The Answer to All My Questions: D.C. Randonneurs Northern Exposure 400K

The past couple of years have been oversaturated with persistent questions. What am I doing with my life? Where do we go when we die? Am I doing the “right” things? What should I have done differently? What can or should I still do?

Chris R. and Amish buggie

These questions pester and burden more than they used to do, circling me like the most annoying horsefly. You can’t quite shoo the fly away or go fast enough to escape it, and it occasionally finds a way to sneak in a bite of skin, as if buzzing around you weren’t enough.

Perhaps these are fruitless questions to wrestle through. I don’t exactly think so, but the pondering can only go so far, as we don’t know – I mean, KNOW – the answer. And if you do, please contact me immediately.

East Waterford, mile 108

We only know of a finite beginning, and eventually become aware that there is also an end of life as we know it. How much can we wrap our minds around these thoughts and come out the other side with any kind of answer that satisfies for the long term and lays our doubts to rest?

Basically, my brain has been clinging to these themes for most of 2019. There are various reasons for that: the natural ageing process; the furlough/partial government shutdown from earlier this year; and honestly, the tangible results of climate change, too. I’ve felt helpless, anxious, and sometimes lost.

Watching the tandem go by

After a point, though, I realize that I must give my mind a reprieve from all of this, and unexpectedly randonneuring has become the welcome escape. After 15 years of this randonneuring monkey business, I never fathomed that I would willingly raise myself for something as long as a 400K, but once again we are back at it and I’m glad.

And with the 2019 Northern Exposure 400K, I am restored. Restored, and the big questions aren’t circling my head like before.

On Saturday, we witnessed the rise and fall of the sun, continued on into darkness, and I thought it poetic. I didn’t realize the moon was full, that it would float blood red into the sky, and that we would then have the added thrill of riding in its company during the final miles.

Chris N in the chop

I forgot that we ride through Amish country on this route. Children swiveled their heads as we passed, their gazes riveted to our tandem. I forgot how sublime our sovereign blue Spectrum feels rolling up and down the rises. It is truly a bicycle made for Felkerino and me.

I was reminded of how much it means for me to ride these brevets with Felkerino as a tandem team. Between miles 138 and mile 190 of our 248-mile ride – also one of the hilliest segments of our ride – I silently pondered my imminent retirement from randonneuring. It’s gonna be great, I though to myself. Imagine all the loads of laundry I will do. The books I will read. All the running miles.

Sun sinks low on the 400K

Felkerino then mentioned that – even after more than two decades of randonneuring – he still sees each of the brevets as a special endeavor. Even if you’ve done them multiple times, each one unfolds differently. And it’s not as though we undertake them with enough frequency that they ever become routine.

He was right, especially this day. Temperatures were ideal – into the low 80s – like a soft introduction to summer. The course immersed us in greenery. The winds were light, such that headwinds didn’t beat us about, unlike our Frederick 300K last month.

The number of people who showed up was small (14 or so riders), but we continued to criss cross each other throughout the route, so we never felt isolated.

Thurmont

We had one minor encounter with a cranky driver, but that just made the pleasant people appear even more pleasant. Overall, people seemed to think it was just fine that we were out riding our bikes. People offered smiles and waves, and drivers gave us plenty of room when passing. They recognized us and treated us well.

The world is vast and difficult for me to understand. It frustrates me. I feel overwhelmed by what the future holds.

Riding our club’s 400K this last Saturday refocused me on the present, and made future inevitabilities less scary. Less significant.

Chip under the moonlight

Our ride evoked the physical and mental satisfaction of muscling through a challenging course mile by mile. I integrated into the environment of late spring, one small piece of the landscape. I was awash in the good fortune I have to ride these distances on tandem with Felkerino.

As we rolled into the finish at the divey Days Inn after over 19 hours of pedaling, I could have wept with gratitude for all that led me to this moment. Restored.

Perhaps life is about seizing the present and extracting everything you can from that. Put down the newspapers, disconnect from the internet. Stop trying to answer so many complicated questions and crawl out from under their weight.

Maybe the best answer is a 400K bike ride with your true love on the most elegant tandem and a picture perfect day.

 

16 replies

  1. I know, and am writing immediately. Grin. Great questions. Organic in our clay questions. Why? Because we hunger for something greater. I know, and am writing immediately.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha…I should have known Patrick would respond before me. I have much I’d like to say, but a blog post comment isn’t the best venue. I will, however, say that there seems to be no limit on life analogies for the cyclist.

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  3. Wow this has really hit home to me ! Why ! Because aged 68 I too seem to be pondering the end continuously rather than the present day. So much so that when struggling up an hill I wonder why I am even bothering. But once back home showered and sitting with a cuppa ( being English I love my tea ) I realise just how great cycling is both for me physically & mentally.
    Which means I will continue to do it as long as I can even if it means eventually getting an electrical assisted bike. However what I am going to do is to sell my more sporty bikes because my triple chain set tourers make life so much easier when climbing hills. Ok I will probably remain pondering how much longer I have, something none of us will never know, but at least I will do it enjoying my favourite past time rather than sitting in a darkend room watching TV. Let’s all I enjoy ourselves whilst we can and not worry about what tomorrow may bring.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Super powerful post, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I feel the same way at times, feel blessed to have randonneuring to help keep things in perspective. During this difficult times the past 2 years with our political mess, it can be very hard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Which begs the question, 2016 and before … no political mess? Grin. From where I sit, political mess is a constant in this fallen world. For the last 2 years, the last 20, the last 200, and keep adding zeros. Grin. The questions Mary asks are eternal. In my experience, cycling makes for amazing active contemplation, stirring up questions, questions only faith can answer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • So true… randonneuring is the best medicine. It’s certainly exhausting at times, but very good medicine for the mind and body.

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  5. It’s actually a quote from the TV series in the 60s Route 66. About two guys riding across America also looking for answers to the same questions.

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  6. Without the end there would be little sweetness in the now. And without savoring that sweetness the end would be bitter. Long distance cycling is a wonderful form of meditation putting us in the sweet, ever changing now.

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  7. MG:

    Greetings from New Jersey. Your blog is one of the things that drew me to riding brevets and permanents. Thanks for writing.

    I’ve been thinking about your post (which I really, really enjoyed) since I read it weeks ago, especially the part about how can we KNOW.

    I have a fledgling blog (www.DancesWithGears.wordpress.org) where I sometimes write about parallels between endurance cycling and Christian thought. I posted something that explores “knowing” in the context of the themes in your post. Titled “It Takes Faith to Ride a Bike”, you can read it at https://danceswithgears.wordpress.com/2019/07/10/it-takes-faith-to-ride-a-bicycle/

    I’d put in a hyperlink to the post if I could figure out how ….

    Thanks for sharing. SC

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