Category Archives: Randonneuring

PBP Qualified…

Our recent finish of the D.C. Randonneurs 600K brevet means that Felkerino and I have now qualified for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Riders must complete four brevets in order to register for PBP. The general sequence of rides is as follows:  200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K brevet. Because Felkerino and I were unable to complete our club’s 200K brevets, we substituted an additional 300K instead.

Scheduling conflicts impeded our completion of a Super Randonneur series; we lack a 200K in our current suite of rides. While I hope we can find a way to still slot in a 200K, it still feels good to have reached the PBP-qualifying milestone.

Although we are a seasoned randonneuring tandem team, completion of the longer brevets is never a given. They require effort and planning, along with a certain degree of physical and mental discomfort somewhere along the way. Successfully reaching the finish line of these rides is always an accomplishment.

Around last year at this time, our ultimate goal was to show up in France for another edition of Paris-Brest-Paris. Now that PBP registration season is upon us, our goals have drifted in a different direction.

In January, I wrote a post that basically outlined the pros and cons of doing PBP again, and received some thought-provoking feedback. A couple people commented about the relatively narrow window that exists to do these sorts of things.

Felkerino on the 600K brevet

Some mentioned the ability to go back and apply experience from our previous PBP rides to make this one even better, and the rare opportunity to ride a large 1200K event with like-minded riders in a place where people don’t question what you are attempting to accomplish.

Others wrote about the importance of exploring new challenges. After weighing it all, I still imagined that we would pack our bags for France when August came.

The landscape changed for me in the months since I wrote that PBP pros and cons list, such that I am yearning to go west and be immersed in the mountains, and to experience that comforting smallness that has always enveloped me when I bike tour there. The clock I want to dominate my movement is the sunrise to sunset clock– not control windows.

The pressure and post-event fatigue that comes with riding a 1200K– even a tandem-friendly one– is not what I hunger for this summer. I desire open road and quiet contemplation, time to stop and look around, and a full night’s sleep.

Part of me would love to be there to meet new randonneurs, see familiar faces, and be part of the largest and most historic randonneuring event, but the eagerness I had about riding PBP has faded, and I must follow the path that truly calls.

Kip, Dylan, and me on the 600K brevet

Instead of PBP, Felkerino and I are currently plotting a two-week tour in the Sawtooth Mountains. We will ride a loop from Boise, Idaho to Missoula, Montana and back.

We’ve spent the last three years riding in Colorado so this year we are seeking out uncharted terrain for our tandem. For those interested, here is a basic Ride With GPS outline of our route– Part 1 and Part 2. If you have toured in the area, please pass along any route suggestions, food recommendations, or any other bits of wisdom!

When August rolls around, I know I’ll be miss being part of PBP. I’ll avidly follow fellow D.C. Randonneurs and other rando-buddies as they make their way out to Brest and back with event’s rider tracking system. Fantasy PBP!

I’m excited to cheer from the sidelines and hear people’s stories upon their return. I wish all the best to those who have qualified for PBP and will be training through the summer for this grand event. It’s going to be awesome.

Eat If It Looks Good? Not So Fast: Fueling on Brevets

This year, I began to be more deliberate about how I eat during brevets, especially the 400K and 600K distances.

I’m not the best eater nor am I a nutrition expert, but I have ridden a fair number of long rides up to 1200K distances employing both good and regrettable fueling strategies over the years. Experience has been a fine teacher.

When I first started on my randonneuring career path, I remember being told “If it looks good, you should eat it. Your body is craving it.” Simple advice that was easy to apply, I attempted that strategy for a few years, with really mixed results.

Essentially, I found this approach ultimately enabled a bad mentality of justifying poor food choices under the guise of “I’m exercising, it’s okay.” Oh, and I ended up with some pretty terrible stomach-aches, too.

Brevet bikes at the convenience store

I have taken a sharp turn away from the “If it looks good, you should eat it” method (unless you haven’t been able to eat anything at all that day for some reason, and then maybe). Instead, I strive for bland, easily digestible foods and drinks that won’t pay me a return visit in ways I dislike.

In addition, I have learned that my exertion level as well as time of day also determines my body’s digestion abilities. If I’m working really hard, my food is going to have a more difficult time going through the system. The window of 3 to 6 a.m. does not allow me to eat much. My body is completely confused, and eating and digesting is not at the top of its to-do list.

Hey, where is the actual food part of this post, you might be asking. It’s coming, I promise, but brevet riding is more complicated than regular daily fueling, You are often eating on the run, nibbling in-between and during big miles, and consuming around the clock during times when the body might typically be doing other things, like say, reading a book, or perhaps sleeping.

