Category Archives: Rando Reflections

Mailbox on the 1000K

Chasing Mailboxes: The Pursuit of Something More

Where does your energy go? What do you choose to pursue? Does each day pass in a blur of routine, or do you save a sliver of time to wonder about the existence of something deeper? You don’t know what the something deeper is, exactly, and you are not convinced it is a thing.

You hold onto an optimistic belief that if you go out in the world, if you work out, read more, eat better, if you try and stretch yourself in some way, eventually you will find it. Your personal pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The sense that your something deeper is out there helps you wake up each day.

Photo by Bill Beck
Photo by Bill Beck

Earlier this week, Josie Bike Life featured me as part of her Women Involved series. (Josie’s been doing a great job highlighting women who ride and also write about bicycling.) Rebecca, of VeloVoice, asked me how I came to my blog name, Chasing Mailboxes.

In part, I called it Chasing Mailboxes because of all the times I’ve been out riding, certain I saw another rider or person up ahead, only to realize upon approach that my eyes were playing tricks on me.

Over the years, I have seen people on bikes, cyclists changing tires, a person waiting to be picked up by the school bus, and even deer standing by the side of the road that all turned out to be mailboxes.

However, every time I see what I think is a person up ahead it piques my curiosity, and energizes me to push a little harder on the pedals.

Mailbox on the 1000K

Chasing Mailboxes also serves as a space to explore that something deeper I’m often trying to uncover.

I write about dreams I thought I had that look different in reality, and unexpected sublime moments. Chasing Mailboxes helps me gain a better understanding of myself and my relationship with bicycling. And through writing, I gain perspective.

My pursuit of the something deeper never ends, but through Chasing Mailboxes I creep ever-closer to it. Thanks for reading along.

AA1000K North River Store

A Post-1000K Conversation With “Future Me”

Immediately after Felkerino’s and my 1000K ride, I was proud of our accomplishment, relieved that we completed what I felt was an extremely challenging course, and happy that we rode within ourselves from beginning to end.

There were several tough parts, but we did not come close to timing out and, and our bodies held strong. We took time to recover and re-hydrate during hot segments, and smartly navigated thunderstorms on the final day.

We stayed in touch with the other pre-riders to make sure we were all moving along okay. Felkerino and I were able to sleep some each night, and finished in high spirits after three of the most beautiful night rides I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. To top it off, Felkerino put together what I thought was a helpful ride report for those who would be taking on this same challenge the following weekend.

In the immediate days after our finish, I caught up on laundry and sleep, and ran the 1000K through my head a few times. Each time, I determined we could not have done much more to have a better ride.

A week passed and Future Me paid a visit. Never a welcome guest, she just shows up and expects me to listen to her. And I always do.

Back Road on the AA1000K. Photo by Felkerino
Back Road on the AA1000K. Photo by Felkerino

The well-rested, introspective Future Me had a different view of last week’s ride. Without so much as a “good job,” Future Me bored into the many ways I could have improved my ride and our overall time.

“You shouldn’t have had that sit-down lunch on the first day. Lost at least 30 minutes by doing that. Why did you stop at that convenience store 40 miles from the overnight? At least 20 minutes down the drain.

“That second morning—what was your problem? It’s called riding a bicycle. It’s not that hard. The rain showers the final day? Seriously, they weren’t that bad. One downed tree is no excuse for a midnight finish.

“I looked at your training and your overall weekday miles were way too low. No wonder your couldn’t finish earlier. No wonder you suffered when you did.”

On and on Future Me talked. Past Me scrambled to respond to the criticism.

“Future Me, you’re living in a vaccuum. You have no recollection of the ride’s terrain, of the heat we encountered during the ride, of the rainstorms that delayed our finish on the final day, the effects of sleep deprivation, of the extra time it takes to do a pre-ride. Who are you to talk down my ride?”

Present Me watched these two Me’s go back and forth like a tennis match. Finally, she started talking too, and the others went quiet for a moment.

“It’s good to reflect on the ride and helpful to identify areas where training or the ride experience could be improved. But nothing looks the same in retrospect.

“It’s easy to look back and criticize Past Me, and to forget all the elements in play as the ride happened. It’s easy to forget the discomfort of the moment, and the feel of unrelenting hills unfurling over a layer of shortened sleep and heat. It’s easy to say more time should have been dedicated to training when you don’t consider everything else that competes for your attention.

