On Saturday I rode my bicycle on a brevet, a 200 kilometer organized ride, with 78 other like-minded riders. I've been doing century rides (100 miles or longer) for over a decade, enjoying the experience and keeping in shape, but recently have fallen in with a group of local randonneurs (people who do this regularly). I've done a couple of interesting rides with them in the last couple of years while riding with the local bike club (Severna Park Peloton), and was interested in staying in shape year-round, instead of just during the fall "century season". That, and a conversation with Clint (the local "Godfather of bike riding") while riding to Ocean City last month, finally got me to take the plunge. So I joined the local and national randonneuring organizations and signed up for my first event.
The ride was a big loop on the eastern shore, starting and ending in the town of Centreville MD. I arrived at 6:30 AM, after a restless night (always seems to happen before the big ride). The temperature was in the lower 30's, and once I signed in and got my bike ready I spent a lot of time waiting in my car to stay warm. You tend to wear no more than necessary to keep you warm when riding, which is not enough to keep you warm when just standing around not generating heat. Finally, with a few minutes to go before the 7AM start, I went to the start line and joined the other riders for the pre-ride brief from the organizer Chip. Chip was behind me, so I turned my bike around for the brief (with my left foot clipped in to the pedal). At the end of the brief I turned my bike back around to get going, and started leaning to the left (with left foot still clipped to the pedal). Not wanting to fall over and create a memorable moment before the start of my first brevet, I somehow found a way to hop my bike to the left enough to catch my balance - and nobody seemed to notice. And then, we were off.
Before the start several of the SPP riders noticed I was wearing fingerless gloves and offered to lend me full gloves - which I thought was very nice - but I had commuted to work on my bike last week in 34 degrees bare handed without much discomfort. Once we got going my fingers did get cold, but the sun was rising and I knew it would soon warm my hands. I'd rather underdress early in the ride, and be cold for a while, so as to not carry discarded layers of clothes the rest of the day.
About 8 miles in came the first "control", or required stop to prove that you did the entire route and did it within time limits. At that control, a bridge, we had to record the time and the bridge's weight limit, on our card. At later controls we either had to have a convenience store clerk sign our cards or get a receipt. After walking our bikes across a frosty wooden bridge we were off again.
Over the next several miles the large group started to string out along the route as riders settled in to their favored speeds. What I've always liked about century rides (with hundreds/thousands of riders present) was the opportunity to fall in with a group going as fast as I wanted to go. On this ride, with fewer riders, the speed options were also fewer. I saw Earl and Mike way up the road ahead of me, because of Mike's super-bright tail light, and pedaled hard and caught up to them. However, they were both riding somewhat slower than normal because of physical issues, so when a faster-moving group passed us I hopped on. Shortly after hopping on, that group was passed by another containing Chip and Clint. I was happy to see that the ride organizer was on the ride (after getting the event started), and I knew both were very strong riders, so I figured I wouldn't see them the rest of the day.
My first mistake was needing a head break so early in the ride. I made an extra stop with several other riders at a convenience store, and wasted many minutes waiting in line for the only bathroom in the place. Brevets are not races, but they are timed events and riders tend to track their times. However, on the plus side I did eat a Tastykake blueberry pie there (I learned on the Seagull Century how much pie energizes me on a long ride), and got going again.
I fell in with a fast group that included the husband-wife team John and Janet and started clicking off the miles. A little down the road John was nearly taken down by a car that just passed him, then immediately made a right turn and cut him off. He avoided the car by stopping, and I somehow rolled through it all and made the light before it turned red. I caught up to Janet and let her know about it.
The headwind started picking up and I fell in with one of the tandem bikes that do so well in windy conditions. My second mistake was hanging with this fast group. I tend to like to ride fast early on, then burn out by mile 60. The next control was at mile 59, in Slaughter Beach DE. The only food that looked good was a honey bun, so I ate it and took off.
So began the loneliest 30 miles I've ever ridden. I was pleased to see Clint and Dan leaving the Subway in Milton DE as I arrived for lunch and control, as they are pretty fast, but except for them and a couple other riders, I didn't see another biker for 30 miles. I fought a stiff headwind out in the middle of nowhere, exhausted from the wind and the fast pace of the first part of the ride, navigating on my own and wondering how I would fix my bike if it broke down out here. One of the central themes of randonneuring is self-reliance, and I had already witnessed a couple of breakdowns where the victim was left on the side of the road by the group he had just been riding with, exactly the opposite of what I was used to seeing on a century or club ride. I wish I had that replacement spoke, because that plus my flat kit and bike tool would be enough to fix anything that had ever caused my bike to be un-ridable.
At the end of those 30 miles I was at the next control in Bridgeville DE. I knew I needed to eat, but could find nothing that I wanted to stomach on top of all the other snacks and Gatorade until I spotted the ice cream sandwich in the freezer on the way out. I thought I had a good group to ride with when John and Janet showed up, but I missed that group when I found my rear tire to be almost flat. I'm 0 for 2 this year riding to Bridgeville and having two good tires after getting something to eat - the same thing happened last month on the way home from Ocean City. I thought the rear end of the bike felt mushy that day, and I found a tiny pin hole in my tube that must have been a slow leak.
I replaced the tube and took off in a group of 4, including a tandem. I didn't know the couple on the tandem, but they took lots of pictures of the riders in this group. I started feeling better riding with the group, with the wind dying and becoming almost a tailwind. I hit a good stride for the final 40 miles in high gear and a low pedal cadence that was oddly relaxing. As we approached the finish I though about the "Hills of Centreville" we climbed on the way back from Ocean City and hoped we wouldn't see them - which happily was the case. I got discouraged when I thought the ride was almost over, but upon checking the cue sheet saw that the ride was 4 miles longer than 200 km I had mentally converted to miles. To partially compensate for that, my odometer which had been very accurate all day long showed we still had 0.4 miles left when I suddenly saw the finish line: Good Guys Sports Bar. Time was 9 hours 17 minutes, which I was disappointed with after talking to the "fast guys", but quite happy with when the tentative results were published. There was a biker party going on inside, and I turned in my card and Subway receipt and helped myself to some of the pizza that my $5 entry fee had paid for. I asked Clint about my thoughts on the road, about what to do if I found myself in the middle of nowhere with an un-ridable bike. His response was something I had done a few time in the past: "Call your wife". After hanging out with my fellow riders, mugging for some photos with the other first-time randonneurs, and sipping a little champagne from the bottle Earl earned for completing his "R-12" (doing at least one such ride for 12 straight months), I got in the car and headed home, stopping on the way to pick up an eastern shore Christmas present.
I liked it. The next milestone is the R-12, and that should be motivating enough to keep me riding year-round (assuming winter weather and snowboarding don't interrupt it).
Next time (next month):
1. Try harder to resist the urge to "burn up the road" early in the ride.
2. Try to get spare or temporary spokes, if just for peace of mind.
3. Mount the cue sheet on the handle bars. The days of following the group or marks painted on the road are over.
4. Get a hand pump - I wasted too much CO2 inflating the bad tube finding the leak.
5. Under 9 hours? Do-able if I don't flat again.