Century rides were getting a little too casual for me, so I decided to look for a little more challenge. The entry point to a world of greater challenge – called randonneuring – is the 200K Brevet. Long distance unsupported cycling has no rest stops where nice volunteers hand you food and water, no mechanics standing by to tweak your bike, and no one following along in a van to pick you up if you get tired. You carry essential clothing and food, and scavenge along the way – mostly at gas station convenience stores. There’s no field sprint at the end, no podium. You ‘win’ by finishing the ride. Some people consider this closer to the soul of cycling, and I’m inclined to agree.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We rolled out at 8 am. From the start I stayed near the front as riders began to form up according to ability. I was rather surprised to find myself myself pulling away with the fast group of the day. As we began to work together, we set a pretty respectable 19.2 mph pace for the first 40 miles of nearly continuous rollers. Though the guys were pretty strong, I managed to contribute 2 or 3 pulls to the effort. The river bluff country in this region of Wisconsin is constantly rolling with short, punchy climbs over ancient glacial moraine. Punchy? Think 12-18% grades with very few switchbacks to rest the legs. Nevertheless we applied ourselves, and the miles disappeared beneath us.
Food was not forthcoming at the mile 73 control stop, as the mom & pop grocery store had a FOR SALE sign in the window, so we decided to push on to mile 93. [There was also a mom & pop restaurant, but by their own admission it was going to take upwards of an hour to serve us a bowl of chili] I downed a banana and ate two bites of a peanut butter bagel as we got back on our bikes. The sun came out for good, and we were treated to a brilliant afternoon of fall riding. The 20 mile stage went quickly, so I celebrated it’s completion with a Klondike bar. I am committed to maintaining the optimum balance of fats and protein – especially when it involves ice cream.
Getting back on the road for the final 32 miles, we faced a series of four CAT 5 hills in the space of about seven miles. With a stiff headwind the five of us got strung out, so I paired up with Rob, the ride director. We chatted, traded a few pulls, but mainly rode side by side past freshly harvested corn fields. It’s funny how there are times in a ride when you just want it to be over – funnier still [during the same ride] when you don’t want it to stop. The pure blue sky stretching over an undulating sea of harvest gold worked it’s magic on me. The spell remained unbroken until Rob pointed out that the local Walmart had come into view off to our left. Minutes later, I coasted into the parking lot, received a warm embrace from Deb, and the ride was over.
All told, we pedaled 125.1 miles with 8314 feet of climbing – both single day personal bests for me. Once again I found that, if we’re willing to do put in the miles, it’s rather astounding how often we find something special.