Category Archives: Rando Reflections

Why Ride Brevets?

Randonneuring requires a certain level of commitment (no, not that kind of commitment). Early rises, car rides, bike maintenance and tuning, convenience store dining, and long days and even evenings in the saddle are all part of the randonneur lifestyle.

Photo by Bill Beck

Photo by Bill Beck

Given that most of us do not have unlimited leisure time, what is it about the brevets that appeals enough that we’re willing to dedicate so much of our spring and summer (for some, even more) to it?

Pre-planned weekend escapes. You know those conversations “What should we do this weekend?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Sign up for brevets and you will significantly reduce the frequency with which you have these kinds of talks. Instead, you will have an immediate answer that covers many weekends from late February through June, either “I’m doing a training ride” or “I’m riding x brevet. See? Here’s the cue sheet.”

Training rides require some planning, but go for some rides, hit some hills, and get your miles in and you are set when it comes time for the brevet. Follow whatever the cue sheet says until it tells you that you’re done. The brevet drives the planning for you.

Many of the brevet courses I’ve ridden have been quite scenic and pleasant. We have some gorgeous riding in our area, including the Catoctins and the Blue Ridge. Brevets give me an excellent excuse to explore them a little more.

Strength. Successful completion of brevet distances requires both mental and physical strength. Over the last several years of doing brevets, I have seen my strength build as the year goes on.

Over the winter, I was talking with one of my riding friends about the surreality of knowing that your body is capable to doing a 400K distance when, in January, you’re happy to stop after grinding out a century.

Every year, though, I see my body’s response to the increase in miles. The early wake-ups never get easy, but eventually they become another part of the event. Going longer seems less of an overall effort. My ability to mentally break down the ride into manageable pieces becomes easier.

There is also something about the steady effort of a brevet that makes other parts of life seem more manageable. Maybe randonneuring imparts patience, helps us expand our limits, or teaches us strategies that apply to other facets of our lives.

Camaraderie. It’s always interesting to see who you will end up riding with on brevets and what types of conversations you’ll have. Randonneur conversation potpourri!

Often I end up discussing rides gone by or current randonneuring and riding plans with others, but you never know what interesting topics may arise. Randonneurs are a rather eclectic bunch.

2011 D.C. Randonneurs 400K finish. Yay! (c) Bill Beck

2011 D.C. Randonneurs 400K finish. Yay! (c) Bill Beck

Time with my randonneur spouse. I ride almost all brevets on tandem with my husband. I suppose this is somewhat unusual, as I hear stories of people who have to negotiate time on the bike with their non-randonneuring partners.

Over the years Felkerino and I have become pretty in tune with each other. He’s more of an early bird. I like the later miles.

I often wonder if I would ride brevets solo if Felkerino and I had not met. Maybe, but I am not generally the type of person who likes to do solo rides longer than a century.

I prefer a social component and Felkerino’s and my team of two works quite nicely in that regard. We like sharing the ride experience and spending the weekend outdoors together.

Figuring out the puzzle. Even though I have been riding brevets off and on since 2005, I still find myself tweaking my system. For example, what I used to eat on brevets (lots more sugary food) my stomach no longer tolerates. Over time, I have become better at riding longer without a break and have learned how to take active breaks on the bike.

In a weird way, I like seeing how my body has changed over time. What works to successfully complete a brevet is never an exact formula.

Customization. In her On Writing & Riding interview, fellow randonneur mmmmbike! discussed how randonneuring’s non-competitive foundation allows people to interpret it in their own ways.

You can ride a brevet like a race. You can treat it as a long group ride, or you can approach it as a more solitary experience. In the end, it’s all randonneuring.

I know this list of why we ride brevets is far from comprehensive. Please, all you randos out there, help me fill in the gaps.

On Naming Your Bike: The Baby Post of Bike Names

One of the posts people read frequently on this blog is Say My (Bike’s) Name: On Naming Your Bike, in which I described my  tandem partner’s affinity for naming bikes and my own tendency not to do so.

Bike collage

That bike naming post received great comments about people’s processes for naming bikes as well as their bikes’ names. I liked them so much that I thought they deserved their own post, rather than being an addendum to my original remarks.

Below you will find the “Baby Post of Bike Names,” a first attempt at capturing the bike names shared on Chasing Mailboxes. Thanks to all contributors.

Enjoy, and if you have a name to add please do so in the comments. I will update the post accordingly.

By the way, the name The Big Cat stuck so our Co-Motion Java Tandem is frequently referred to as such. Meow? Rawr!

Baby Post of Bike Names

Amelia — Cannondale Quick 3. Named after Amelia Earhart, she flies far and fast. @astridbear

Archie, short for Archaeopteryx –  Blue 1974 Raleigh Professional set up as a fixed gear. Because I used that as my animal totem in the Furnace Creek 508 years ago, and somehow that became the bike’s name. Emily O’B

Audrey – Mixte named after Audrey Hepburn because she is a pretty little mixte that I ride to work or to the coffee shop/pub in my street attire/makeup. She even has a woven basket. @Vic_toria

Baby – Circe Helios Duo tandem. @velovoice

Battleship Stupid – Surly Big Dummy @I_am_Dirt

The Beast – Salsa Mukluk fatbike. It’s big and likes to roll over things. Christopher T.