“Like Felkerino would say, You have to trust the people who did that ride. You have to trust they did the best they could in that moment.

“You have to see your ride as just that—your ride. Honor and savor it accordingly. Don’t compare it to what others did, or to what could have been.”

Future Me went quiet and Past Me sighed in relief. Present Me showed Future Me the door, and said farewell to her with a smile. She then began to ponder the next adventure.

Sunrise on Day 3. AA1000K

Enduring the Pain Point

Mile 250 of our 625-mile ride. Fatigue courses through my body. My skin has that beat-up feeling from multi-day endurance riding. The sun is shrouded in fog and the road keeps going up.

Mile 372. Crawling through Douthat State Park. It’s peaceful and wooded, but night is falling. And the road keeps going up. And did I mention? We’re crawling.

I’m sick of it all. Sick of pedaling. Sick of riding so many miles and feeling as though I’m making no progress. Sure, the hills make it pretty, but I’m pretty sure they’re killing me. Why am I out here?

I am swallowed by the pain point. Every endurance event has at least one– that segment in the ride where the mind rejects the physical endeavor, and pesters with distracting questions and frustrations.

Why am I doing this? I’ve come a long way, but still so much is left. This is not fun. In fact, I don’t even like it. What would happen if I stopped? The pain point’s questions consume.

I shout down the negative self-talk. Every second I pedal will take me further through the pain point. Every pedal stroke matters. Endure. Endure. I repeat the word over and over, in between the mind’s insistent whispers to stop.

I convince myself the pain point will pass. I tell myself the only way to reach the sublime is through the discomfort that has enveloped me. I must endure it.

The pain point may be relatively short, or it may last hours. But in my experience, it always passes. As long as I keep fighting the mental battle with an unrelenting determination to move forward, I will endure the pain point and I will reach a new place.

Eventually, I claw away from the pain point. I escape its nagging questions and vexations, and a weight is lifted. My cluttered and conflicted mind empties. The present moment and the turns ahead are what matter now.

My head comes up and I appreciate the beauty of the ride experience again. Hello, ride, it’s me. I’m back. I’m free from the pain point. Let’s go.

Sunrise cows

Melting Time Under the Moonlight

A self-confessed person of routine, I don’t stay out late and I don’t rise before the sun most days. I eat three meals a day, work Monday through Friday, and try to sleep seven to eight hours a night. I’m a huge fan of sleep.

Randonneuring appeals to my affinity for routine. I select the events I want to ride, put them on the calendar, and map out a loose training plan for the year. Fitness becomes an additional routine and life continues.

This weekend Felkerino and I rode a 1000K (625 miles) checkout ride for the D.C. Randonneurs and, for a brief moment in time, my daylight-driven routine life was thrown out the window.

The ride consumed us– three 200-plus mile rides in three days. Completing the overall distance within the time permitted, rather than starting after sunrise or stopping when darkness fell, became primary.

We had gone into the event with a plan– make the most of the daylight and focus on constant forward progress– but could not avoid riding many miles through the night.

Each evening, the sun set, and I would curse my inability to ride stronger and faster. The challenging terrain, increasing humidity, unexpected heat of the final day, a flat tire, and a rain squall conspired to make our overall pace slower than I wished. I had also set slightly unrealistic expectations for myself.

As if to help me through the night hours, the waxing crescent moon rose into the sky, painted in peach. The temperatures dropped from toasty to perfect.

Car traffic vanished. Everyone but us went home. We saw lights glimmering in farmhouses, but human life was practically invisible on the roads during the wee hours.

The overnight finish was still miles away, but with the sliver of moon by my side and Felkerino steering steadily in front of me and blocking the bugs, everything felt alright.

Night is a different world. Deer came out with their babies to feed and run about. Other small critters were as surprised to see us as we were them.

Little frogs, excited by the rainstorms on the final night, could be seen hopping across the roads. Our headlight lit up their curious, leaping bodies.

Time as I knew it melted away. There was no bedtime and there was no proper time to be indoors. We sliced our sleep hours in half, if not more. Our minds and bodies focused only on the next milestone of the ride.

I thought of the rare pleasure it is to enjoy a night ride on quiet roads with my real-life and randonneur spouse. Him and me, the moon and stars, wildlife, and the peaceful hum of evening.

