Category Archives: Brevets

Randonneuring: Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

Randonneuring events allow ordinary people like me to participate in extraordinary bike rides. Brevets changed my definition of a long day ride, from a century to more than double that– distances I previously could not even conceptualize pedaling.

The randonneuring community helped me feel okay as a rider who does not move particularly fast, but has a body that has proven itself durable over time and distance.

Yes, you must be in some semblance of decent physical shape, own a road-worthy bicycle, and have the free time to take on a brevet. But as long as you maintain an overall speed of 10 miles per hour, an ordinary person will be a successful randonneur.

400K Felkerino D.C. Randonneurs

And to my mind, being a successful randonneur makes you special. Because really, how many of us put the completion of a 250-mile bike ride that starts at 4 a.m. and takes you around and around with a card in your hand over the river and through the woods to all the region’s convenience stores and back to the exact same place you started on the top of our to-do list?

I discovered these randonneuring truths years ago so I’m not sure exactly why I signed up for our club’s 400K. Habit, maybe. A desire to spend the day out with like-minded randos.The thought that if you don’t keep doing 400Ks, you essentially concede that you can’t do them anymore. A notion that you’re only as good as your last brevet. Some mix of all of the above.

The course certainly was a lure. The Northern Exposure route takes a person far away from urban life into rural parts– some of them in Amish country– and offers many spectacular views, all of which are earned through vigorous pedaling. No views come free on DCR rides.

400K tractors

Felkerino and I ended up completing the 249-mile course in 19 hours and 40 minutes, having spent around 2 and 1/2 hours off of the bike. I consider that a respectable time for us, especially given the 14,000 feet of overall climb, and consistent with what we’ve done in the past. Viewed from that perspective, we had a good ride.

But overall the ride was a mixed bag for me. Frankly, it is easier to not endure the Friday post-work rushing required by a 4 a.m. start outside of D.C. and the usually fitful sleep the evening before a ride.

I had a difficult time settling into this brevet, and it was only until just before the century mark that I began to enjoy the beauty Felkerino and I had ridden ourselves into. Even then, the ride was a mental struggle.

A little discomfort and struggle is part of randonneuring. If I don’t want to experience those pieces of an event, or if they outweigh the overall pleasure or sense of accomplishment, then maybe it is time to change pursuits.

400K brevet Theresa and Bo

There were many small moments that justified my decision to ride. A dramatic chase unfolded between rider Theresa and local dog Bo, and Felkerino and I saw it all. Nobody bosses Bo around, especially not randonneurs.

400K dog

Saturday field work was going on in earnest and we even received cheers from a small group of Amish children who were taking some shade by a barn.

Despite its humble exterior, I had a great time hanging out by the “No Loitering” sign at the Food Mart, drinking pop (which I only consume during brevets) and sharing a laugh with fellow riders.

400K Roger Brian Scott D.C. Randonneurs

I relished the summer heat after our region’s cold winter. Even so, our day transitioned from decidedly toasty at 3 p.m. to much more pleasant riding temperatures after a thunderstorm came through.

I predicted that the storm would bum me out. Instead, seeing the rain roll toward us accompanied by the clouds’ low rumblings reminded me of days in Iowa, where storms like this are a regular affair.

400K brevet. Ye Olde Barn and rain

It was awesome to watch new D.C. Randonneurs members Eric W. and David reach a new milestone by finishing their first 400K and their longest rides to date. I see the 400K as a threshold ride, where most riders will start in the dark and finish in the dark, too.

A 400K requires perseverance and a disciplined approach. Like the sign at the Food Mart said, No Loitering. Frittering time away at a control will come back to bite you. Not eating enough, eating too much, or eating the wrong things can send you to a very bad place on a ride of that distance.

400K brevet D.C. Randonneurs Eric

You can’t get too lost in the idea of riding 249 miles or it will overwhelm you. The ride must be broken into distinct segments where progress is recalibrated and made manageable– 15 miles, the next control, 25 miles, over this rise, that telephone pole off in the distance.

Issues with the bike must be handled as best as possible. Some of this is done through preparation, and having the forethought to pack emergency gear, and sometimes you get creative on the road. David’s shifter broke early in the ride, and Eric was able to help him so that David could continue with essentially two gears. Seeing Eric and David manage these elements of a brevet and ultimately achieve that special success of brevet completion filled me with appreciation for the day and for what we all were doing.

Looking back on the weekend, I realize I am not quite ready to put the brakes on randonneuring, but I can’t deny that over the last year something stirs inside me on rides of 400K-plus– a pull to be somewhere else, engage with the world in a different way where the ordinary me can still dip her toes into the extraordinary.

I don’t know where or what that is yet, or if this subtle discontent will pass. In the meantime I enjoy the luxury of these thoughts sifting through my head as I ride long, with hopes that I will eventually understand what’s next. Whatever it may be, I do know that it will involve a bicycle and a certain tandem captain.

The Mind’s Journey

I began this year feeling quite uncertain, almost ambivalent, about the brevets. The past year has included some serious and unexpected health issues in my family. These scrambled up my head, and prompted a reassessment of that big question “What am I doing with my life?”

There are so many more important things in life than bike riding, I told myself. Why, when there is so much to experience in this one life, would brevets be worth all the effort and occasional annoyance?

