Monday, June 8, 2015

East Creek 600K - a simmering melange of desires

Close to 40 Randonneurs stream out from the Days Inn located off Exit 8 of the New Jersey Turnpike. Our red bicycle taillights stretch out along the roads that lead away from the north south Interstate  highway, away from the destination driven journey that the highway represents, away from that thoroughfare where every mile is made fungible, forgettable, less than a passing thought, less than a minute's consideration. On the small roads we ride, the miles grow large, significant, they take on their full meaning. This morning we set out to ride 600 Kilometers, 377 miles. The travel, the distance that we take on with our legs and our machines, is the destination. Over the course of this brevet, we will test ourselves where the only outcome that matters is pass or fail. For me, completing this ride will qualify me to ride Paris-Brest-Paris. I have been waiting five years for this. I have 40 hours to finish.

 seeking upekkha

In the darkness of 4:00 am, the cool air sits heavy with dew. As I ride through, tiny drops  collect on the tips of the individual hairs on my arm. I begin the ride searching for balance, equanimity, a place between extremes to accomplish the extreme, looking for that pace that will carry me through the uncertain miles before me. In my randonneuring, I have failed enough to know that success is not certain, but I have succeeded enough to know that perseverance and patience, especially now, in the first few hours of a major ride, can overcome almost any distance. I ride on, working on patience and building perseverance, as the world turns beneath my wheels toward the rising sun. 

 Primordial Soup

The thought comes to me that a brevet is not one story. A brevet is a melange of intersecting lives that come together for a gratuitous adventure of proportions too vast for the average dreamer. There are people on this ride I will never see, others I will see for a moment and others with whom I will pass significant time. A brevet is too big, starts too early, takes too long by far. Yet here we all are, moving across the face of the planet, a collective of individual hearts propelled by a shared desire to follow a list of cues on a winding path back to our place of origin, to hopefully achieve the separate goals we set.

In the pale light of pre-dawn, I ride with Harvie P. from Vermont. Harvie has literally ridden around the world. He describes his route and the names of Latin American countries trill off his tongue with native flavor. Two years on the road in that adventure and still he rides. Today, Harvie is on a Rivendell Rambouillet, the precursor model to my Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen. We mutually admire our good taste in bikes. Harvie tells me of a recent adventure where he broke his collarbone while touring Labrador by bicycle. Along the route, Harvie pulls slightly ahead of me when I see an open convenience store. I want a coffee and a bathroom and I pull off. Harvie is too far ahead for me to signal so in that moment of lost communication we part ways.

The morning is cool and overcast. Grey skies. Damp air. In this limbo of weather I make good time.

Rain falls in drops just heavy enough to warrant the jacket. A fellow Rando, Bill R. call this liquid cooled exercise. I love that thought and smile at the Rule 9 implications of the day. I am officially a "badass."

As with all brevets, when distance becomes time and time never ends, I lose track of the hours. I eat when I hunger, drink when I thirst and pee when no one can see. Shadows grow long and then shorten. And through it all I pedal, circling in a steady rhythm, dancing down the road, quiet, contained, exuberant.

Slow simmer

Late in the afternoon, a tailwind pushes me to Salem, New Jersey. At Bravo Pizza, I again cross paths with a group, including Bob T., Gil L. and Bill O. 

Bob and Gil rode the PA 600 last weekend and, if they complete this 600K, they will have done both the NJ and PA brevet series of a 200K, 300K, 400K and 600K - two of each in less than eight weeks. And I thought my 400K last weekend was something. 

Bravo Pizza is out of pizza. At least out of plain cheese pizza. The guy behind the counter is tossing dough. He tells me it will be ten minutes. My reaction is hangry. Ten minutes is too long to wait. I leave. That should have been my first warning of the implosion.

The course turns into the wind. The wind blows away my speed and saps my strength. Riding solo, I press on but I feel as if the life is ebbing from from me. I am 175 miles in. I rode further last weekend! but nothing seems to be working right. Jim B. comes along. We talk for a bit, but I can't hold his pace. Hell. I can't hold my own pace. I truly wonder if I can finish.