The Beast – Specialized Crossroads Sport (very heavy)
. Laura

Betty – Electra Cruiser. Because that’s the name she comes with (it’s model). @girlonabikedc

Big Blue – Blue Raleigh Grand Prix: Big Blue. Rootchopper

Big Nellie – Tour Easy Recumbent. So named because I yelled “Whoa Nellie!!” as I passed 45 miles per hour fully loaded on Big Savage Mountain. Rootchopper

Birte – Koga  Named after the person who signed off on the QC tag checklist…but I just call it, My Traveller. @mujozen

Blackie – 
Black Trek 1200. Rootchopper

Bluey – Jamis commuter. @jerdlngr

Blue – Jamis. Her name is Blue because, well, she’s BLUE. pencilfox

Bridget – 2010 Surly Cross Check. @velovoice

Casper the Little White Moulton – Moulton. Judith S.

Clover – Surly Disc Trucker, dark green. Named after one of the workhorses in Animal Farm for color, dependability and ability to haul lots of stuff. Sally H.

Demon - 2010 cannondale F5. robyn

Doris – Specialized mixte. Named after the BMW satNav system, Drive On Roads Intelligent System. Take the bike rather than the car, any day. LisaEmms

My Dumpster Bike – rando/commute bike. Because that’s where my wife found it and insisted I go dumpster-diving to get it. Andy

Electric Dream Machine – Felt ZW5. EDM for short. Laura

Esmeralda – Surly Long Haul Trucker. Iron Rider

Esmeralda – Brompton. @MrTinDC

Esmerelda – 2010 Raleigh Venture 3.0. The 2008 Raleigh Venture 3.0. James R.

Essie – Raleigh SC30. James R.

The Fixie – Raleigh Super Course. An admittedly unoriginal name that reflects its conversion. MT Cyclist

Fleur – Linus Dutchi @seven2seven8

Frankie – Handbuilt frame from tube steel. @josephlrc

Frankie – Red 80s steel frame with lots of replacement parts including crazy mustache bars with black-and-white zebra tape. Named after Frankenstein, but androgynous. Sally H.

Free Spirit – Schwinn Free Spirit. Laura

Giant – Giant Innova. Pronounced: gee-aunt but with more of a French accent to make it sound fancier. Renee Christine

Giddyup - Salsa Vaya. Because it’s light and quick. Christopher T.

Greased Lightning – Jamis Ventura Race. @TurtleDub616

The Great White – Santana Noventa tandem. Named such due to its pearl white color, and also my penchant for singing the Jaws theme as we overtake an unsuspecting half-bike. - pearl white Santana Noventa tandem. Paul

Gregor – a stupidly big bike named for the mountain that rides (Gregor Clegane). TheAirgonaut

Idéefixe – Bianchi San Jose, a fixed-gear. Named as an homage to Idéfix, Astérix’s dog and as a quasi-joke about fixation with bicycles. @ricksva

Ivan – Dahon folder. Tim

Jealousy, the Green Dragon – Lemond Ventoux, repainted British racing green. @josephlrc

Jon Snow – Specialized Allez. He knows he’ll never inherit the title and lands, but he is noble and strong nonetheless and goes off to join the Black Watch, and does an honourable job defending the kingdom. @Vic_toria

Julek – Trek 8000 mountain bike. @seven2seven8

Julius – Peugeot folder, named after its color. “Orange Julius,” get it? MT Cyclist

Kermit – Velo Orange Polyvalent. Because he’s green and has an affinity for swamps. @girlonabikedc

Lady Raincorn – 
Peugeot Versailles (white with rainbow accents)
. Laura

The Lead Sled – Cannondale mountain tandem, charcoal gray in color. Another bike Felkerino succeeded in naming.

Leela – Takara Tribute, 80s steel frame. Smart, sturdy, light purple, one eyed (headlight) so named after the Futurama character. Sally H.

Liesl – 1950s Puch Rugby Sport. @velovoice

Lil Bleu - 2008 cannondale six13. robyn

Little Nellie – Bike Friday New World Tourist. Named after James Bond’s kit helicopter in You Only Live Twice.
 Rootchopper

Lorelei – 1979 Puch Princess mixte. @velovoice

Lucy – 2012 Brompton custom S8L. @velovoice

Miss Persimmon Pimpernel — Electra Townie. With her deep orange paint, white fenders and rack, and a flower bedecked front basket, she is every inch a lady. @astridbear

Mongo – Surly Big Dummy. Tim

The Mule - Heavy as hell old Specialized Sequoia, a corruption of Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer that only he can lift. Rootchopper

Old Faithful – Specialized Expedition (mountain-y hybrid). Laura

Ole Red - 1995 Cannondale Super V-900. robyn

Old Ironsides – Specialized hybrid. Named to note its substantial weight and steel-like qualities, but in truth rarely use the term. Steve

Pauline – Surly Long Haul Trucker, because the silver screen like smoggy pearl color reminded me of old silent movies like “The Perils of Pauline,” in which the heroine goes on many adventures, as I plan for the bike to do. James R.

Pearl – Cyclepro Mixte. My husband rescued and rebuilt it for me. True love, my commuter! @JenBrenneman

Pig, short for Iron Pig – Novara Randonnee. Originally named for how it handles with a 60 pound load, it’s kept its name (fondly) for the way it got me across the country. Pat L.

Pilot Vanishing Point – Custom Fast Boy Cycles mixte. Named Pilot Vanishing Point (a certain type of fountain pen), after the lugwork. @justshinyorg

Puck – Jamis 26″ mountain bike. Tim

Rachel – 1996 Specialized Rockhopper. James R.

Riley – 2014 custom Enigma Etape.

