Category Archives: 400K

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.

Figuring Out the 400K Brevet

DC Randonneurs 400K-Matt

After rolling into the finish of the D.C. Randonneurs Northern Exposure 400K, I heard myself enthusiastically discuss our ride and revel in the adventure shared by Felkerino, Matt, and me over the last 20 hours and change of riding.

Incredible valley vistas and invigorating climbs! The cutest dog chasing us! A sublime night ride! Clouds clearing and a glowing crescent moon guiding us home! Roads so quiet you could hear peepers sing to you and creek waters whisper encouragement! A giant shooting star! The best mocha I ever had… at mile 230… from McDonald’s!

This fluffy dog wanted to join us.
This fluffy dog wanted to join us.

Who was this person, another part of my brain wondered. What’s with all the exclamations about this great ride? Doesn’t she know that much of her day was spent with an undercurrent of worry and an almost obsessive urge to press forward?

Continue reading Figuring Out the 400K Brevet

The D.C. Randonneurs 400K Brevet: A Long Ride to a Pizza Party

Riders at the 400K Brevet Start (Photo by Felkerino)
Riders at the 400K Brevet Start (Photo by Felkerino)

This past weekend Felkerino and I organized the D.C. Randonneurs 400K brevet. Of all the spring brevets the 400K is the one that, as a rider, I find most daunting. It starts at 4 a.m., and is the first of the brevets that requires hours of night riding. Riders roll out in the dark, and arrive in darkness, too.

I overhead the staff at the hotel where we staged our ride called our 400K a pizza party. That made me laugh. If the 400K could be considered a pizza party,  it’s likely the most hard-earned pizza you’ll ever eat.

Continue reading The D.C. Randonneurs 400K Brevet: A Long Ride to a Pizza Party

D.C. Randonneurs 400K

Some of you may know that Felkerino and I spent the last couple of months preparing to run the D.C. Randonneurs’ 400K.

Randonneurs doin’ what randonneurs do… on the Frederick 400K

The ride went off this past Saturday, and I put together a non-ride ride report of the experience.

Ed and me at the 400K finish. Up all night and still smiling! (c) Bill Beck

It’s not posted here, though. Find it on that other blog I know, The Daily Randonneur. Hop on over and check it out.

D.C. Randonneurs – Frederick, Maryland 400K Brevet

What is 252 miles, starts at 4 a.m., and has many hills and valleys? It’s the D.C. Randonneurs 400K brevet. Ha ha ha!!

I may be laughing now, but I certainly was not on Saturday morning when my alarm went off at 2:45 a.m. I never imagined that my idea of fun would require this kind of early riding rising. I propped my eyelids open with toothpicks, felt heartened by the comfortable morning (or evening?) temperatures and forecast, ate a banana, and hoped for the best.

I tend to ride myself awake on these rides, and Saturday was no different. The sun came up, and by 8 a.m. I was happy to be on the bike. For a blow-by-blow of the route’s twists and turns, see the D.C. Randonneurs website. For an impressionist view of our ride, read on! Continue reading D.C. Randonneurs – Frederick, Maryland 400K Brevet