Gonna be late. Out of bed. Jump in clothes. Get in minivan. So glad I packed the bike and the van the night before. Oops! Get out and get cue sheets from computer. Get back in. Drive. The ride starts at 5:00 and it's an hour's drive away. Drive faster. A little faster.
I arrived at 5:15. Most of the 40 something riders were on their way and the last one or two were setting out.
At the start, Chris N. (from NJ) Ron A., Paul S. and Joe K., checked me in. We tossed around greetings and a few jokes as I did the paperwork. To my surprise, despite the delay and the early hour, I was awake, alert, ready to ride, with none of the typical early start grogginess. Maybe waking up "naturally" helped, even if it made me late.
This ride I planned to go back to basics: even pacing, consistent fueling, minimal times at controles. I even went back to using a heart rate monitor as a method to control pacing. I haven't used one in years. But this is the year I plan to ride PBP. This is a year to do the training that works. So far, I've been working on components of fitness, but the long ride, the thing that is this sport, that has not been the focus. The time has come to focus.
The pre-riders reported the course to be flat and capable of fast times. They had finished the 187 miles before sunset. Maybe, with a good plan, I could too - despite the late start.
The weather forecasters called for nighttime temperatures close to freezing and daytime highs near 60 - cool for late April. Typically, I would dress for the lows and peel off layers when it got warm, but this time I went with a little less from the start. After the hard cold rides of the past winter, temps in the low 30's did not seem so bad.
I take off onto the course. The occasional beeping from the monitor keeps my effort and my speed in check but it feels slow, almost casual. It's a long ride I remind myself - 187 miles. On a long ride, fast starts can lead to painful finishes. Take your time, there's a lot of riding ahead.
Soon, the first light of day lightens the sky. The weather forecasters did not mention that the low humidity would make the air so clear that light and color would fill the views from horizon to horizon. That detail, they left out.
The course transitions from small towns to sprawling lawns to farms for horse and produce. As night draws back, I seen green grass frosted with sugar crystals of ice that sparkle under the blue morning sky.
I ride up on my friend Janice and we share the road to the second control moving at a comfortable pace in a comfortable place until we get to the control.
All day day long, the controles are the only place I speed up. Get in. Get signed. Get out. I try to get through each control as fast as possible while being thankful to the ones signing the cards. I eat on the bike, drink on the bike, rest and recover on the bike, meet and greet on the bike. I chat with friends on the bike.
In this pattern, the pace of my day reveals itself. Ride at a steady effort, minimizes stops. Repeat.
From this pattern, the pace of my day reveals myself. I stay in constant motion as the sun works its way across the sky. The motion is repetitive but sustainable. It takes effort but not maximum effort. It leaves room for enjoyment and observation.
A foal wrapped in a blanket coat stand uncertain on spindly legs in the shadow of his mare.
Fields of burgundy cranberry plants that emerged from a once frozen bog.
Wood tiled silos.
White apple blossoms waving in the breeze.
A slow red fox that didn't make it across the road.
Turkey buzzards with spread tipped wings gliding in slow slow circles on thermal currents flying ever wider, ever higher.
The course takes long stretches through the Pine Barrens. It goes past acres of thin pine tree forests whose fallen needles make coppery brown carpets over the sandy loam. The occasional creek has tea colored water from the cedar tannins. The sound of the creek, like the sounds of the world, are absorbed and muted by the carpet of pine.
In the meditative silence of the Pine Barrens, it becomes apparent. Riding alone through these stretches can be a tedious challenge but not today. This time I flow though, quiet as the tannin creek, emerging from a once frozen world, bending with the occasional breeze, riding on a peaceful current of energy, ever further, ever longer.
The sun continues its journey across the sky and touches the treetops on the western horizon. I don my reflective vest and, in the last 15 minutes of light, finish where I started just over 14 hours earlier.
Later that night, with this second of four qualifying rides completed, I pre-registered to ride the long ride from Paris to Brest to Paris.