Before the brevets began, my family’s health situations seemed to settle somewhat. Despite my reservations about randonneuring and my “one life” choices, I signed up, just to see how the season would go.

If you’re a regular reader, you know I have been oddly preoccupied about my lack of physical preparation for randonneuring. Out of shape, riding myself into shape, the lack of winter miles, blah blah blah. I have spent many words on my lack of cycling fitness.

The brevets are steadily teaching me that I don’t have to be in peak form to savor what only a rando ride can offer. These events are not just physical journeys. They are mental explorations as well.

Felkerino 300K

As each ride has begun, my mind has been consumed by themes like the work week, how I’m doing in the job I began in December, worry about my parents, bills I need to pay and errands I should run, what my purpose is in this one life and how I’m probably not doing it.

Yet the longer I ride, the more these preoccupations change. I set aside the bills and errands. Work is put into a larger context. My worry for my parents becomes appreciation for who they are and how they raised me, and I am able to set them aside for a moment. Questioning life’s purpose doesn’t seem as critical as arriving safely at the next control and making sure someone signs my brevet card.

The shift in scenery, from the asphalt congestion of Washington, D.C., to the lush landscapes of the country where people mow gigantic yards and spend the weekends fishing in nearby creeks has a cleansing effect on my mind.

A century isn’t long enough to offer entry into that kind of mental journey. But an excursion that pedals me into the  delicious first light of day and carries me through to the sunset hour and maybe even a moonrise is.

The journey of the mind runs parallel to the physical aspects of the brevet experience.  My thoughts are no longer trapped in the maze of the everyday. They can roam through the valleys and up mountainsides as Felkerino and I progress. Newborn calves and farm cats stir a hope in me that all will be okay.

The spring sun pricks me with its rays and afternoon sweat stings my eyes. My head reorganizes. I am part of a bigger world than I can ever conceptualize. Trivial thoughts have no place now. Other concerns will wait. My legs must pedal and my senses can’t help but absorb the day. The journey consumes me, and I am grateful.

Randonnesia Strikes on the Mother of All 300Ks

“We’re too blessed to be depressed,” a church sign at mile 70 read. Our riding group of three shared a chuckle. We had just climbed Wolf Gap, Mill Gap, and were en route to more gaps and roads with words like “church” and “mountain” in their names. The path ahead gave us pause. Continue reading Randonnesia Strikes on the Mother of All 300Ks

Experience: a Randonneur’s Frenemy

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. Continue reading Experience: a Randonneur’s Frenemy

A Dose of Reality on a 200K

Felkerino and I met up with bicycling friends Eric, Jerry, Barry, and Joel to ride the classic D.C. Randonneurs “Old Rag 200K” route. Jerry had some weird rattle in his rear wheel that would not go away, Barry was riding a loaner bike since his main rando ride was in the shop for repairs, our Schmidt generator hub failed, and Eric’s shifter broke in the final five miles.

Old Rag 200K

Other than that, the day was spectacular. Continue reading A Dose of Reality on a 200K

We Interrupt This Brevet for …

Sometimes when riding my bike, I feel like I’m inside a video game that’s throwing all manner of obstacles my way, and I have to react and deal with them in order to move on to the next level.

Stopping to put on night gear. Photo by Felkerino
Stopping to put on night gear. Photo by Felkerino

Last weekend’s 600K had a fair number of these– enough that I began to take notice.

Continue reading We Interrupt This Brevet for …

Don’t Look Back, Keep Your Eyes on the Road: 2014 Super Randonneur Series

Felkerino toward Crozet

After a year away from the 400K and 600K brevets, 2014 has been a year of re-learning the brevet ropes. Unfortunately for me, this process has also had me on the ropes at various times throughout the spring rides.

I’m happy to say it’s all done and behind me. Felkerino and I got out there, did the work, and rode the brevets we needed to once again complete a Super Randonneur series (200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K) with the D.C. Randonneurs.

Tree

My body held up well. I am relieved to report that I have the normal aches and fatigue that come after a big ride, but no residual pain from any of the riding this year. Success on the physical front.

However, my state of mind over the course of the last two rides (the 400K and 600K) is a different story. As I wrote about the 400K, I had difficulty being present and setting aside my worries about what was to come.

Continue reading Don’t Look Back, Keep Your Eyes on the Road: 2014 Super Randonneur Series

The Last Ride of My First Super Randonneur Series: A Hilly and Hot 600K Brevet

In an effort to put all my old ride reports either on this blog or The Daily Randonneur, you’ll notice that I’m sharing a few “vintage” pieces. This one is the story of my first 600K experience from 2005, and is also the first story I ever wrote about randonneuring.

I never intended to become a randonneur. I did not even know what a brevet was, let alone think I would be completing a Super Randonneur in the same year I was introduced to randonneuring. I anticipated completing the fleche and thought maybe I would occasionally participate in a century-plus distance every now and then.

Nine years later I’m still riding with Felkerino and randonneuring with the D.C. Randonneurs. We’ve completed three 1200Ks, including Paris-Brest-Paris and a 1000K together. Life continues to unfold in ways I did not imagine.

Continue reading The Last Ride of My First Super Randonneur Series: A Hilly and Hot 600K Brevet