The Radish – 70s Motobecane 10-speed. @seven2seven8

Resolute Ruby – 2007/2008 Cannondale Quick. The story of how she got her name is here. russtyred

Robin – 2011 Surly Pacer. @velovoice

Rocinante – CCM. This bike somehow made its way south of the border to Washington, Illinois in the late 1970s. Every part was worn out, I eventually added a third wheel to it so I could compete in a high-school tricycle race, and shortly thereafter, I retired it. It was politely exotic and pretty much shot. 16incheswestofpeoria

RocketGirl – Titanium Seven  @LDMay, who also works for NASA)

Rollie – ’75 Raleigh Sprite, the bike that launched my bike-wrenching obsession. MT Cyclist

Rootie – Trek mountain bike, because of its root beer color scheme. MT Cyclist

Ruby – a ruby-red 2010 9:Zero:7 fat bike. Michael L.

Sandy – Bianchi Volpe. @TurtleDub616

Silver Bullet – anodized silver Santana Sovereign. The frame looks like it’s made out of aluminum (Coors) beer cans and it’s fast! MikeC

Speedy - 2007 Cannondale Supersix. robyn

Sweetpea – ANT mixte. Nancy L.S.

Sweetpea – Surly Long Haul Trucker. Because it’s an apt description of her nature and color. @kfront

The Tank – Specialized Sirrus. @WilyMouse

“Taxman Craig” (or simply “Craig”) – Shogun Ninja I bought off Craigslist the very day I received my tax return. Jordan L.

Thorp – Custom road bike (named after Jim Thorpe). Tim

Tiny – Bike Friday Pocket Rocket. Bob T.

Tropical Gail and Storm - 2008 Cannondale road tandem. Captain half is Tropical Gail; stoker half is Storm. robyn

Venture, short for Aventurine – Surly Disc Trucker in matte green. Julie S.

Veronica – 2008 Raleigh Venture 3.0. James R.

Violet – Specialized road bike. Because the first road bike I test rode was purple, and the name stuck. Apparently there really are reddish violets.  @jerdlngr

Woody Anne – 2000 Surly Cross Check, named after a bar down on Winnebago Street. Michael L.

Yellow Submarine – Dahon Speed Pro folder, due to an unfortunate episode involving a (surprisingly deep) river, back when I lived on the Isle of Man. @WilyMouse

Zwijn – Schwinn World Tourist. Zwijn is Dutch for hog, sounds like “sfwain.” I’m Dutch by birth, as are most of the people in my corner of Iowa. Plus, the Netherlands is solid bikes from one end to the other, so it works. Nathan

Say My (Bike’s) Name: On Naming Your Bike

The Co-Motion Java, aka ?

The Co-Motion Java, aka ?

Do your bikes have names? If so, how did you name them? Did you give them a name you would give a person, like Betty or Howard or something?

Or is the name you gave your bike akin to something you might bestow on a pet, like Pumpkin or Spot or Patches? Did your bike speak to you somehow and tell you its name, or did it come to you in a dream?

I don’t name my bikes. Even when I was small and had a bike that had been named “Gypsy” by the manufacturer, I called it “my purple bike.” Nowadays I refer to my bikes by whatever make and model they are, like Rivendell Romulus and Surly Long Haul Trucker– LHT if I’m in a hurry.

I love my bikes and all that they do for me. I will even congratulate or thank them sometimes if a ride has gone particularly well. But naming them? Nope, I never have.

So what do you do if you don’t name bikes but you co-own a tandem with someone who does?

Felkerino, my partner in all things tandeming, isn’t much of a bike-namer either, but when it comes to our tandems he is sure that they are trying to tell him that they have a name.

Granted, the “lead sled” could not fit our Cannondale mountain tandem any better than it does. It’s perfect, and even I happily call it the lead sled.

Our previous Co-Motion Speedster was a burnt orange color, and Felkerino thought initially that it might have another title besides Speedster. “Autumn Leaf?” he said to me one day. “What? No way,” I answered. The Speedster never did offer up a name that stuck, and calling it the Speedster worked for me.

We have had our Co-Motion Java tandem since the beginning of the year, and Felkerino is pretty certain that it has a name. Initially, I could hear him murmuring something like “Shooting Star,” but that name has not picked up any traction.

If you read his most recent post, you will notice that he let slip that he’s been referring to the Java as the “Big Cat.” I think he’s waiting for some confirmation that Big Cat is, in fact, the “right” name. But I don’t know. I like to refer to it as the “Burly Beast,” but beyond that I simply refer to it as the our Co-Motion, the tandem, or the Java.

I never realized how not into naming things I was until our tandems came along. What’s to be done in a scenario where one says name the bike and the other says are you kidding?

It’s been funny to watch unfold. Big Cat. Burly Beast. Fluffy. Co-Motion Java. The tandem.

Tomato. To-mah-to. In the grand scheme of things, at least we know what the other is referencing.

So do you name your bike? I’m dying to know. And how… how did the bike get its name?

Endurance: What the Research Doesn’t Tell You

Photo courtesy Mike Griggs

Photo courtesy Mike Griggs

When mainstream media picks up a thread about the effects of endurance pursuits on health, I usually hear about it. The most recent one I know of was covered in the Wall Street Journal.

The article’s focus was “extreme exercisers,” and how they may experience some health benefits from their activities, but likely put their health at risk in other ways as a result (such as atrial fibrillation and coronary-artery plaque).

