It was just a little after noon when I finally said it out loud:
"This is stupid."
I'd been thinking that for the previous five hours, cycling in the rain between Leiper's Fork and Bell Buckle, TN. It wasn't too bad at first, when the temperature was a "balmy" 59 degrees and I was relatively dry. But as the day wore on, we all got wetter and wetter, the temperature dropped to 50, and the wind started to blow.
Let's be honest. I had really been thinking this was stupid for a couple of hours before we started, when I checked the weather report at 5 am and saw that the rain chances were still 60% at 10 am. The night before, the forecast was for the rain to stop an hour or so after we started, and while it still seemed stupid to hassle with that and the cold and rain due to follow, that was only a little stupid.
Part of the problem was that I didn't need this 300K. When Jeff Bauer and I drove down to Athens two weeks earlier and rode the 300K there, one of the reasons that we gave for the trip was so we could skip this 300K if the weather sucked. When I realized that -- surprise, surprise! -- the weather was actually going to suck, I tried to talk Jeff out of this ride.
"You should do the rides on days like this to prove to yourself that you can handle it," he said. His reasoning was that riding in crap like this when you didn't have to makes it easier to ride in crap when you had no other choice.
And I did need a long ride, since I had been completely off of the bike since that Athens 300K. RandoGirl, the RandoDaughter, and I went to the beach last weekend, and weather and work had kept me from riding on other days. If I didn't get out for at least a 200K, my legs might lose some of the fitness that I had worked so hard to build during the previous months.
Surprisingly, eight of us had started the ride in miserable conditions. By the time we reached the first control in Eagleville, the group had separated so that I was just riding with Jeff and Mark Young.
We got in and out of that control quickly, since we were too wet to stay inside the store. Leaving, you always find yourself more cold and wet than you thought that you were, and I shivered for the next few miles. As usual, Jeff and I kept up a running conversation about one thing or another -- movies, books, work -- which makes for a welcome distraction. We began talking about hypothermia, and Jeff told me about another randonneur friend who has suffered from hypothermia twice on Paris-Brest-Paris. Both times, the rider was seeking a Charly Miller Society ride, where you must finish this 1500K in 56 hours and 40 minutes or less. Since this typically demands doing the 750-mile-plus course without stopping to sleep, hypothermia and exhaustion are common.
Jeff's friend is already a member of the society, having done the ride under the time limit in 2007. I couldn't understand why anybody would want to put themselves through that.
"He likes to suffer," Jeff said.
"Come on," I said. "Nobody really likes to suffer."
And that got me thinking. I don't like to suffer. I am willing to suffer to accomplish a goal, but it certainly is not something that I actively seek out. And right then, I was suffering when I did not really need to be suffering.
As we approached the Bell Buckle control at mile 70, I started to fall behind. My fingers were numb, so that it was difficult to shift, and my legs were much more sore than they should have been after so few miles. Once I got to the store, I went to the bathroom and washed my hands in hot water to get some feeling back, then went in search of stuff to put on to get warmer. I found a sweatshirt on sale for $15:
And some Incredible Hulk gardening gloves:
I drank a cup of hot cocoa, put the sweatshirt on under my jacket, put the dry gloves on my hands, and put plastic bags over my socks. Mark and Jeff had waited for me, putting bags on their hands and feet as well, and we headed out together on the long busy road towards Lewisburg. That's when I finally said it out loud:
This is stupid.
I kept falling off the back as we battled the growing wind. It was still raining, so getting into a paceline wasn't an attractive option, and my will and interest were waning. Mark and Jeff were almost out of sight when we started west on SR-270, and as I rode along I realized something about that road: It went straight west to Chapel Hill. And I know lots of ways to get home from Chapel Hill.
So, I "missed" the next left turn. I stopped at the next driveway and sent Jeff a text message -- "Struck by epiphany. See you Tuesday."
The 40 miles between there and Leiper's Fork well and truly sucked. The rain never really stopped, and the wind was blowing a steady 15 mph out of the northwest -- the direction that I had to go. I stopped briefly at the Sonic in Chapel Hill for some tater tots and a pretzel dog, but decided that the break wasn't worth the shivering as I acclimated back to the road for an hour after that. I did not stop again. Finally, about 4 pm, after 118 miles, I got back to my car and drove home.
Should I have stayed the course and finished the ride at all costs? Maybe. The physical costs were not that dire, but the psychic costs were racking up as I rode along and began questioning my resolve to do a full series this year. I felt that I got enough miles in Saturday, but just in case I rode another 80 miles on Sunday with the Harpeth Bike Club. My legs hurt today, but pain is just weakness leaving the body.
I would probably be a more successful randonneur if I enjoyed suffering. But then I wouldn't be me, and I kind of like being me. So, instead, I'll choose my battles carefully, and I hope that I have enough strength to win the ones that really count.