Sunday, March 18, 2012


On the way to the start, I could barely see.Thick damp fog clouded the Princeton Junction area, the starting place for the 200k permanent. Air suspended water vapor shrouded the street signs and veiled oncoming headlights. Despite my early departure, I arrived 12 minutes late. Those 12 minutes would matter only to me since this was to be a solo ride.

Randonneurs can earn an award, called the R12, by completing one ride at least 200k long each month for one year. Consecutive monthly qualifying rides after an R12 are nicknamed by the R-ride number, like R13, R14, etc. An R24 mean two years of monthly rides and a second R12 award.

My very first brevet took place in April 2010. I rode a qualifying ride in every month since. Two summers' worth. Two winters' worth. Two years' worth. Completing a 200k in March 2012 would earn my second R12 award.

Last week, a local group rode the 128 mile Princeton Belmar Princeton permanent, at least two of them rode it on fixies. I skipped the ride to go camping with my son. Later, I signed up to ride it this weekend as a solo venture.

No one introduced me to this sport. Curiosity, a growing love of bike travel, and internet research led me to the start line of my first brevet. I rode most of that ride alone. Most of the first year followed the pattern of solo riding. I learned a lot in the process. I learned that, at its heart, randonneuring is a solo sport. You have to pedal your own bike. Riding with others certainly helps, but you still have to pedal your bike. For me, riding alone was my introduction.

As time passed,I met new friends and found people with whom to share these journeys. Camaraderie is also a big part of the sport. A very good part of the sport. Probably the part that's responsible for people coming back for more.

But this ride, I decided to solo. I chose the fixed gear Raleigh. Fixed gear meant no coasting. No changing gears. 128 miles of non-stop pedaling. Last week, the group rode the course in 10 hours and 12 minutes. I set their time as my goal. It's good to test oneself occasionally.

Losing 12 minutes before even unloading my bike for the start did not make for a relaxed beginning. The fog did not help either. I turned on all my lights to increase my visibility to cars and tucked my wet glasses into my jacket - not that it mattered since I had to ride up to a street sign before I could read it. I navigated by odometer readings.

Riding through the surreality of a fog cloaked world. Dampened by dewy drops. The small sounds of an already quiet morning muffled in mist. Frankly, it got old quickly. But weather has a way of changing. I pressed the pace to the edge of my comfort zone.

Belmar NJ is a beach town. The course goes along the shore before turning back inland. The first time I rode this route I missed that turn by looking out to sea. I missed it again this time. 20 minutes of missed turn added to 12 minutes of late arrival, the goal seemed too far from reach.

Its hard to say when the sun finally broke through. First, it appeared as a false moon peering though a closed gauze curtain. Then came a breeze. The curtain parted. The sky shone blue. 

My rides start in the thinking mind. Wrapped in numbers, paces, calculations, plans and thoughts, and thoughts and plans. But, on a long ride, under the right conditions, the chrysalis of thought shatters. A rider emerges, unfurls and simply flows over the surface of the world. That happened at mile 90.

I rode the fixie without distractions. I practiced effortless pedaling. I climbed the small inclines -sometimes sitting, sometimes standing. I spun downhill at cadences too fast to maintain. Parts of me hurt for a bit, parts cramped for a bit, parts became sore. But I pedaled every inch of those 128+ miles.

The day ended in the place where it began. My official time for the course would be 10:24, but I know that I finished 10 hours and 12 minutes after I arrived at the start. That will have to do - for now.  

We do not enter the same river twice. The person who rode off that morning returned one experience richer. It's good to test oneself occasionally.


  1. Another beautifully written post, and after riding 200K. Whoosh!

    And multi-congrats on 2 years of monthly brevet riding, that'extraordinary, amazing and downright fabulous!

    Thanks for the report. By the way, blogspot ate my commentagain, when I left it last night. Wierd. I mention that because it might be disappearing other comments also. Happy pedaling!

    1. Thanks Suze.

      I'm not sure what's going on with the posting, but thanks for the persistence in submitting your comments!

  2. An excellent juxtaposition to my first brevet this weekend. Your voice of experience is very helpful to noobies such as myself. It would seem the entire Eastern Seaboard was dealing with fog this weekend.

    24 consecutive months of 200k rides, the most recent of which on a fixie. The mind boggles. Congratulations on an incredible achievement.

    1. Thanks. It's very odd to be referred to as an "experienced randonneur" since I know some people who unlike me, REALLY qualify for that description. But I guess, like a bike ride, its easier to see the folks ahead of you and think about how well they are doing. Congrats to you on riding your first brevet. Think I'll head over to your page and read about it!

  3. Holy cow! that is an incredible time for a solo ride. congratulations Nigel, Well done my friend, Well Done....

    1. Speaking of really experienced randonneurs, if this is who I think it is, thank you your highness. (If not, thanks anyway!)