I’m sure this study and others like it are a validation to all those who put extreme exercisers in the “crazy” category. “What did I tell you? You-all are crazy for doing insert whatever endurance activity you do here!” they say. “Not only are endurance pursuits crazy. They’re bad for you, too! “

My rando-buddies and I love reading and discussing studies about endurance. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Barry.) I find it interesting that certain scientists and researchers want to study the physical effects of endurance activities on people.

As someone who has completed multiple marathons and 1200K randonnees, I will tell you straight up that studies suggesting potential health dangers due to these activities will not deter me from doing them. Why? Because my impetus to attempt endurance activities is not founded in physical benefits. In fact, their appeal goes far beyond that.

Felkerino, Jon, and me finish PBP 2011

Felkerino, Jon, and me finish PBP 2011

I admit that I started running as an adult because I wanted to get into shape. I started cycling to maintain my fitness when I could not run. Overall, I believe I’m healthier as a result of randonneuring and marathons, not necessarily from the events themselves but because of the level of fitness and nutritional awareness I’ve gained by training for them.

However, I never ran a marathon or rode a brevet because I thought it would make me healthier. I began participating in longer events primarily because I wanted a new goal. I wanted to test my limits, and to see how my body would fare under more intense physical and mental challenges.

So much of my life falls into what I consider the safe and even boring category. Brevets and marathons give me a chance to extend the limits of my safe and boring life while still being relatively tame activities I do mostly on weekends.

Someone once told me that we so often have no idea of what our bodies are capable of doing. Through endurance, and the effort of pushing through sleep-deprivation and other physical and mental discomforts, I become more deeply aware of myself. I experience the endorphin release and emotional thrill that comes from weathering whatever a ride throws at you. And at the end of it all, I get a story to file away under life’s great memories.

Some people understand that allure well. Some have other reasons that draw them to endurance sports. Others will never get it. To them, we’re just crazy. To me, we’re clawing our way to a glimpse of the good stuff.

It may seem ironic that a physical endeavor is not so much about its relationship to overall fitness, but rather its psychological aspects. If my lifespan is shortened because of the marathons I’ve run and the 1200Ks I’ve ridden, I accept that fate.

For those of you who randonneur or run marathons or ultras, would a research study detailing the physical limitations of endurance events dissuade you from participating in them? I doubt it.

The Weekend Warrior

Photo by Felkerino

Photo by Felkerino

Like many people in this town, I work in an office environment Monday through Friday. I spend lots of time in front of a computer or sitting in meetings. Lots. For over 40 hours each week, I sit. And sit. And sit.

To compensate for my largely sedentary work life I bike commute, pepper in midday runs, hit the gym, and go post-work whatevering when I can. These brief bursts of activity help me feel more balanced about my office job and less guilty about sitting in my desk chair.

The activities also give me a regular connection to other like-minded souls in the city. A smile or wave of recognition from another cyclist or runner sustains and energizes me.

In the layers of my mind beneath the daily deadlines, projects, and household responsibilities I plot my weekends. I visit weather web sites for the latest forecasts. Sunny? Hot? Rain? Wind? Tell me everything and please be accurate.

Photo by Bill Beck

Photo by Bill Beck

I ponder the adventures Felkerino and I can pack in over two days. Where will we ride? How far should we go? Hilly or rolling? Local or remote start? So many rich choices to consider.

I wonder what it would be like to have more flexibility, and the possibility to ride or run for broad spans of time whenever I wanted, as opposed to it being a weekend treat or an occasional vacation. Would I actually ride more? Run further? Or would I not, knowing that the opportunity was always there?

For now I content myself with being a weekend warrior. I sit placidly at my desk, and contemplate where my wanderlust will take me next.

That was fun. Time to get ready for Monday. Photo by Bill Beck

That was fun. Time to get ready for Monday. Photo by Bill Beck

Friday afternoon arrives and I am off with my feet steadily hitting the pavement and beyond. I’m glad for my life. The weekend warrior adventures fill my soul and help me relax a little more comfortably into that office chair when Monday arrives again.

Randonneuring: From Doing to Being

2013 D.C. Randonneurs 300K, Photo by George Moore

2013 D.C. Randonneurs 300K, Photo by George Moore

I started riding with the D.C. Randonneurs in 2005 when I was invited to participate on a flèche team. At that time, I had never ridden farther than a century and I had no idea what randonneuring was. Despite my ignorance the flèche sounded like an exciting opportunity to test my limits.

To prepare for the 360K distance, I eagerly threw myself into riding. I logged weekends of back-to-back centuries, and participated in big training rides of 145 miles and longer. The flèche came and went and still I kept riding with the randonneurs.

Before finding out about the D.C. Randonneurs I had never fathomed pedaling over 200 miles in one go on my bicycle. Yet there I was, getting it done. So many of these rides represented new personal milestones. First back-to-back centuries, first double century, first tandem brevet, first Super Randonneur series. It took a lot of effort to make those rides happen, but I was fueled by the thrill of new accomplishments and the novelty of testing how far I could go under my own steam.

Ed and me on the Flatbread. Photo by Iron Rider

In the years that followed, the desire to expand my cycling radius and explore new terrain outside of D.C. inspired me to keep coming back to the brevets. I liked getting to know the randonneuring community.

Having a laugh with Nick before the populaire. Photo by Mike Wali

Having a laugh with Nick before the populaire. Photo by Mike Wali

Lane and Alec on the Old Rag 200K

Lane and Alec on the Old Rag 200K

Warrenton 300K Brevet with Christian, Rick, and Felkerino

Warrenton 300K Brevet with Christian, Rick, and Felkerino

I increased my comfort level with attempting long distances, especially the 400K and 600K brevets. Felkerino and I refined our skills as a tandem team. I developed a rich catalog of randonneuring tales.

