Fourteen years ago I rode my first 300K brevet with the D.C. Randonneurs, and this weekend Felkerino and I were back on that very same course, now fondly titled the Mother of All 300Ks given the gnarly 13,600 feet of climbing in 189 miles.
One of the first weekends to give a clear indicator that summer will arrive, I spent the day enjoying the sun on my back as temps climbed up to 80 degrees, while I simultaneously wondered how slowly a tandem can crawl up a hill before it simply falls over. Apparently, you have to go slower than 2.9 miles per hour for that to happen, who knew?
Felkerino says the Mother is one of the best rides our club has to offer. Quiet roads away from home give it an “out there” feeling, and a sense of accomplishment comes in the end from knowing you endured the unrelenting stabs of the ups and down of West Virginia countryside. Oh, and the views are good, too.
The Mother is a milestone ride to me. My first 300K brevet. The hardest 300K brevet I’ve ever done in terms of overall and type of climbing – an onslaught of spiky rises for the bulk of 189 miles with little letup.
In the few moments where the ride was not consuming my attention, I contemplated my current randonneuring headspace compared to my 2005 self. I had such a hunger and excitement for riding back then. Felkerino and I were just starting out as a tandem team and couple, and all of the distances were a new personal record.
The rides took me through places around the Mid-Atlantic that I had never seen by bike or car – the Catoctins, Shenandoah, and Appalachians. I was eager to keep exploring. I also had something to prove – that I posessed the stamina and strength to make it through these rides, and that I could be a good tandem teammate with Felkerino.
I still like a big ride in the country, especially as weather warms up and tourists start their annual tour bus invasion into D.C., but as I’ve continued randonneuring through the years, the newbie intensity has worn off. I know the distances are achievable – this was my 17th 300K brevet – and I have grown familiar with what lies around the bend during most of our rides.
Yet 14 years later I’m still finding my way to the brevet starts, even though I never imagined randonneuring for so long. The reasons I ride now are more subtle, but still compelling.
Familiar roads linked together to form a scenic route and a beautiful day are the easy motivators. The roads have become good friends (or frenemies, depending on the incline), and I like to pay them an occasional visit. But a person doesn’t have to spend all day into the evening in the saddle in order to soak in a nice day.
With experience comes refinement. Our initial tandem was an okay, not great, Cannondale tandem. Made for mountain biking, its adeptness on downhills was lacking and the fit was a compromise for us both, but we adapted it for randonneuring. That bike, fondly nicknamed the Lead Sled, steadfastly did the job for us in our initial years.
These days we ride a custom Spectrum tandem sized just for us. It swoops easily into turns, and has a responsive light feel. I’m so happy with this bike – a perfect fit in terms of overall arm reach, height, and saddle setback. Ideally suited to randonneuring, it’s a true pleasure to pedal it.
With repetition comes history. As the years have passed, we’ve built up a smatterimg of results on various courses and distances, and I like to review how Felkerino’s and my times may have changed. Time elapsed on any ride is the result of multiple factors – fitness, weather, terrain, unexpected mechanicals – but it is still interesting to see how steady our times have been for each of the brevet distances.
I wish I had kept better data because I suspect that our rolling time might be slightly slower nowadays, but our ability to stay on the bike longer has increased. Occasionally we have a standout ride that results in a noticeably lower time, but that does not occur much these days.
We could try to become faster (hilly weekend rides that require a remote start, speed work during the week, less ice cream, or something), but at this place in my life, I find that as long as we are accomplishing our overall goal of being on top of our ride and not fluttering close to the time limits, I’m pretty happy.
With time comes the natural ageing process. I’m curious to see how current year results compare to those of last year, five years, or even 14 years ago. To continue to complete brevets within the times we put up 10-plus years ago is a solid accomplishment.
It is unrealistic to think that age will not impact our riding pace in coming years. However, at 16 total hours, this weekend’s Mother 300K was within three minutes of our overall time from when we rode it seven years ago. That is a satisfying result.
Time alters the group. Who shows up to ride brevets has also changed over the years, too. Some have stepped away from 200K+ distances, and others have moved or spend their time in other ways.
Pieces of the old crowd still keep showing up, like Felkerino and I do. It’s fun to swap stories and share randonneuring lore with those we’ve ridden with through the years. I also like meeting new riders, learning about what brought them to randonneuring, and watching them figure out how to master the challenges of long rides.
Experience breeds confidence. As I said, Felkerino and I know we can complete randonneuring rides, and it has allowed me to approach every ride with greater calm. I’ll likely never feel completely serene about a 4 a.m. start (uncivilized!), and rides longer than a 300K are always going to contain a point where I feel a bit hung out and mentally weary.
Weather might not always cooperate (always bring a rain jacket!), and Felkerino and I have spent our share of rides slogging through rain, spates of snow, and winds that batter us about.
But the years have brought an increased level of patience with the miles that lie ahead, and I have adopted the mantra that every pedal stroke you take is one less that you have to make. Keep pedaling, eating, and drinking. Commit to staying on the bike and you’ll get there.
With practice comes intimacy. Felkerino and I have always been a compatible tandem team, but I didn’t realize how the years would sew our styles together. Felkerino is a morning rider, while I prefer the night miles. We both try to lop off close to 50 miles at a time before taking a break. We strive for one hour or less off the bike per century ridden. It’s an unspoken approach now.
Our cadences have melded through all the years of tandem riding, and we can often identify when the other is tired or in need of a break. Despite a little back seat driving, I trust him to steer, shift, turn, and brake us through a course.
I often wonder if I would do these rides by myself, but it isn’t a serious question. We’ve amassed quite a library of randonneuring memories, and it works for us to ride tandem. Felkerino and I are fortunate that we both enjoy long days in the saddle. As long as time, health, and desire allows, I hope we keep making randonneuring memories together.