Nutrition isn’t something to think about only during a ride. Ride nutrition is, of course, a subset of one’s overall diet. However, I’m not going to talk about all that today, as the focus here is my on-the-bike fueling.

This year I learned that the more fuel Felkerino and I prepare in advance of a ride, in combination with our anticipation of what will be available at stops along a route, the more time we save and the better food choices we make.

Last brevet stop

A day’s temperatures combined with a ride’s duration drive what can readily be stored in a Carradice or in the back-pocket cafe. For that reason, I stay away from meat products.

Instead, I often make almond butter or hummus sandwiches for 300K, 400K, or 600K brevets. This year, I was all about the almond butter and honey on some kind of whole-grain bread. This gives me a nice combination of fairly bland carbs, natural sugar, and protein.

Adding honey to the sandwich means it is moist, but I can easily store in my rear pocket or the Carridice bag, and (unlike something like a turkey sandwich) it never becomes slimy or horrible to consider eating at any point. Almond butter and honey on whole-grain bread constitutes an inoffensive, easily digestible, on-the-go meal.

If a rides starts at 5 a.m. or earlier, my body has a tough time eating anything before-hand, and I fill my pockets for post-sunrise munching. Usually, I eat a banana and a couple of bites of an almond butter sandwich before a brevet, but that is all my stomach will handle at that hour.

Generally, my back-pocket food stash consists of the following:

  • 2-3 almond butter sandwiches, nibbled on throughout the day.
  • 2 bananas (and buy more on the route when needed, and if possible). Excellent sources of potassium that go through the system without a fuss.
  • 2 Lara bars, which I prefer for their taste and digestibility, or Clif Bars in a pinch (I generally find Clif Bars to be dry and not as easy to eat or digest)
  • 2 Clif Shot Block packages– one with caffeine, and one without  (for bonking prevention)
  • 2 liter Camelbak full of water

This is my food and drink foundation, and I add to it with what we eat along the way at controls or critical stops on the route. (Note: this food is not literally all in my pockets. Some of it is in the Carradice, too!)

Brevet food

Despite being a huge fan of sweets, during rides I usually crave salt and carbs, and some protein. For me, plain kettle-cooked chips (from Lays, Route 11, or Cape Cod. Sorry Utz, you don’t cut it) are just the additional kick for me at a 50-mile break.

Route 11 sweet potato chips are my absolute favorite. Felkerino developed a Frito’s affinity late last year– a rich oil, fat, and salt combination– but he didn’t seem to crave them as much this year. I generally avoid eating French fries because they are usually too greasy for my system to handle.

Tomato or V-8 juice is another way to curb my sodium craving. Generally, tomato juice goes down easy, and I believe it is also a source of calcium.

As I mentioned earlier this week, Felkerino and I stopped drinking Gatorade, deciding it was too sweet and unsatisfying. Felkerino started using Skratch on the bike (I generally prefer water on the bike), and we both switched to drinking a mix of sweet and unsweetened tea as alternatives to water when we make a store stop. Sometimes we split an apple juice, which offers some potassium as well as sugar (and carbs too, maybe?).

I drink a Coke now and then during a ride. Generally, I despise Coke, but sometimes the caffeine and sweet, along with who knows what other chemicals, hits the spot. The red ambulance, our friend Jerry says. I can’t generally drink an entire can of Coke, but 6-8 ounces on occasion are alright.

This year, we tended to stop for one real meal during a ride, and for me, that usually meant a basic turkey sandwich or a slice of cheese pizza. I don’t know why, but my body has no problems with cheese pizza, as long as I limit myself to a piece or two. It seems to have the ideal salt, fat, and grease combination I want on my rides.

Pizza stop on the brevet

I would like to eat healthier during rides most days, but find that the 400K and 600K rides don’t set up well for that. It takes up too much space and weight in the back-pocket cafe and Carradice bag.

Since most of our stops are at convenience stores, I have based my food choices around what is available there. On rare occasions where we can stop at a place with a fuller menu and healthier options, we will take advantage of it.

I used to prefer eating a substantial amount whenever we would stop at a control or store. By doing this I felt like I avoided the inconvenience of pulling food in and out of my rear pockets as we rode along.

However, I’ve found that eating small amounts as we ride works much better for my body. I don’t have as many issues with bonking, and my stomach doesn’t give me as much guff, either. I feel a better flow of energy.

Ice cream, Little Debbie snack cakes, beer, jelly beans, chocolate, and bacon are all among the foods that have ended up on my skull and crossbones brevet food list. Others may be able to eat them, but they are too high-risk for me.