DC Randonneurs 600K - Chris, Lane, Joe, Felkerino, and Dan B.

DC Randonneurs 600K – Chris, Lane, Joe, Felkerino, and Dan B.

Fast forward and rather than seeing the rides as exciting challenges that mean a weekend of riding around with Felkerino and randonneuring buddies, my mind filled with the other less palatable aspects of these long rides, like the pre-event staging, the sleep deprivation, and the time spent driving to and from ride starts.

Last year I found my way around these frustrations through the Colorado High Country 1200K. I was so excited about that ride, and knew the only way to get there was a through completing a Super Randonneur series.

Dave, Bill, and Ed on the Colorado High Country

Dave, Bill, and Ed on the Colorado High Country

High Country ended up being an incredible, magical at times, grand randonnee thanks to a fantastic course and fine riding company. Even so, at the end of last year Felkerino and I still looked at each other and said no 1000K or 1200K in 2013.

When I look back on Felkerino’s and my brevet results over the past few years, I think we have been fairly active. In 2010, we rode the Endless Mountains 1000K. Paris-Brest-Paris followed in 2011. And like I said, we could not resist the appeal of John Lee Ellis’s Colorado High Country 1200K in 2012. The memories and stories from these rides live vividly in my mind.

Day 3 on PBP, with Felkerino and Jon.

Day 3 on PBP, with Felkerino and Jon. Photo by Rob Hawks

Those of you who do these rides know how critical it is to fully commit to them. Otherwise, you spend energy you can’t afford to lose wondering why you’re out there. For whatever reason, I don’t feel completely invested in the brevet experience right now. It is a good time to take a break, and Felkerino and I have not ridden a 400 or 600K this year.

I initially struggled to understand why not doing the 400 and 600K brevets seemed like such a big deal. A couple of good conversations with friends helped me realize that since those first rides in 2005, my identity has become tied to randonneuring. Instead of being a thing I do, randonneuring became part of how I defined myself.*

Being a randonneur has mattered so much over the last eight years because of the intense experiences I’ve had and because it’s also one of few activities I do that I think is special. I suppose a lot of people want to be special in some way, and randonneuring has been my special.

Felkerino and me. Photo by Bill Beck

Finishing the 2012 Flèche. Photo by Bill Beck

I love the brevets. I’m proud to tell others that Felkerino and I met through randonneuring and that we ride with the D.C. Randonneurs. I revel in recounting stories of our randonneuring adventures. But the fever to do them has not been there this year.

It’s time to do other things on the bike. Taking a break from the longer brevets gives me time bring back the fever to return to the full series. In the meantime, weekend century rides and summer bike touring sound like just the thing for me.

This past weekend, Felkerino’s and my weekend touring rides took us along a stretch of road the D.C. Randonneurs 600K also passed through, and we saw a few of the riders en route to our overnight stop.

Barry, Bill, and Jose ride away on the D.C. Randonneurs 600K

Barry, Bill, and Jose ride away on the D.C. Randonneurs 600K

When they passed, part of me wished that we were doing their ride and sharing in their adventure.

That sense of longing is what I need so that after this break, I enthusiastically clip back in for the full series with our fellow randonneurs. After all, I’m married to Felkerino and he already has PBP 2015 circled on our calendar.

*For another take on the theme of identity, check out Ultrarunnergirl’s insightful reflection on her own exploration of being a runner.

The Dogs I’ve Met Through Randonneuring

Dog-Runner 3

A Terrifying Beginning

When I was a kid, I developed a serious apprehension about dogs. This feeling was exacerbated when I rode my bike, largely because one of the rural roads I often traveled was also home to Snoopy, the big mean biting dog.

Snoopy was always in her yard, lying in wait for innocent targets like my sister and me. As we approached, Snoopy would charge across her lawn and out into the road.

Her mission was always simple and scary: bite children’s ankles as much as possible.

Fear welled up inside me at the sight of Snoopy, and I would always yell at her, in what I’m sure she heard as a terrified tone. “Back, Snoopy! No!”

Snoopy knew I was bluffing, and stayed focused on the prize that was my ankle, or any other part of me that she could nip on.

Because encounters with Snoopy, the big mean biting dog, occurred so regularly during my early cycling years, I grew up thinking that all dogs in the country were:

1. Unchained; and
2. Ready and raring to eat me if just given the chance.

I grew up and moved away from rural life. I eventually settled in Washington, D.C., and Snoopy the big mean biting dog, became a fuzzy memory.

Until I took up randonneuring, that is. Through cycling with the D.C. Randonneurs, I was re-introduced to rural life, Mid-Atlantic edition.

On my first rides through the countryside, memories of Snoopy loomed large whenever I spotted a dog or heard one yowling in the distance.

Over time, though, I realized that not all country dogs are like Snoopy, the big mean biting dog. In fact, most are not. My completely unscientific study of them over the years has shown that a variety of dogs exist in the country, and they often make for quite pleasant encounters. Not always, but enough that I don’t equate all dogs to Snoopy.

Here’s a sampling of the dogs I’ve come across on rides. I’m sure I missed at least one or two so please let me know in the comments. I do not want any country dog feeling left out!

