Saturday, December 11, 2010 - And now for something completely different.
To earn the Randonneuring R-12 award, I will have to complete at least one timed ride of 200K or longer, each month for a year. After nine months of biking solo and semi-solo (solo in a group event) routes of at least 200k, this would be my first group ride, a 200k permanent with Randonneurs Katie, Keith and Angel.
The official Randonneuring organization of the United States (RUSA) defines a permanent as “like a brevet but you can ride it any time, not just on one specific date. Like brevets, routes can start and finish in the same location, but they can also run point-to-point, and can be any distance of 200km+. Permanents are open to any RUSA member."
Riding a permanent also gives you the opportunity to ride long routes that someone else has scouted and mapped for scenery and road conditions. This route was user friendly, with no extreme climbs. Although called a 200K, the actual length of this ride was 130 miles.
On the way to the start, I wondered how the day would play out. The plan was for us to start, ride and finish together. I was pretty sure that none of the four had ridden together for an extended time. And when you think about it, asking four people to ride bikes together for 130 miles in freezing cold from sun up to sun down, when they don't really know each other, might be asking a lot.
Between the four of us, we covered a wide range of experience. Katie has been a Randonneur for over 5 years and has ridden, volunteered, organized and administered rides of all types. For Keith, this is his second year. It is also the year he completed a series of brevets consisting of a 200K, 300K, 400K and 600K, that earned him the award of ”Super Randonneur." The award comes with a medal, if you choose to buy it. This was Angel's first event, his RUSA membership just recently submitted and approved. As for me, this is my ninth month as a Randonneur, so while still new, this ongoing pursuit of an R-12 award has been like jumping in with both feet into the deep end. I've had to learn fast.
About 6:30 in the morning, we met in subfreezing cold in the parking lot of the Princeton Junction train station. The temperature was in the low 20's but the air was still and dry. While adding bags and lights to my Surly, I felt surprisingly okay with the cold, like I had finally matched my cold acclimation and clothing to the weather. On my legs, merino wool tights covered bike shorts, thermal tights covered wool tights and light wind pants covered thermal tights. My plan was to keep the legs warm and use the heat generated by pedaling legs to push warm blood to feet and toes. On my torso, I wore a wicking base layer t-shirt under a merino wool long sleeve jersey under a merino wool sweater under a light Novarro jacket. This should trap warm air but allow for some moisture transfer to avoid the cold clammys. Sweating in the cold makes for a miserable day. Wool cap and buff, Mountain Gear Epic Gloves (highly recommend these gloves) and wind blocking shoe covers over mountain bike shoes completed the day's ensemble.
We rode across the street to the store that would serve as the first controle, took pictures, bought some items, got our brevet cards signed and headed out for the day.
The next controle was 45 miles away in Belmar at the Jersey Shore. As a group, we moved through frigid temperatures, conversing through fabric wrapped faces. Frost covered farm fields bordered the route. Ice crystals of breath formed on the outside of Keith's tube scarf.
Katie pointed out two wild turkeys standing in the road. Spotting wildlife on rides is her thing. The turkeys, a strange sight in a residential neighborhood, gobble gobbled and then walked off into the yard of a home. A few miles later, hunters stood near pickups with shotguns in hand preparing to head into the woods.
Our group rode forward, swapping positions and stories. The cue sheet for the Permanent is relatively easy to follow, but Katie had ridden the route often enough to know the basic course. She quickly became the group guide, calling out turns as we came upon them.
Angel asked questions and willingly listened to our tales of and from Randonneuring. We all shared stories and lessons learned from our exploits.
Hours of subfreezing riding led to cold numbed toes. The water froze in the tube of my Camelbak. My stainless steel bottle of boost now held a slushy. Only Keith had hot tea in a thermos, so we made an unplanned stop at a convenience store about 10 miles short of the second controle for hot beverages and warm inside air. The temperature had risen, but it was still freezing.
The second controle is along a road that borders the Atlantic Ocean. Approaching the end of land on a bicycle was again a surreal experience. The beach town was in winter mode, quietly busy with joggers, walkers and strollers. Morning winds off the ocean wafted in the sound of surf. A ghostly ship appeared to hover in the sky over the ocean.
After warming at the controle, we returned to the route. Now midday, the temperatures were in the high 30's to low 40's. The route turned inland. As the day passed, I enjoyed the course more and more, light rolling hills interspersed flats and gradual declines. Far from a sufferfest, this was a day to drink from the reserve of power that nine straight months of Randonneuring has created in me. Controles came and went in ever decreasing mileage segments.
As the sun worked its way across the arc of the sky, we four riders engaged in an easy free-form conversation punctuated by periods of reflective silence. Topics shifted freely and unpredictably like our positions in the on again off again paceline we formed. Hairstyles of the 80's and 90's, endurance racing of all types, school, careers and family, the essential importance of volunteers to the sport of randonneuring, all these and more were covered as we followed the threads of connection that unraveled our six degrees of separation.
Darkness comes quickly in December and it caught us still on the road. Switching on our lights, we passed through towns and neighborhood that were lit up in bright displays of Christmas cheer. The manger now comes in the glow of neon. We learned the difference between a reindeer and a caribou. The super bright red DiNotte taillight on Katie's bike and her unfailing directions earned her the nickname Rudolph.
The penultimate stop at Cranbury Pizza was a welcome opportunity to refuel. We had a slice or three or pizza and order of chicken soup that somehow became lentil soup when brought to the table. Then seven miles later, we completed the course.
I suppose at some point along the route, some time during the day, some in the group had a moment when they questioned the sanity of this ride and the soundness of our methods, but we started together, rode together and ended together in good spirits. Perhaps the sanity of that act answered any questions.
I later found out that Angel and Keith had to deal with a five-hour delay, after the ride, on the way home. As a result, Angel had spent about 24 hours away from home on his first Randonneuring event. Two days later, I found out that he is willing to do this again. Apparently, rando-insanity is a contagious condition and spreads fast in a group setting.