate a car, but easily fits a bike.

We are going to cross this. It was okay.
We are going to cross this. It was okay.

Recently, we crossed a bunch of road covered in rebar. As a person who doesn’t always trust their footing, this no-detour detour was pretty much at my skills limit.

Sometimes we see detours where a single bike can pass through fairly easily, but the extra length of our tandem makes it impossible for us.

A serious detour in West Virginia
A serious detour in West Virginia
We tried to get around it, but alas, no go.
We tried to get around it, but alas, no go. Maybe Lane could have made it, but not us.
And so we had to backtrack to where we started.
And so we had to backtrack to where we started.

It’s frustrating to have to take the roundabout way, especially if it means more than four or five miles of extra riding, so I will always lean toward checking out the detour rather than blindly going around.

More than half the time, Felkerino and I have found that there is a way for our bike to get through. As for the other times, it’s good to have the GPS to see if there’s an on-the-fly re-route that may work better than the specified detour.

Truly a road closed on this washed out road/detour


What about you? Do you take the detour or will you see if you can ride through?



More Tandems at Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

After digging through the photos archives, I discovered more tandem shots worth sharing from the last edition of PBP. That is, they are not hopelessly blurry or otherwise terrible. Perhaps you will even recognize some of the randonneurs.

Tandem, with the triplet in hot pursuit
Tandem, with the triplet in hot pursuit. Photo by Felkerino
LOOK tandem. Look mom, no hands
LOOK tandem. Look mom, no hands
We saw one of these teams previously, but this time they are on Felkerino's side.
We saw one of these teams yesterday, but this time it’s on Felkerino’s side.
Tandem trike leans in on the turn. Courtesy of Felkerino
Tandem trike leans in on the turn. Courtesy of Felkerino
Courtesy of Felkerino
Streaming by. Courtesy of Felkerino
RUSA riders. I think Bill S. from New York is in the left of this shot. Courtesy of Felkerino
RUSA riders. Also, Bill S. from New York is on the handcycle to the far left. Courtesy of Felkerino
Japanese tandem team. Courtesy of Felkerino
Waving to the camera. Courtesy of Felkerino
Tandem descending Roc Travezel
Tandem descending Roc Travezel

A few of today’s photos are different views of riders featured in the previous PBP tandem post. Others feature new faces and bikes. Most are courtesy of Felkerino’s collection. Thanks, Felkerino!

As before, if you know the bikes or names of the riders, please let me know!


Tandem Bicycles at Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

Events like Paris-Brest-Paris are difficult to unbox all at once. Some aspects can be, such as the immediacy of the ride experience and the emotions and physical states experienced.

Felkerino and me, bike inspection

Others take time to absorb and appreciate especially when, for many of us, PBP occupies a small space in between a flurry of other activities and responsibilities. It also happens after an intense period spent building our stamina through longer rides, including a full brevet series and summer training.

Ron and Barb, PA Randonneurs, on their purple Burley
Ron and Barb, PA Randonneurs, ready for the 90-hour start with their purple Burley

Because PBP is yet again peering around the bend– 2015!– I’ve been revisiting my first trip to this great event. Today takes me back to the 90-hour start, which began around 6 p.m. The “special bikes”– such as tandems, recumbents, and velomobiles– launched first.

Back to back recumbent tandem. They took the 84-hour start.
Back to back recumbent tandem. They took the 84-hour start.
Back to back tandem in action. Photo by Felkerino
Back to back tandem in action. Everywhere they went people wanted to take their picture. Photo by Felkerino

This was also true of the 84-hour start, where Felkerino and I were one of only three tandems among the special bikes.

Cannondale tandem. They took the 84-hour start
Cannondale tandem. They took the 84-hour start

This was not the case for the 90-hour group. Dozens of tandems lined up. According to the PBP-2011 results, 42 tandems (84 riders) were part of the PBP field.

Look tandem, returning from bike inspection
LOOK tandem, returning from bike inspection

90-hour start. Tandem

Triplet! Photo by Felkerino
Triplet! Photo by Felkerino

What a sight, all of these diverse bicycles in one place. Big multi-day events like RAGBRAI have their share, but many of them are not tested randonneuring machines, like the ones you see on PBP.

Hey, I know you! John and Cindy ride by on their Co-Motion
Hey, I know you! John and Cindy ride by on their Co-Motion

PBP tandem start

My head spun like crazy, trying to get a look at all the bikes while I dealt with my own nerves and excitement about our upcoming day’s ride. (Unlike the 90-hour riders who started in the early evening, the 84-hour riders did not clip in until 5 a.m. the following day.)

PBP tandem and recumbent
Tandem trike and matching pink caps.
Tandem trike and matching pink caps. Mark & Arabella.

It wasn’t just the riders and tandems from all parts of the world, but the luggage used for the journey. From panniers to Berthoud bags, it covered a wide range of choices.

We saw some builders that were familiar– Co-Motion, Cannondale, Bilenky– but many of the tandems that flew past were not any I had seen before.

PBP start

Another interesting aspect to PBP is that it does not require riders to wear helmets. I’m not saying that for any other reason than it is not something that would happen on a domestic randonneuring event or even most organized rides. It gives the riders a different look than I’m used to seeing.

Bilenky tandem. I believe these are PA Randonneurs, and were honeymooning on PBP.
Patrick and Cecilie from Philadelphia on their Bilenky tandem. I believe they were honeymooning on PBP.
Another shot of the Bilenky, this time from Felkerino's side
Another shot of the Bilenky, this time from Felkerino’s side
PBP tandem
Brouchard tandem at a controle
PBP tandems at the start
Sonya and Colin (left) with a team from VC167 (right)

I hope you enjoyed this PBP 2011 Throwback Thursday, Tandem Style. Yes, I said Throwback Thursday. Oh, and please let me know if you recognize any of the bikes (and/or riders) in the pics.


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