Category Archives: Randonneuring

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 I wanted to focus my blog on a topic that I felt passionately about, but was not overly intimate.

Chasing Mailboxes is a platform for me to diary the sensations I experience while cycling, These may include moments of physical 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 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 while 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.

I just wanted you to know that.

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.


Kit’n Kish 540K: Good Honest Pennsylvania Countryside

Working the fields in Pennsylvania
Working the fields in Pennsylvania

To complete our final mileage build before tapering for the upcoming Appalachian Adventure 1000K, Felkerino and I set out with our friend Jerry to ride an abbreviated version of Crista B.’s Kit’n Kish 600K Permanent, which she describes as follows:

Very challenging route north through the mountains of central Pennsylvania, with spectacular scenery. “High”lights include climbs over Catoctin, South Mountain, Kittatinny Mountain, Tuscarora Mountain, Blacklog Mountain, Stone Creek Ridge, Stone Mountain and Blue Mountain.

Some other points of interest include the Michaux State Forest, Greenwood Furnace State Park, the Kishacoquillas Valley, the Juniata River, Tuscarora State Forest, and the Children’s Lake in lovely Boiling Springs.

For a more detailed look at the route, see the Ride With GPS route here.

Kit'n Kish GPS

Felkerino, Jerry, and I agreed to a shorter 540K version (336 miles) of the ride, riding 192 miles on Day 1 and 144 miles on Day 2. This lopped off the flat to rolling stretch between Frederick and Thurmont, Maryland, and positioned us at the base of the first climb of the day. Perfect.

To really work the climbing legs, we’ve found it works best to put the bike on the car and head directly to the mountains. Good rides can be had from home, but to tackle big hills and reduce the frequent stop and go traffic flow, away from the city is best.

Felkerino and me. Photo by Jerry

Originally, Felkerino and I planned to ride further south and cover roads near the Blue Ridge. However, the weekend forecast pushed us north and into new-to-me parts of Pennsylvania.

We exchanged large manicured horse farms for “good honest countryside,” as Jerry put it. We clawed our way over one spiky hill after another, and spent many miles drifting through the mountainside, bike and body responding deftly to our every push. It was awesome.


Weather was close to ideal. The sun kept us toasty (making the shaded climbing segments a pleasant reprieve). It descended in a small burst of fiery red, and the moon (a supermoon!) lit the way for us in the evening hours. Tall ripe cornfields flanked many roadsides.

As we rode quiet Pennsylvania country roads toward Greenwood Furnace the first night, we passed families in horse-driven buggies returning from their evening activities. The clip-clop sounds of the horses’ gaits and the moon’s bright company helped me savor the evening miles. Hardly a car passed.

Tall corn here
Tall corn here

The combination of easy company, a beautiful route over unfamiliar roads, the gorgeous moon and sun, and the delicious summer weather left me feeling like this ride was a gift. A difficult gift, but one I was lucky to receive.

It was also a confidence-builder. I needed to tackle a difficult ride with steady hills to feel mentally and physically ready for what we will be doing next. I needed to reacquaint myself with arriving in darkness to the overnight stop and hauling myself out of bed the next morning before the sunrise.

I thought I would have difficulty rising early for our second day’s ride, but I looked forward to continuing our exploration.

Obligatory cow photo
Obligatory cow photo

I’ve always preferred to ride in Virginia and West Virginia, finding parts north to be more unforgiving and somewhat forlorn. Towns once grand and bustling are mostly bedroom communities for neighboring cities now. Miles go by and there are no stores or people about.

Final rest stop of the ride
Final rest stop of the ride

But this lack of population brings a beauty to this part of the country that I overlooked. It’s quiet and lush in the summertime, and you have the mountains mostly to yourself. The good honest Pennsylvania countryside is divine.

Full set of ride photos here.

Co-Motion and Wildflowers on Rollins

Spreadsheet Ruminations: Are You There, Legs? It’s Me…

Co-Motion on Rollins Pass

Three months ago I ditched the spreadsheet I used to document my bicycle lifestyle, opting instead for a non-quantitative approach. There’s more to life than counting up the miles, I told myself. I want to explore it.

Over the last three months, I have documented many rides with journal entries and taken photos along the way. Other rides live in my memory and still others are at least temporarily forgotten.

This last week I started longing for that spreadsheet again.  Felkerino and I went for a ride on Saturday and my legs felt totally dead. Small rises took more effort than they should have, required more recovery than normal. Are you there, legs?

Dead legs?! That wasn’t supposed to happen. I planned to return from our riding in Colorado with the indefatigable strength of a giant. Ready for anything. Rawr!

With the exception of my daily commutes and the occasional run, I had taken most of the last two weeks off the bike and easy on my legs. Clarification: When I say “off,” I mean no century or thereabouts rides and no runs longer than four miles for the last two weeks. And still I was feeling exhausted.

Instead of pushing through the longer ride we planned, we divided our ride in half, opting for 87 miles rather than the 160 or so we set out to do. In cases like this, I think it’s best to listen to the body.

Felkerino and I will ride the Appalachian Adventure 1000K checkout ride for our club, the D.C. Randonneurs, at the end of this month. I’m excited about taking on this challenge, and want to make sure I’m ready.

Just as amping up the miles is important, so is rest and recovery after our two-week, just under 1,000-mile tour. I want to make sure I can take full advantage of the mountains and miles in our legs. Riding our brains out after a certain point can become counter-productive.

As someone (Jeff N.) wrote after my original post about ditching the spreadsheet, a mileage log can help validate whether you’ve done the homework you need for your ride.

A mileage log can reassure. That is why I actually think it would be helpful to me right now. Instead I find myself looking back at individual posts. I wonder if I’ve done enough riding overall, but the way my riding is laid out now (i.e., through stories on this blog) I don’t see my training/riding in the aggregate.

What I’ve always disliked about a training log is that it sometimes compels me to chase miles just for the sake of raising my miles. BUT what I’ve liked about maintaining a training log is that it gives me a visual of my training over weeks and months, and helps me understand why I might be having energy dips.

I was thinking today that the story I tell myself is that I am not an athlete. I’m a person out exploring the world by bicycle. That is true. However, I also do a fair amount long-distance riding and running. That doesn’t make me an athlete, but it does mean I have bicycling and fitness goals that a training log can help to inform.

I’m not going to fret too much about recreating my miles or writing all my miles down from today forward. Spilled milk and all that. I have to accept the riding I’ve done and go with that into this 1000K checkout ride. I’m confident what we’ve done is enough, provided we complete one more big training ride (stay tuned!). I’ll get back to the mileage log at some point, most likely in 2015.

And you? What are your thoughts on the whole mileage log thing?

Four Years of Chasing Mailboxes

2014 D.C. Randonneurs 600K, photo by Bill Beck
2014 D.C. Randonneurs 600K, photo by Bill Beck

In the middle of a love affair with bicycling and Washington, D.C., I wrote my first post for Chasing Mailboxes. Four years later, this blog is still going. The love affair has hit some sticky wickets over time, but most days it continues, too.

In the initial year, posts read more like postcards than letters. More reserved with my topics and content, I often wrote from the outside in, contemplating what the blog’s audience would think while I composed each post.

Over time, that changed and this space became a place for greater reflection. Continue reading