Cracking the Perfect Ride Code

This is an article I wrote for the March 2021 edition of American Randonneur. It evolved from a piece about our club’s fall 200K that I wrote here. Enjoy, and hope you all are well.

My home club, the D.C. Randonneurs, has quite a few good courses in its brevet library, thanks to the expert routing and road knowledge of a few club members. Certain people possess talents that crack the brevet code quite effectively. They find the area’s quiet roads sew them together with both necessary and desirable brevet elements – scenery, hills with charming vistas, flatter sections that allow for recovery, and well-placed controls throughout. 

The expert routers’ devotion to repeatedly cracking the brevet code over multiple distances results in courses that allow us as riders to reap the rewards of their skill. To the untrained eye, brevet cues are just directions to follow from start to finish –  something that keeps us from getting lost or riding bonus miles. But for others this arrangement of roads has the potential to become a work of art over which we leave pieces of memory.

Certain courses cannot stand the test of time. Urban development or changes in road infrastructure do not allow these courses to shine anymore, and we reluctantly retire them. However, a select few continue to sparkle as the years pass, as though timeless. They are the perfect rides, true art. 

Ironically, because they are so rare, our club ends up hosting our few perfect routes fairly regularly. But because they are true art, I eagerly put them on my calendar. While our schedule in 2020 was extremely curtailed, the club still found a way to fit in one of these true art rides late in the year – the Old Rag 200K. 

While this particular course contains only one significant climb – Old Rag, after which the route is named – it keeps coming at you one puffy Virginia roller after the other, over and over, for 125 miles. It offers picturesque views. Pillowy hills, red barns, apple orchards. There’s even a section that winds alongside a babbling brook, how often do you get one of those? 

Crista, the route designer, once told us she liked to ride this brevet in springtime. Redbud, cherry blossoms, the fresh green of springtime and all that. It’s certainly nice that time of year, but with the October color going strong Old Rag pops plenty in the fall, too. Consistent with it being a perfect ride, this 200K works for all seasons. 

Old Rag was my second brevet ever, back in 2005, and I still delight in riding it 15 years later. Not only do I appreciate the twists and rises of the route, as well as its aesthetic appeal, but vivid memories emerge at different parts. Good or bad, little bits of me have found their way onto these roads, this course. 

Perfect rides lay out beneath us so we can completely absorb into the landscape, unlock the limits of time, and hold the past and present. I pedal along and glimpse snapshot memories from previous editions. 

During our most recent trip on this course, electronic proof of passage (EPP) allowed us to ride with our own momentum, and take breaks as we wanted versus what the control card demanded. I know people have varying opinions about this way of controlling a ride, but for me, EPP made the perfect route even more perfect.

It was an unceremonious ending for Felkerino and me during our late fall Old Rag ride, as the pandemic has meant no social gathering at finishes. Still, it was satisfying to complete this iconic route in a fraught 2020 and create a few new memories to keep the old ones company. 

As we completed our outing this past fall, I spied a past me packing up for the drive home in almost the exact same spot Felkerino and I were standing. Sweaty and smiling, I watched the afternoon sun shine on her face.

I look forward to encountering the memories and past selves that await us on courses this year. Here’s to past and present, expert routers, and all the perfect rides.

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