The uncertain arc of a ride as long as a 600K draws me to it. So many factors define the ultimate experience: fitness, weather, terrain, traffic, and the bike itself. Moments where I wonder why the heck I’m doing this are almost a given on a distance like this. Frustrating as these times are, it intrigues me to see how I wrestle with them.
In Felkerino’s and my case, teamwork is integral to our randonneuring experiences as well. Despite what the hecklers think (you know, the “she’s not pedaling!” type), you can only go forward if both of you are on the tandem, willing and able to pedal.
During last week’s D.C. Randonneurs 600K brevet out of Warrenton, Virginia, I also managed several encounters with a new factor – Made-Up Me. I learned a lot about Made-Up Me over 383 miles, and for many many hours I wanted to be her.
Made-up Me never tires. She constantly pushes forward. She dislikes long stops and cute cafes that practically beg you to linger. Made-Up Me rides steadily, ever-so-steadily. Futzing around for any reason is not her style and rest is an unnecessary amenity.
For much of the first day, I kept one eye on Made-Up Me with the other on my actual ride. As we progressed, I felt her presence in subtle ways. In my mind’s eye, Made-Up Me ate up miles whenever we paused.
At mile 103 in Crozet, Virginia, we stopped to enjoy lunch at a little bakery/coffee shop, like regular people do on Saturdays. Oh no, our break was too long, I fretted. What kind of randonneurs are you, Made-Up Me whispered as she rode away.
The day heated up into the 80s. As has been the case in past years, the 600K heralded the first long ride in summer sun. Felkerino and I paused again at mile 126 to buy a bag of ice. I packed my Camelbak with ice and threw some cubes down my shirt. Ah, that felt fabulous… and then I realized that Made-Up Me had pulled away even further during our moment of weakness.
The push to bank miles on a 600K looms large over randonneurs, especially on the first full day. Progress is critical because the faster you can work through the miles and the more efficient you are at stops, the further ahead of the control times you become, with a greater buffer of time for sleep or necessary stops later in the brevet when the legs are not as fresh.
My cross-eyed ways continued for the first 175 miles. It’s good to encourage your own progress, but bringing along a crabby Made-Up Me is probably not the best way to do it. Thus continued my ride, until we reached a control in Louisa, Virginia, at mile 178.
The blast of heat and sun after weeks of mostly milder temperatures affected the pace of several randonneurs, including Felkerino. Concern for Felkerino crowded out my worries about my made-up self. Heat has seldom been an issue for him, and I was unsure of what to do in this situation. Essentially, he required some extended time to cool down, rest, and collect himself for the night miles.
After breaking for about an hour, Felkerino seemed to recover well enough for us to ride out the remaining 75 miles remaining in the day, soon-to-be night. With Felkerino on the up-and-up, I resumed thinking about Made-Up Me. That stop had really eaten into our time. Of course, it had been necessary, but where is Made-Up Me now? Probably 20 miles out from the overnight, lucky her!
The golden hour came and went, and the heat of the day subsided. Felkerino and I plodded along the rollers back to our overnight stop in Warrenton at mile 255. At one point, I looked down and saw light rolling down my legs. I craned my neck up to the sky, and a crescent moon shined back, casting its light all around us.
A moonlight ride! I couldn’t recall the last time I’d been guided by a moon so bright. This is what I’d been riding over 200 miles for – this perfectly dry, cool yet comfortable stretch of miles in the country under moonlight!
Made-Up Me vanished as the moonlight filled me. The remaining hours back to the overnight were not easy, but they were calm, softly illuminated by the moon’s glow. My eyes narrowed in solely on our own ride now.
A couple of hours later, I heard Felkerino exclaim that he was focused. “I am focused!” he said at various junctures on our return. Oh yeah? Well, me too. Finally!
We returned to the overnight around 12:30 a.m. and departed at 5. I never saw Made-Up Me again, and I never wondered where she had gone. Good riddance!
In fact, with the exception of glimpsing Roger Hillas for a second at one stop, we did not see any other riders the entire second day. That was a little lonely, but overall we enjoyed a lovely, if not toasty, 128 miles on the tandem.
For the remainder of the brevet, I managed presence with each mile. After 200 miles of not possessing that feeling, it felt incredible. We paused for coffee and I sat down and drank it like a civilized bike rider. We took a shade break at an info control, and I practiced my basketball skills (which are quite rusty).
There had been no constructive purpose to wish myself somewhere other than where I was. Yet I had continued to do so, mile after mile. Made-Up Me was infuriating, and prevented me from fully engaging in my own ride experience. And worst of all, I had made her up!
I realized that I often wish myself someplace else, not only on brevets. If I had accepted X job instead of Y, I’d be at Z place now. If I had begun riding brevets earlier in life, I’d be a much better rider now. If. If. If. These various Made-Up Me’s divert focus from the present.
Presence is difficult to maintain, but when achieved I am complete and alive. I’m trying my best, being my best. My eyes are completely open, my senses attuned to everything and everyone around me. There are no Made-Up Me’s and no ifs, only the moment. I’m right where I should be.
This is why I do rides like the 600K. I know I’ll learn something over 36 hours and 383 miles. A ride this long almost always quiets the body and mind enough to offer stillness and a lesson or two. If a brilliant crescent moon can’t help guide you there, something else on the ride will.
Many thanks to Josie and Kelly for organizing, and for the good humor and amazing chili at the overnight (which I said I’d share with Felkerino, but did not), and the pizza and treats at the finish! Thanks to the pre-riders and other volunteers who made the ride happen.
Most of all, thanks to Felkerino (who put together a more comprehensive 600K ride report) for riding the Super Randonneur Series again with me this year – I love you.