Quiet the Mind: DC Randonneurs Northern Exposure 400K

The restless mind. The shiftless mind. An unsettled mind. Worries, classes, work. The world. I cannot shut it off, this mind.  

The only way to pause the mental cartwheels, it seems, is to apply some pedal strokes to the matter. Go for a bike ride, and try to forcefully divert the energy from my mind into my legs.  

Not just any ride, though. No, a good long ride. A 400-kilometer ride should do. 

Left to my own devices I would stay home and let the mind continue its fitful churn. But an agreement with Felkerino, all his effort to ready the tandem, and a curiosity to explore the new old challenge of a 400K distance after a two-year hiatus lures me out of the house. Brevet time.

Rider check-in, pre-dawn hellos, and a mellow rollout into the day. With a 5 a.m. start, it’s almost civilized. As we depart Frederick, Maryland, the cold claws into us, and temperatures dip even more as we drop in and out of low spots. 

Toes throb, but I refuse to wear booties in April. After living like a spoiled housecat with its brain on fire, a little physical discomfort is fine. Once the sun rises, hands and toes warm and we settle in for the work ahead. My heart warms from the sunshine and I’m grateful for the day’s light winds.

I snap a few photos, but taking them distracts me. The joy of this brevet is not in photos. After perpetually plugging in for work and school, it’s a release to tuck away the devices for a few hours. 

Free to focus on pedal strokes, Felkerino and I bounce in and out of the saddle as the terrain pitches up and down. The physical effort the ride demands begins to focus the brain. Wandering thoughts slow and life is reduced to everything contained in the ride: temperature regulation, food, the bike, fellow riders, my tandem partner. Nothing else fits in the mental space. 

This extreme day ride appears to be just the tonic my mind needed. Before we rolled out this morning I wondered why, with so much going on in life, we bother to ride like this. Surely Felkerino and I have nothing to prove when it comes to tackling brevet distances and perhaps it’s time for a different hobby.

Maybe one aspect of these events is always proving yourself in some way. I do think so, to some extent. How did we do? How does past me compare to current me and what might be the reasons why? But that can’t be all of it. That’s not enough. 

What I discovered on this ride is that an extreme day ride can physically transport and momentarily distance me from real worries, anxieties, and problems lying just beneath the surface. 

Putting the camera away for much of the ride adds to this reprieve. Without it, I engage more freely. My eyes feast on the vivid greens and cheery blossoms of April. I spy cute farm kittens, and inhale the pungent sweet and foul scents of springtime. 

After all the climbing, Felkerino and I arrive at mile 192, with 60 gentle rolling miles to go. Is that a lot or not very many? I can’t decide.

The sun is setting and I am cooked. I settle my stomach, restock on water, and we layer up for the night hours ahead. 

Like the morning, the night chill bites. I am sure the dips are getting colder with each one we pedal through.

A couple of farmers are working late to plant the spring crops and we see tractor lights crawl through the fields. A horse-drawn buggy passes us in the opposite direction. See, we’re not the only people out here.

We keep on, and the quiet of evening hours rolls around us like a blanket. As we ride together with the bike’s headlight piercing the darkness in front, I glimpse the shining eyes of the night animals out and about. There are so many! Our passage startles more than a couple of woodland families and we hear them hastily flitter away. 

I look to the sky and the Big Dipper seems so bright and close that I can almost reach out and touch its stars. We are small and intertwined with the life around us. None of it fits in a photo. The quiet outside mirrors the quiet within.

Finally. Finally quiet, momentarily content, Felkerino and I pedal to the finish together. 

13 comments

  1. Yay for you! Mighty impressive. Even a few miles on mtb trail will do it for me. I’m really glad you invented a shorter version of “neur”!

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  2. Congrats. As someone who has only done a 200K brevet, and who hasn’t really biked more than 40 miles in a day this last year, I applaud you and Felkerino’s stamina.

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  3. I was surprised at how long it took for my mind to clear during Saturday’s Brevet. It took almost 4 hours before I realized I was no longer thing of “other” stuff (and the stars were quite amazing).

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    • Yeah, the long brevets are good for getting all the day to day shaken out of the brain, at least for a bit. Hope you had a great ride, too.

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  4. Saw your post today on Insta. These area scary times indeed. There is an old interview with Frank Zappa on Crossfire. Frank said then (1980’s) the US was moving towards a fascist theorcracy. It is fearful to watch it unfold. Joe
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