Saturday, August 16, 2014

Filling the cup - New England Populaire

On August 3, 2014, I went to Lexington, MA, (near Boston) to ride a Sunday 100K with the New England Randonneurs. Randos call the scheduled events that are shorter than the 200K (125 mile) minimum distance for a brevet a "Populaire." Although I have done many 100K permanents as training rides, I always thought of Populaires as intro rides for the Rando-curious who want to get a taste of a brevet without going the full distance.
Randos that ride every type of event on a RUSA calender in two years or less plus enough other rides to get to 5000K earn an award called the RUSA Cup. The required events are:
Despite the fact that the Populaire is the shortest event, (or maybe because of that?) the event is actually one of the hardest to complete because most regional calendars offer only one or two a season. In fact, of all the types of events offered in the sport and required for the RUSA Cup, the Populaire was the only type I had not done.

I rode my 1200K in September 2012, therefore, to make the two year time limit for the RUSA cup, I needed to get the final event in before September 2014. The New England group holds a monthly Populaire. They were the only Rando group within a day's drive of my house offering one in August. So off we went to the Boston suburbs. 

closing the circle

Our family vacation would begin the same weekend but my wife and kids indulged me with an early start to allow a detour to Boston before heading to canoe camp in the Adirondacks for a week. We left at 3:00 am to make the 9:30 am start. 

I drove while they slept (since getting up in the middle of the night to drive to a bike ride is something that Randos do). This time, the drive would take longer than the ride.

On the way up, driving in the dark to finish a two year quest that began with the longest ride I had ever done and would end with the shortest rando event, I thought a lot about that 1200K. My family was there for that one too. In fact, they were instrumental in my finishing it, in more ways than one.
I brought the Surly Long Haul Trucker.  I rode the 1200K on the Surly but I haven't used it for a brevet since getting the Rivendell. For this ride, it was the right bike for lots of reasons, not the least of which was finishing the quest on the bike that started it all. 

So there we were, two years later, two years more experienced, two years more traveled, two years older, ready to close the circle and fulfill the final requirement for the Cup.

coffee and sweat

The ride began at the Ride Studio Cafe - a bike/coffee shop - in Lexington MA. My six year old came in for a bit but soon wanted to go back outside because she thought it smelled like "coffee and sweat." I thought the coffee smelled pretty good and didn't notice the sweat. I checked in with ride organizer Jake K.  

A large group of lean, youthful riders with  lots of carbon fiber bikes gathered in front of the store. They didn't look like the randos I'd seen in over 15 states so far. I thought that New England must attract a very different rando crowd. Then Jake told me that another Sunday ride was starting before ours. 

When they took off, about six of us were left. These bikes looked ridden. They had bags. There was a single speed Rivendell Quickbeam. There were the steel frames and hard leather seats. Like the bikes, the riders were a little rougher around the edges - less pristine. Ah ha - now these look like people who would ride all day, all  night and sleep on the side of the road. These people looked Rando.

twists and turns

We would ride the South Harvard Route owned by Fixie Pixie, Pamela Blalock. To avoid traffic, the route twists and turns its way on the side streets of out of Lexington. The small group rides together which is a plus for me since it means no navigational errors. It's a group ride to the first store control. 

We ride small rollers into well appointed suburbs on roads busy with Sunday cyclists but few cars. Trees rich and leafy with summer green line the two lane road.  Jake, the ride organizer, shares some local knowledge with me and we trade a few riding stories. I find out that the Harvard we will ride through is the suburban town, not the University. We cross a ridge that gives us expansive view of the valley below.

Riding the Surly is comfortable and familiar. It has seen me through thousands of kilometers of difficult brevets and always brought me to the finish. It good to push hard on it again. 

At the Harvard General Store, which welcomes cyclists, the group decides to stop for a bite. I press on, practicing efficiency and banking time, eating Cliff bars from my front bag and taking in the scenery.

Often, on the last day of a multi-day event, in the last 100K, I have found motivation and shared it by saying that the hard part is over. That is just an easy Sunday ride. The champs de elysee stage at the end of the tour. A time to bring the challenge to an end. This time, it really is an easy Sunday ride.

This time, having recently trained for and completed much longer rides, the Populaire finish comes well before I am ready to stop. It's a strange feeling to realize that the ride is over while I am mentally and physically ready to literally do the whole thing again. 

Back in Lexington, just like that, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, greeted with hugs from my wife and kids, without much fanfare, I completed the final leg of the two year challenge, the last ride needed for the RUSA cup.

It was a moment to pause and look back. Bigger challenges, distant vistas, epic tales may lay just beyond the horizon. But before that comes vacation and a time for a little quiet reflection.

Thanks to my family, thanks to the friends, riders and the readers who have shared the journey so far. 

Because of you my cup runneth over. 


  1. Way to go, Nigel! May the circle be unbroken.

  2. Congratulations! That is an extraordinary goal to complete ... many thanks for sharing your experiences through your posts here.

  3. Congrats! What a great body of rando work......and more to come. I look forward to your every post.

  4. Cheers to you, Nigel!
    If only I had come out for this ride; it would've been a pleasant surprise to see you again. (We met at the VT 600k in 2013.)
    Alas, I enjoy your perspective on my home turf. Next time stop at the Harvard General Store! It shouldn't smell too sweaty.

    1. Jon - I remember. That was a memorable ride. Looking forward to getting up that way again. Maybe we'll get a chance to share the road again.