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!
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?
How quickly I had forgotten the 4 a.m. start. Curbside convenience store dining. The extended climbs fatiguing my legs. Fretting over a lurking mechanical that ended up being a loose pedal. The annoying rain showers that passed through (but fortunately didn’t stick around). My longing look into one of the country houses we passed during our night ride as I wished I could be watching television on the sofa with whoever lived there.
I spent more miles of our brevet than I want to confess feeling like I was in the middle of nowhere getting nowhere slowly, and contemplating what I had concluded was the purposeless journey of the randonneur– ride 248 miles from X spot just to return to X spot.
As we rolled along I wondered what the story of this ride was. What was the thread holding these 248 miles together? After the halfway point, I realized you can’t make a story happen and often there is no one thread, especially on a ride of that length. Better to relax, engage, and pedal.
While we do eventually end up in the same place we started, the journey of the randonneur is not a purposeless one. It’s a personal challenge where all the nerves, the infrequent sublime moments, goofy convenience store stops, the physical discomforts, and unchained dog encounters sew together to form a patchwork. That patchwork is the story.
The story of a ride can be vignettes of ride happenings or moments that are primarily sensory and make little sense to anyone but the people with whom you experienced them. It’s each of these patchwork pieces that makes a ride worth doing.
The me who finished the ride thought this year’s 400K was one of the best adventures she’d had in a while. It wasn’t just because of the delicious McDonald’s mocha, either. The company was easy, my fitness solid, weather was close to ideal for riding, and (with the exception of our loose pedal) the bike rode seamlessly.
Photos I took reveal a vivid patchwork of a day spent spinning and clawing our way through big vista country in Maryland and Pennsylvania. If only I could have put my apprehensions to rest earlier in the ride.
I’ve said before that one of the appealing aspects of long rides is they can be like living two days in one. That is frequently the case on rides of 400K and longer.
But living two days in one is also slightly overwhelming because not only is it a big physical effort, but its sheer duration is hard for my mind to capture and process.
There’s a mental trick to the 400K brevet that I have not quite figured out, even though this was my eighth time riding one. I’m still finding a way to deconstruct the 400K into manageable pieces and embrace it as it happens without looking too far ahead and still urging myself along.
I’m still learning to be patient as the ride’s story unfolds, and to respect the distance without letting my fear of it overwhelm me.