Brevet food stop

Like many aspects of randonneuring, the food and drink system is highly subjective and requires regular evaluation, since what works one year may falter the next. For now, this is what’s doing the trick for me.

If you have any suggestions for additions to the back-pocket cafe, especially ones that are easy to prepare, please let me know. Just as it’s good to have regular and reliable choices, I’m always looking for new items to add to the brevet mix.

Finding Your Randonneur Superpower

When you begin to dabble in the randonneuring arts, you may have an inkling of what your cycling strengths are. You may develop additional skills for riding long-distance. However, it is only through doing brevets over time that your randonneur superpower will reveal itself to you.

I have never been a fast rider, but fortunately I have good endurance to compensate for a lack of speed. I also have Felkerino riding with me on the tandem, and he is a helpful engine for my legs. My stomach rarely turns on me during long rides because years of trial and error have led me to figure out the foods my stomach will readily digest.

Felkerino and I have dialed in our tandem partnership so that we are in unison about our approach to a ride. We know the ups and downs in each other’s energy flows and have learned to navigate them and help each other out as a ride goes on.

Yet none of these are randonneur superpowers. No, the superpower is something distinct. For a long time, I was certain I had no randonneur superpower. I didn’t ride fast. I couldn’t ride for hours non-stop, subsisting on two water bottles of liquid nutrition. I would not be able to finish a 600K brevet without stopping somewhere for a little sleep, like some can.

Recently, I discovered one of Felkerino’s superpowers. No matter where we are, Felkerino has an eagle eye for spotting porta-potties. It’s remarkable, and has come in handy on many a ride.

Heading out for Day 2 of the 600K. Photo by Shab
Heading out for Day 2 of the 600K. Photo by Shab

But this year I learned of a superpower we share.  As I’ve mentioned several times, this year we were fit, but not to the level that we enjoyed in prior years. Because of that, we dedicated ourselves to riding efficiently, and being judicious with time off the bike.

Felkerino and I generally try to ride with the goal of taking one hour off the bike per century ridden. As a ride goes on, time off the bike may increase somewhat, but generally one hour per century is our goal.

Surprisingly, during the spring brevets we were able to achieve excellent efficiency with our time on and off the bike. We seldom dilly dallied at controls– one of my favorite things to do on a brevet. I often brought my own food on rides so I would not wander around convenience stores wondering what I should eat. Both of us stopped drinking Gatorade and switched to better hydration habits.

We were regularly able to stay on the bike for 50 miles or so at a time without a need for breaks in between segments. We still took short rests when necessary, but for some reason, we didn’t seem to require them as much as we had during other years.

This on-the-bike discipline surprised me. It could only mean one thing– our randonneur superpower had come to us. I spent so many years waiting for it to manifest and finally, in 2015, it did.

Time to ride this bike, MG.
Time to ride this bike, MG.

Despite not being in the best brevet shape, we were able to complete rides in times comparable to other years, and I attribute this to our increased efficient movement.

I’m not saying that Felkerino’s porta-potty superpower isn’t a good one. It sure is. But the ability to ride efficiently as a team far surpasses it, and made a big difference to our overall brevet experiences. It gave me a sense of forward progress, and motivated me to keep pedaling.

After the 400K, I was convinced this year meant my randonneuring farewell tour. But now that the 600K has come and gone, I’ve forgotten those feelings. My superpower reinvigorated my affinity for randonneuring. Who knows? If I keep riding, maybe I’ll discover another one.

What about your randonneur superpower? You know you’ve got one… everybody does.

Living On In Memories

This past weekend I had one of the best rides of my life on the D.C. Randonneurs 600K brevet, and that’s not the randonnesia talking. The course layout, weather, and randonneur fellowship combined to set up a practically perfect 375 miles.

Early morning fog lifted out of valleys to reveal the lush terrain in which we would ride for the weekend.

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The sun warmed the Shenandoah Valley, but cloud cover conveniently rolled in on many of the exposed afternoon sections of our route on both days. Temperatures were never exceedingly hot, meaning riders could focus their energy on pedaling without worries of overheating.

We were also treated to a double tailwind– the pink unicorn of randonneuring. The only other time I’ve experienced a double tailwind was during the 2011 edition of PBP.

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Before ride organizers John and Cindy bid us adieu, our friend Bill Beck spoke about Lynn Kristianson, the designer of this particular 600K route as well as many of the D.C. Randonneurs’ brevet courses. Lynn died this past week, and Bill suggested that we remember her along the way, as we crested ridges and took in the beautiful valley vistas of the route.

Lynn heavily influenced my growth as a randonneur when I was first starting out. She introduced me to the Shenandoah Valley, and the eccentric world of randonneuring.