The Bluffer

Dog-Bluffer

These dogs are often on the small side and know that, at a minimum, they must defend the fort with the fiercest barks they can muster.

As soon as they discover a cyclist passing by, they launch themselves out of the yard and position themselves either at the end of their property or on the road and begin howling away.

Dog-Bluffer 2

While the barks themselves might intimidate, the fact that they are coming out of a fluffy dog that you know you could clearly deal with if needed makes them easily managed encounters.

Bluffers do not extend much, if at all, beyond their property lines and clearly do not want to make physical contact. Rather, they want to establish who is they mayor of their turf and it is not you.

The Runner

The majority of dogs I’ve met on rides are runners. They see cyclists passing by their home and it makes them want to stretch their legs, too.

“Hi cyclists! Where are you going? Let us keep you company for a bit,” their actions seem to say.

Dog action shot. The runner.

Dog action shot. The runner.

Some runners are restrained from the road by the invisible fence collar gadget, which only allows them to run alongside you at a distance from the comfort of their own yard. Others have no restraints, happily bark out a welcome, and then take great pleasure in running either alongside you on the road (for the intrepid) or along the shoulder (for the more timid dog that lives in an area where there actually is a shoulder).

Dog-Runner

These dogs are lots of fun to see on rides. They mean no harm, don’t veer perilously toward you or your bike, and just want to share in a few paces of your adventure.

Chained-Up Wild Card

Lots of dogs I see in the country are leashed or restrained by a fence (either electric or wooden) around their property. They have space to run, but unless they break through the fence, they are yard-bound.

Occasionally, I also pass dogs that have been chained up, leashed, or kenneled. While I am glad to know that these dogs cannot accost me, seeing them restrained this way also saddens me.

What kind of life is that? I wonder. It does not seem like a good life for a dog. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the country where space was a given and most dogs were not leashed.

That said, the barks of some of these dogs and the forcefulness with which they pull against whatever device confines them to their yard makes me think it might be better for them to be leashed than roaming freely. These are the wild card dogs. You do not know what they would do if they were free.

The Naïve Puppy

If you see a dog that you discern is a puppy, watch out! The kind of puppies I’m talking about are those that are the equivalent of teenage puppies. They’ve hit their physical growth spurt, but have not yet learned the ways of the world or, more importantly, the road.

Dog-Unpreditable unleashed puppy

Naïve puppies are overwhelmed with excitement when they see humans on two wheels riding by. Propelled by a primal puppy energy passed down from canine generations past they only know their purpose is get out there and do… something when they see you. What that something is, they’re usually not sure.

They might run alongside you, and then swerve toward your bike in a spontaneous urge to smell it. Or bite it. Or lick it.

If you happen to meet up with a naïve puppy on an uphill, they could run ahead of you, and then make a u-turn right in front of you (sort of like the tourists do around here).

If a car comes from the other direction, it completely throws them, as they are still learning the ways of traffic flow and the danger of cars. Do they try to lick the car (bad idea, BAD IDEA!), get out of the car’s way, get in your way, or what. The naive puppy does not know.

Dog-Puppy 2

Despite their sketchy moves, puppies are usually a lot of fun to see. They’re enthusiastic and brimming with energy. However, their unpredictability poses a concern for us cyclists. Nobody wants to collide with a dog.

The Retiree

While these dogs might have been runners or bluffers in a previous life, they are too mature for that stuff now. Now when a cyclist goes by, they don’t lift an eyebrow. Or maybe they only lift an eyebrow.

Dog-Retiree

Felkerino befriends a retiree

These are the dogs you find lying in the driveway or the front yard, soaking up the morning sun and possibly napping. Even if you shout a good morning greeting their way, you’re unlikely to get much of a reaction from them.

The Silent Type

Silent types are the dogs I fear most. These dogs mean business, and when I mean business, they want to bite you.

When they spy a cyclist, they move as stealthily as possible in their direction. They would not dare bark or make their presence known, as they know that the element of surprise is critical to their success in getting as close to you as possible.

EEEEEEEEEEEKK!!!

EEEEEEEEEEEKK!!!

Silent types are often mid-sized and I would categorize them as mean-spirited, probably because I take umbrage with them viewing me as their prey.

In my years of riding, I’ve only met a few silent types. Fortunately, they never attacked me nor did they make contact with my bike. However, they sure did scare the BEEP out of me.

A Change of Heart

When I initially began riding in the country after years of living in urban areas, I hoped that everybody’s dog would be fenced or restrained. I’ve had a change of heart since then, at least when it comes to most dogs.

Hi buddies!

Hi buddies!

As long as they do not dive in front of the bike or hurl themselves between my wheels, avoid leaping toward any of my body parts with their jaws open, and act somewhat predictably (like a good cyclist would) I’m really alright with them.

They’ve spiced up many a ride and some have been fun to ride alongside, even if only for a few tenths of a mile.

Surely you have met a few dogs of your own on a ramble in the country. Which ones did I miss?

Comparing a Marathon to Randonneuring

Every once in a while, someone asks me how a marathon compares to randonneuring. Running versus randonneuring was also a recent topic on the “randon” list, one of the main randonneuring listservs.

Having just completed a marathon as well as a flèche and a 300K within a month’s timeframe, I thought I’d share my own experiences of both.

Post-marathon bike ride. Photo by Felkerino

Post-marathon bike ride. Photo by Felkerino

Overall, I’ve found the two activities a challenge to compare, but if I had to make a call I would say a marathon is most similar to a 300K brevet in terms of effort and toll on the body. That is obviously a rough comparison, as all rides and runs will vary depending on conditioning, the terrain of the course, and the weather during the event.

