Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April Fool's Day 200K

The NY/NJ Randonneurs opened their 2012 season on April Fools' Day, a Sunday, with the revised Cranbury 200K. Three mornings later, on Wednesday, I woke up to realize "hey, I'm not tired anymore." Three mornings later.

The course was not particularly hard. I read Laurent's thorough, funny and descriptive pre-ride report before riding the course (click HERE to read it). However, my brain only seemed to register the words "flat route." So I decided to ride it on the fixed gear bike. Now, after riding the course on the fixie, my brain agrees with the comment that "there was a hell of a number of hills on this flat route."

But I can't blame the course alone for the long recovery time. The night before the 200k, I rode the brand new 102K Philadelphia to Phoenixville permanent on the fixed gear. And, instead of taking it easy - knowing that the 200k would follow - I rode the 102K at a "spirited" pace - (spirited is a Randonnese term which loosely translates to hauling ass.) Then, after sleeping four hours, I drove out to NJ to ride the 200K. Hmm, after laying the sequence out, it's probably pretty easy tell why just getting out of bed was a big deal for the following three days . . . but the whole thing seemed like a good idea at the time.

You see, I am also signed up to ride a "Fleche," A Fleche takes about 24 hours and covers at least 360 kilometers (that’s 223 miles for the metrically impaired). The Fleche will take place in just about two weeks. I figured riding just over 300K (187 miles) on a fixie in about 24 hours would be good training. Hence, the back to back rides. (And yes, I am making up my Rando training as I go.)

The permanent is a fast course. After a short sightseeing loop of Center City, Philadelphia, the route heads west, going out to, and then past, Valley Forge on bike trails that border the Schuylkill River. After reaching Phoenixville and doing a quick loop, you are back on the trails heading east before the one steep climb on the route. That one climb is very steep. Too steep for me to ride on the fixie: it’s a get off and walk climb, but it is not very long. Then it’s just a neighborhood ride to the end.The 102K course is so new, I was on the inaugural ride. I rode it fast to set a decent course record. Hubris, call me Icarus.

I rode the Cranbury 200K two years ago. It was my first ever Randonneuring event. I thought about that ride on the drive to the start of this year's version. As night turned to day, I got that feeling of going back to one of those places where beginnings have their beginnings, like an old school, where I went in without knowing anyone, feeling unsure and out of place but left with a few friends and with a part of me changed by having been there. 

This year's ride would have a different start, both in place and in feeling, from the first. Like an old school that has had renovations, the course has changed since I was last there. Those differences awaken the memory of the first experience even as it solidifies its place in the past. In this, my third year of Randonneuring, I think I can say the beginning is over. 

At the start, many familiar faces arrive, unload bikes and make finals preparations for the ride. Another large turnout. Over 40 riders. Fixies are well represented. Roy, Bill, Mordecai and Paul all brought theirs. Roy brought friends who brought theirs too. Katie and JBL brought the tandem. My friend Keith, after a year without brevets, returned to begin his season (and discover his nemesis in the process).
After check in and inspections, we take flight. The tandems shoot off toward the horizon. At an ever growing distance behind them, my start feels like a cocktail party without the cocktails. We mingle and mix, chat and converse, as we roll out under a morning sky painted in pastels of pink and blue.

The course heads towards the Jersey Shore. I do not have a plan to ride with anyone. At times it feels like I ride with everyone. I ride with Chris N. from PA and Bill O. I chat with Bob T. I ride with people whose names I don't know. Everywhere everyone is smiling. As breakfast and adrenalin fuel my pace, the effects of last night's ride quietly lay in wait.

The first glimpse of open water thrills me. I wonder if this is a taste of how explorers felt when they reached the ends of the earth.

The amusement park in Keansburg is closed. The silent rides and empty roads give off a weird cool carny vibe. I ride with Dawn and Walt and Rick and Paul.

On a clear day, you can see NYC from the Mount Mitchell info control. Or so I've been told. I didn't see it last time and I didn't see it this time.

Riders filled the next controle, the timing coincided with lunch. Some sat and ate; others collected signatures and rolled out. I split the difference, eating quickly and then rolling out.

I tried to ride with Roy as we approached the rolling hills in the mid-section of the course. But Roy is a stronger rider and the hills were rolling and the effects of last night's ride no longer lay in wait. Soon I rode alone.

Actually, not quite alone. Tiredness set in. Difficulty took hold. My quickstep uphill devolved into a shuffle seen in the last hours of a dance-a-thon. The ride became harder. Far too often for my tastes, people use the words pain and suffering when talking about athletic endeavors. I find the reference indulgent. An overstatement. In the big scheme of things, what we take on in sport does not touch real pain or real suffering. But it can be hard. Tiredness can strip away ego. It can bring emotion close to the surface. It reduces thoughts to simple commands. Pedal. Turn. Climb. While it is not pain or suffering, it can be difficult. But going on is a choice. I chose to go on, riding from cue to cue, mile by mile. Pedal. Turn. Climb. This too shall pass. Bob D. provided my company for the hard stretch. His lyrics loop in my head . . .

If today was not an endless highway,
If tonight was not a crooked trail,
If tomorrow wasn't such a long time,
Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all.
I can't see my reflection in the waters,
I can't speak the sounds that show no pain,
I can't hear the echo of my footsteps,
Or can't remember the sound of my own name.

There's beauty in the silver, singin' river,
There's beauty in the sunrise in the sky,
But none of these and nothing else can touch the beauty
That I remember in my true love's eyes.

Janice, a volunteer, had brownies at the next controle. I ate more than my share. Other riders were there too. Joe, my once and future Fleche teammate, was one. He and I left together. Together, we rode the final miles to the finish, one stop on the endless highway.


  1. I always like when you do these.

    It may be mildly surprising that I agree with you about the words "pain" and "suffering"—but probably less surprising that I disagree at the same time.What we do on these rides, and in our training, isn't capital-P-and-S Pain and Suffering--to really hurt, you need life away from the bike--but I think it does sometimes earn the lower-case versions. That's one of the things I love most about it: No matter how bad this kind of pain gets, it's just a muscle, a tendon, a gash. That stuff's easy.

    For me, the embracing of the easy kind of suffering is an offshoot of a larger philosophy that starts with the hard kind. I read this recently:

    "Discipline is of two kinds: physical and moral. Vélocio used the physical discipline of the bicycle to lead him to moral discipline."

    That resonates for me. I also have a natural bias towards unity of theme in art, and also in life, and a brain that performs much better when it can hit on just one base attitude instead of switching modes for each surface situation.So yeah, I think you're right that it's overstatement, to apply the deep implications of those words to riding a bike; but I also think it might be understatement to avoid applying the more superficial senses to superficial cases.

    I'm on deadline, can you tell?

    1. It sounds like the word choice may be the place of disagreement, though I see your point. Still, for me, words like pain, suffering and even discipline, seem out of place for this activity. Those words suggest an inherent conflict between what one desires (like no pain) and what one must endure. I will embrace a thigh burning climb on a bike ride, but take an aspirin the first sign of a headache because headaches are a pain, even if a minor one. Similarly, for me riding a bike takes no "discipline" because I enjoy it. Discipline I save for those things that I have to do despite how I may feel about it.