In 2005, I became part of Lynn’s all-woman fleche team, the Randonnettes. This was my first randonneuring event, and I felt so lucky to be part of it, as though I had somehow gained entry into a secret club. At that time I was just thrilled to be a randonneur, and didn’t realize or understand the rarity of the all-woman team Lynn worked so hard to recruit.

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My dad was very sick this year and during his illness, he told my sister that he believed people lived on through the good memories you hold of them. As I rode our 600K, I thought about my good memories of Lynn.

Lynn believed a view was worth the grind of a tough climb. She never feared hills and she liked quiet roads in the country. She wanted to involve more women in randonneuring, and I am a direct beneficiary of that.

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The tangible memories Lynn leaves behind include the formation of our club, the D.C. Randonneurs, as well as many intricately thought-out and visually stunning routes like this past weekend’s 600K.

But the best memory I hold of Lynn is that she thought to introduce me to Felkerino, my tandem partner and best friend. Lynn didn’t know it when she did this, but she helped me discover true love. I thought about that a lot as we followed the route she plotted for us this past weekend. For that I will always remember her.

Randonneuring Beneath the Stars

The sun flares orange and pink, drops behind the mountains, and leaves us. Felkerino and I pause to don night gear, assess our 600K progress, and estimate the hours of night riding ahead.

Around sunset I usually find myself taking the occasional long look toward farmhouses. Are they eating dinner? Watching a movie? After riding over 200 miles, that sounds like a relaxing way to end the day.

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Our evening will not include any couch-sitting, however. We push on. Felkerino lights the way forward, but as my view is largely blocked by his body I look side to side. And up.

I love to tilt my eyes to the night sky during brevets. It’s one of the perks of stoking a tandem. Stars I never see in the city easily pierce the midnight ceiling of the country.

As we ride upward, tree leaves and branches block the sky-scape, turning the road an even darker shade of night. We descend and stars reappear.

A lightning bug dips by my periphery and I gaze off into the trees to search for more of them. The organic light show of the lightning bugs’ pulsing illumination hypnotizes. I wonder if this is how they talk to each other.

My ears absorb the steady babble of a creek to our left. We round a bend and its gentle rushing transitions to our right. In night’s quiet, sound is sweetly amplified.

We weave in and out of patches of honeysuckle. Oh this delicious smell! Will I ever become tired of it? I drink in its fresh flowery scent.

Near the water I hear little spring peepers. “Ribbit. Ribbit.” What is your chorus, little frogs? They all talk at once, yet seemingly in tune with each other.

We wind and rise to the overnight. After a brief shower and nap, we resume course, dropping away from town into another valley.

The waning moon is around two-thirds full, and casts a wide soft light all around. We don’t chance it, but I believe the stars and moonlight could guide our path this night.

There are no cars, no streetlights. Cows lie in pastures, sleeping. We are the only people on this twisting road, although other riders must be near by.

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We spot the dusty pastels of first light and I am glad for it. The night is cool, and I anticipate the energizing warmth daytime will bring.

At the same time, I will miss the sleepy solitude of night that has made me so alive. The moon and stars gradually recede from view and we ride into the dawn.

600K Brevet Packing List

I’ve been readying for the weekend’s big ride– the D.C. Randonneurs 600K. I stew in my nervousness and look frequently at regional weather forecasts. I burn off steam with short runs and rides, during which I consider and reconsider all I need for two days of pedaling. Continue reading 600K Brevet Packing List

Transformation and Inspiration

It’s surreal to recall it now, but bicycling– even running– were largely absent from my life during my post-college twenties. I worked long hours, drove my car, and attended many a happy hour.

For a time that life seemed alright, but as the years progressed I noticed small disconcerting signs. I gained weight from a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. Twinges emanated from my lower back because of all the daily driving and stress from long hours at my job.

Happy hours felt like a hamster wheel to nowhere, replete with superficial bar chat, and a feeling that I was wasting time and money. Probably because the conversations were superficial, and I was wasting time and money.

Something had to change, propelled from the inside out. Continue reading Transformation and Inspiration

Summer Legs on the C&O

Lately I haven’t had a lot of words to describe my riding. I have things to write, but my mind has been fuzzy and my motivation rather stilted with regard to writing any posts. I also have some work things that have required my time and attention.

However, friends, I have been riding. My summer legs are starting to come in now. These are the legs that show themselves during the brevet season. They have the urge and strength to ride and just keep riding. How long? Until daylight ends. Until the battery in my headlight dies. Until dinner. Until I need to be in bed for work the next day. Continue reading Summer Legs on the C&O