Running is more stressful on the body mile per mile, and it generally takes me a few days to lose my post-marathon stiffness. It takes me longer on the bike to get to that level of post-ride stiffness, and when I do, it feels more localized.

A marathon’s after-effects are noticeable in my quads, calves, hamstrings, core, and adductors. I feel the effort of a ride primarily in my quads, hips, lower back, ankles, and sometimes my neck.

My skin gets more beat up from being on the bike over a long effort than when running a marathon. This is probably due to being out in the elements longer, generating our own wind (does that make sense?) while riding, and riding on the open road as compared to running in an urban environment that is overall more sheltered from the elements. All but one of the marathons in which I’ve participated have taken place in cities.

Felkerino and me. Flatbread 200K brevet

Food I can easily digest while riding, I would not even consider eating during a run. My stomach is much more sensitive when running, maybe because it gets jostled around more than when I’m on the bike.

With rides that are 300K and longer, you are not only recovering from the effort of the brevet but also managing some sleep deprivation, as all rides over 300K distance require starts of 5 a.m. or earlier (at least when you ride with D.C. Randonneurs), and I almost never go to bed before 10:30, even on brevet eves. Marathons generally start later, at 7 or 8 a.m.

Those are some of the physical differences that I’ve encountered. My approach to running also varies distinctly to that of randonneuring. For me, running is primarily a solitary activity. I don’t have a regular running buddy and I train by myself.

In contrast, almost all randonneuring is a team effort with Felkerino. We train together, set randonneuring goals as a team, and ride almost all brevets on tandem.

Photo by Bill Beck

Photo by Bill Beck

I fit my running events in around Felkerino’s and my randonneuring calendar. That works well, as spring marathons in the D.C. area happen just before the brevet series really gets going. By the time fall rolls around, the Super Randonneur series has come and gone and Felkerino and I have usually completed any big bicycling events we planned, be it a tour or other activity. Fall is prime time for running.

I like maintaining a good base of running and cycling fitness, as I’ve found it wards off burnout with either activity. I like keeping a foot in both communities, as they are both quite different. Also, I think it’s important to balance out my cycling with a weight-bearing activity like running, especially in light of my family history with osteoporosis.

Brevet entry fees are much more reasonable. Thirty-five dollars for 375-mile bike ride is a bargain in my book. Brevets require more complicated staging, particularly the longer rides, because you are out in the elements longer during a brevet than a marathon. They are generally farther from home. Running generally requires less gear, and I can more easily find marathons that start within Metro-, walking- or cycling distance of my house.

A brevet requires more gear than a marathon, and during a marathon you are highly unlikely to experience a mechanical (just your body breaking down!).

Marathons draw more people than a brevet. The marathon I ran this past weekend had a field of 300 people. That’s a tiny marathon, but it would make for a huge brevet. You will also find more women at a marathon than you will riding brevets, something that I hope will change over time.

Marathons have more of an event feel (except for Paris-Brest-Paris, which also has that incredible event vibe). That is not good or bad, it’s just different.

When I show up at a brevet, I generally recognize most of the other cyclists… and their bikes. It’s an intimate community. However, it’s also fun to show up at a marathon with a big field and be part of a big happening.

Just me and a few of my friends

Just me and a few of my friends at the Marine Corps Marathon

The marathon is a distance and activity that resonates with people. Marathons are on a lot of people’s bucket lists. Most people don’t think you’re off your rocker for wanting to run 26.2 miles at least once in your life. They think it’s amazing.

The appeal of randonneuring, on the other hand, is not widely understood and often gets one of many variations of the “you’re crazy” response when I try to explain it. Randonneuring’s attraction, and even its existence, is still mostly a secret shared among the relative few who do it.

I’m glad I don’t have to make a choice between randonneuring and running marathons, as I find that one makes me appreciate the other. Both of them, however, do share a few common elements.

They challenge me to set goals and work steadily toward them. Both are excellent endurance tests for my body and mind. I’ve met some good people through my runs and brevets. And every time I ride a brevet or run a marathon, even in the rough or uncomfortable moments, I’m reminded of what a gift it is to be alive and to directly experience this world.

What about you? I’m curious how you would compare the two.

A Case of the Rando-Blearies

Every year around this time, I experience the rando-blearies. Despite commuting and riding centuries-plus year round, when the temperatures rise and the sun lingers longer in the sky, I want to be out there even more.

Aaron and me on Hains Point

It doesn’t help that I’m married to Felkerino, my partner in all things bicycling and beyond. Oh, you are riding on Saturday? Yeah, well, me too! You’re going out on Sunday? Don’t even think about going out there by yourself. Rest? That’s what I did all winter!

The flèche, one of the early season randonneuring events, is also a big contributor to the rando-blearies, requiring some long ride preparation (for us a 150-mile ride or longer), as well as a period of more than 24 hours with no sleep during the actual ride.

When was the last time I went for 24 hours on no sleep outside of the flèche? How about never. Even in college, I would finagle a two-hour nap when pulling all-nighters.

In March I managed over 600 miles of cycling. As of today, I’ve already ridden around 500 miles for April with a 300K looming this weekend, which is typical for this time of year. My running miles have also stayed consistent with the last two months. I’m blissfully happy for all the great riding and can’t stop the fever of wanting to be outside, but the blearies are still managing to have their way with me.