Candied ginger settles my stomach and gives me a boost. When I see a regional park with two picnic benches, I pull over and lie down for a short nap. When I wake minutes later, my mind is clearer but the legs are still not there. I ride to a church and nap again, laying on the granite paver across from the rustic cemetery. Still not enough. Five years of randonneuring give me some mental tricks to rely upon. I use them now. I think of the Montezuma's Revenge ride and pedal on. I can do this. I will do this.

15 miles from the control is a Deli run by a man and a young woman. With a cheerful Indian accent, he tells me that they have no pizza left but they can make wraps. I buy a wrap and cookies and soda and chips and then sit down for an influx of calories. I realize then that, despite my controlled pace, I've gone into a critical calorie deficit. Even a soup left on slow simmer will boil down eventually.

The food works wonders. My pace picks up and the distance to the next controle shrinks. This ride may happen after all.

Night's cool embrace 
At the next controle, I meet Sara H and Gary S. from Maine by way of North Carolina. After one more sidewalk nap, we chat and trade names of Randos we know so that our degrees of separation shrink by a little bit. Sarah has a light, fun disarming laugh and Gary, with a few words, prompts her to laugh often. That makes me smile. They seem to be enjoying their day.

We leave separately in the last hour or so of daylight. When night falls, I put on  my reflective vest and ankle bands and pedal on.

At night the air cools and the stars appear. The headwinds taper off. And then, just like that, it all seems possible. As I ride, Ocean City rises on the horizon in a neon display of Ferris wheels and city lights. I cross the undulating bridge of the causeway and pass night fishermen on the lower level casting their lines into the inky darkness below.

The penultimate control is an unmanned WaWa convenience store. And to my surprise, there is Bill O.  The heat took its toll on him and he dropped of his pace. So we pair up for the 17 mile ride to the overnight control where food, showers and sleep await.

Sleep stop

The cabin, like almost every control, is staffed by volunteers.  We are warmly greeted and food is plentiful. After eating, showering and chatting, it's time to sleep. 247 miles are in the books. Almost there.

In a cabin bunk room populated with tired men, ear plugs are a requirement. Mine silence the room and give me a chance at sleep. Almost four hours later, I am up and ready to ride. To my surprise, my legs feel good. 130 miles to go.


Sunday was one of those rare days when everything seem to coalesce. The winds died down. The day was sunny but not exhaustingly hot. I ate and drank on a good schedule. I rode strong on the second day. I was reminded that it all comes down to chemistry and on Sunday the chemistry was good.

I rode with Bill O, throughout but others joined us for a spell. Bob T. and Gil L. kept moving on their quest for the double series. A small group rode with them. 

When I feel good, I take pictures. Here are a few:

Just under 50 miles to go, I left the second to last control with Bill O. A short time later James H. catches up and then joins us.

We stick together from that point forward.
The final control is the same as the start. We spent over 35 hours riding in a very large circle. Harvie finished a bit before us. Sarah and Gary will follow. Bob and Gil were hot on our heels. But most of all, we finished.

What comes next for each of the riders will depend on the melange of desires. Some will stay stateside and explore on these shores. 

But I, along with many, just qualified to ride Paris-Brest-Paris. For me that journey has been five years in the making. I think I'll do that.


  1. Great write up, Nigel, you so adeptly make this rando thing sound perfectly plausible. Et, notamment, félicitations et j'espere vous voir en France en été!

    1. Merci.
      Pour le plan est mieux que d'espérer!

  2. Loved reading your write-up as usual. Wish I had felt better the second day and could have ridden in with you and Bill but was just in get it done any way that you can mode. Have a great ride at PBP. I will be following you and the others online.

    1. Thanks,

      Accomplishing the ride in "get in done mode" is a sign of a true randonneur. It was good to see you on the course.

  3. August 15th! Congratulations! I'll be following PBP on their site, which appears to be planning to offer a method to follow individual riders. Bon courage!