Regular routine life seemed so far away and unimportant. It feels good to melt time every once in a while.

Quickbeam at Memorial Bridge

Things to Do During Your Taper

Ah, the taper. Time to back away from the long efforts, rest the legs, eat good meals, and ready for the big day.

What’s a person to do with all this new-found spare time?

Ensure the bike is in good working order. Is anything showing wear and tear? Are any weird sounds coming from the direction of your bike? What do the tires look like? How does the saddle feel?

Figure it out. Tune the bike up. Do some parts searching on the internet just because. Somehow end up looking at running skorts and shoes.

Obsess about your training. Review your training log over and over. Ask it to tell you its secrets. If you are not maintaining a training log, try to recreate one from memory.

Compare your current training log to training logs of the past. See how they match up. If they don’t, what happened to make them different? Try to do all the math associated with this exercise without a calculator. It makes it more intense.

Make lists! You’ll need a list of what you’ll wear on the event. How many days is it? Three? Okay, that’s three separate lists. But wait, you need one more list for those items that you’ll have with you all three days, like shoes and rain gear.

What clothes will you want to wear all day and into the evening hours? Your tried and true pieces. But you just purchased new shorts and want to see how the chamois holds up on a long ride. Should you put these on your list? You know what to do.

Another group of lists should be made to cover food and nutrition. Yes, there will be stops for food along the way, but it’s always good to carry some essentials with you. What will they be? Go to the store and buy them. Don’t try anything new. Don’t do it!

Stock up on baggies. Randonneurs love baggies. Small baggies are useful for protecting cue sheets from rain. You can carry food in a quart-size baggie. Gallon baggies are perfect for parsing out each day’s clothing. It’s all baggies, all the time.

Bag some sleep. Knowing that the hours of shut-eye will be reduced during your event, focus on going to bed a little earlier.

When you get into bed, think about how over the next few days you will not be able to get this kind of sleep. No pressure!  Can you practice sleep deprivation? I say no, but it’s thoughts like this that are keeping me awake at night.

Check the weather. Where does your event take place? Towns 1, 2, and 3? Perfect. Enter each of these towns into your favorite weather website every few hours. What does the forecast say now? How about now? And now?

Look at the event listserv or Facebook to see if anyone has said anything annoying or foreboding about the weather. Wonder why no one but you knows the rule about never talking about the weather.

Adjust your event clothing selection, as appropriate. Prepare for the worst. Buy more baggies.

Write blog posts about your taper. Instead of twiddling your thumbs wishing your were out riding, publish a blog post. After posting, edit it a few times and check regularly to see if anyone commented or liked what you wrote.

Make a music mix to inspire you. Every event needs a soundtrack. Who will write yours? As for me, I’m going through a retro phase so I choose this.

What’d I miss? Surely I missed something? Make me a list of what I missed!

Felkerino and me. Photo by Jerry

Preparing for a 1000K Brevet

After a summer of bicycling, the Appalachain Adventure 1000K is fast approaching, and Felkerino and I will be riding it.

Given that the Appalachian Adventure is a late summer affair, Felkerino and I maintained a pretty big base of mileage since finishing the Super Randonneur series with the D.C. Randonneurs.

Felkerino and cornfield

Despite not tracking my cycling miles, I still have a good sense of our weekend rides throughout the summer. Continue reading

Quickbeam and the Potomac-summer

Bicycle as Escape

I never seem to tire of writing about bicycles. I love talking about them, dreaming about my next bike trip, figuring out the perfect bike commute setup, pondering the ins and outs of randonneuring… you get the idea.

This love of riding bikes led me to start Chasing Mailboxes. I was searching for an outlet to write more creatively, compared to the technical writing and editing I do in my work, and wanted to focus on a topic that I felt passionately about, but was not overly intimate.

Chasing Mailboxes is a platform to diary the sensations experienced while cycling, These may include moments of discomfort, jubilation, frustration, or even self-doubt. It’s remarkable how the simple act of riding a bicycle can serve as a petri dish for so many physical and emotional states. Continue reading

Co-Motion and Wildflowers on Rollins

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

Co-Motion on Rollins Pass

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

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

This last week I started longing for that spreadsheet again. Continue reading