Felkerino and I (I confess, mostly Felkerino) have been cooking some delicious meals to curb our appetites, which are more voracious than normal from all the recent riding. I’m constantly hungry, and frequently crave sugar and protein. Even so, I’ve lost five pounds.

When dinner is done, I’m excited to flop into bed and welcome a full night of sleep. For me, that usually translates into seven hours of uninterrupted bliss. I wish for more, but somehow can’t seem to organize myself to make that happen. Maybe it’s all this blogging.

Felkerino and me-Burkittsville, Maryland

Today I arrived at the post office as it was closing. They wouldn’t accept my mail so I fought back tears and shuffled off to a nearby bakery for a cookie. It did seem to help. An episode of Doc Martin, a silly and sweet PBS show about the people living in a little port town in England, brought me uncharacteristically to tears. My emotions simmer close to the surface.

It’s all part of the rando-blearies. The fine spring weather after months of cold, the longer events on the calendar, and the desire to be part of it all keep me lurching forward. It may not always be pretty, but the rando-blearies are a price I’m willing to pay to be part of the action.

Do you get the rando-blearies, too? Will I see you at Saturday’s 300K? I thought I might.

P.S. This post originally had a million typos. It probably still does. Rando-blearies!

Pre-Ride Ruminations on the Flèche: A Social, Yet Serious, Bike Ride

This week, 13 teams (65 randonneurs) in the D.C. metropolitan area are in the throes of final preparations for the weekend’s flèche.

Felkerino and I are participating as part of Team Definite Maybe, a team of three of our riding buddies and us. In our case, that translates to five people on four bikes.

Fleches-USA

As many of you know, the flèche is a 24-hour team cycling event where groups consisting of a minimum of three and up to five bikes ride at least 360 kilometers and follow a host of other French rules that culminates in the convergence of all teams on a central point.

For the D.C. Randonneurs, that point is a hotel in Arlington, Virginia. We will eat breakfast together, and then all go our separate ways.

The flèche is often discussed as a less intense ride than other randonneuring events, and I’ve heard people offer various reasons for that.

It is a group ride, and the team aspect means that, for many, it is much more social than other randonneur rides. This is also true of the end point, where everyone arrives around the same time and then shares a meal.

Bill and Mike, from flèches past.

Bill and Mike, from flèches past.

Teams often design routes that do not entail the same amount of climbing that one would likely encounter on a D.C. Randonneurs brevet of similar distance.

The flèche does not reward for rushing, except for maybe a little additional time to hang out at gas stations and convenience stores smattered around the countryside. The maximum amount of time teams can stop in any one spot is two hours. With the exception of the 22-hour control, the controls along the way do not have time limits stipulating when you must arrive.

Even so, the flèche is a serious bike ride. Routes must be developed, revised, revised again (and again), and approved by the club’s Regional Brevet Administrator.

See what I mean? Serious. This also might have been a grumpy moment.

See what I mean? Serious. This also might have been a grumpy moment.

Team members need to make sure their bikes are in good working order. Lights, jackets, toe warmers, and helmet covers must be installed or packed to deal with plunging temperatures and evening’s (and morning’s, depending on how you look at it) darkness.

The flèche is not short, requiring a minimum distance of 224 miles to officially complete it. Even though this might seem like something that is completely doable in a 24-hour period (and it is), people need to pace themselves both in terms of their speed as well as their fueling in order to cover the necessary ground.

Team Velo Espresso Gelato: we're reflecting people!

Team Velo Espresso Gelato during the flèche night ride.

A solid base level of fitness, which riders work to achieve over the late winter months, helps ensure they can comfortably go the full distance and not suffer or bonk to the point of having- or wanting- to abandon.

Riders tend to slow down at night, and energy levels fluctuate over that 24 hours, too. While I used to not suffer any grogginess on previous flèche rides, over time I’ve found that I almost always have a drowsy moment that I have to push through. Chocolate covered espresso beans are an excellent weapon for fighting off the drowsies.

With no specific start location, teams begin their flèches spread out like the outer threads of a spider web, and spend the 24 hours that follow weaving themselves to a central point.

En route to that final location teams ride through the day and night. They talk, laugh, tweet other groups to check in on their rides, and share sleep-deprived moments of goofiness and grumpiness.

Goofiness at the gas station

There is almost always one conversation where the topic of “Why are we doing this?” comes up and is thoroughly examined. Math gets harder as the night miles accumulate, not that you can see your odometer anyway, and sleep moves further away.

Some teams might even run into each other during the ride or at their 22-hour controls, which Felkerino likes to refer to as Star Wars Cantinas. If you’ve ever ridden your bike for 22 consecutive hours, you will understand why. Also, if you’ve ever had breakfast at an IHOP at 4:00 a.m., you will really understand why.

Meeting up with all of the teams at the end is a treat. A sizzling breakfast buffet awaits us. Bill B. is almost always there to take photos of all the teams. It feels awesome to clip out of the saddle for the final time, and to have gone the distance with your team. It’s also great fun to hang out in a sleep-deprived state of exuberance sharing flèche stories with other riders.

All of these reasons are why people speak about the flèche so fondly. Despite the serious work that goes into the ride preparation and the 24-hour completion of the minimum distance, the flèche is built for making memories.

Team Velo Espresso Gelato

Team Velo Espresso Gelato, photo by Bill B.

I’m excited to clip in with Team Definite Maybe this Saturday morning! By the way, Felkerino will likely be tweeting our fleche progress. Follow him on @dailyrandonneur if you are interested in how we’re doing!