Sunday, May 18, 2014

I'm Done

It was about a quarter past 3 am Sunday when I knocked on Jeff Bauer's door. We had decided the previous evening that we would start the final 200K of the Shelbyville, KY, 600K at 4 am.

Jeff answered the door. He was already up, dressed, and ready to ride.

"I'm done," I said.

This was the final ride that we needed to qualify for the Cascade 1200K in June. We had begun the first 400K of the ride the day before, also at 4 am. It was a fairly tough course (there is no such thing as an "easy" 400K -- unless somebody knows of a 250-mile downhill-with-a-tailwind route), but a good one. It just proved enough for me.

Well, that might be too simple an explanation. I guess that you could say that it culminated in a decision -- one that, frankly, has been a few months in the making -- that randonneuring is no longer for me.

The first 40 miles passed quickly and, more or less, unseen. There are glimpses -- dark homes of slumbering farmers set in just-budding fields of alfalfa, narrow one-lane roads rolling steeply pitched in forests, quiet creeks leaking chill into air that was already cold enough for me -- but pre-dawn randonneuring is all about making miles before the sun rises to summon wind and heat. The fact that we had neither (temperatures stayed in the low 60s and the wind barely gusted into double digits in the afternoon) were irrelevant. You plan a start time on a brevet and stick to the schedule.

About 12 riders from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio had begun the ride. Jeff and I formed up with them at various times, but primarily we were all riding at our own pace. We moved quickly through the controls, and everyone seemed intent on making the most of the daylight.

Fredia's Music Place (or something like that). I know Fredia!
Jeff and I had done all of the previous qualifying rides together, but I found myself unable -- or maybe unwilling -- to match his pace after the first 200K of the out-and-back route. On the climb back up out of the turnaround control, I let him go. Then, at the top of the climb, I paused to take off some layers of clothes (I had started with tights over my bib shorts, two wool base layers, a wool jersey, jacket, wool glove liners, and full-finger gloves over those -- obviously, Florida has affected my ability to tolerate the cold) before starting back to the Stanton, KY, control.

This farm needs someone to paint it, with a woman out front hanging laundry.
The ride to Stanton was good. While I always enjoy riding with Jeff, it was nice to go at my own pace for a while. Plus, the terrain was generally downhill, and I had a light tailwind pushing me along. For a couple of hours, it felt wonderful to be on a bike.

I saw Jeff just before the control as he was leaving town, but knew that to join back up with him would be a mistake. It would have slowed him down, and I very badly needed some real food. So, after clearing the control, I went down the road a bit and got a couple of sandwiches and a shake at Arby's.

Say what you will about Arby's, but I freaking love that place. The sandwiches and shake brought me back to life, the ladies fixing my food and taking my money were nice, and it was fast.

This lady passed me twice. She was SUPER strong.
Leaving Arby's, I pulled out my little iPod and "One Good Ear" earbud, settling in to do the final 95 miles solo. Riding along the Kentucky rollers, listening to some tunes, I began composing this ride report. It was different, at first. I was going to title it, "I Am Very Lucky," and tell you about how great the roads were on this route, and how the wind seemed to have shifted around during the day to mostly give me a soft nudge in the right direction. I was going to tell you about the railroad crossing that I came to just as the klaxon sounded for an approaching train, and how that train was just a maintenance vehicle that passed before I even needed to unclip my shoes from the bike.

All of this is true, and it's important that you understand that I really did have a good ride. While it was chilly at first, I was dressed right and was always able to take off or pull on enough clothes to stay comfortable. Sure, there were a few miles of mild headwind, and there were plenty of rolling hills to make me work, and although most of the cars were very well-behaved one or two honked or yelled things or passed more closely than I would have liked.

But that's cycling in America. While we in middle Tennessee like to think that we have the best riding roads anywhere, I must admit that Saturday's route in Kentucky may have us beat. It was that good.

Fort Harrod (I think) in Harrodsburg. They had rebuilt the wooden stockade and everything. Wish I could have stopped to see more.

So it was an excellent ride ... for maybe the first 180 miles. Then, things started hurting as they were bound to hurt, and I began to wish that the ride was over.

Now, this happens on every brevet. Ask any randonneur or randonneuse. It's inevitable when you do this many miles. Usually, the fix is to just work through it, or stop at the next store and eat something, or pull off the road and sit down under a tree and take a break. Get your blood sugar up, get your mind right, and then get back to work.

I had these moments on the 400Ks in April, and the 300K in March, and on some of the 200Ks in the preceding months. If you want to finish the ride, then you just have to ignore it and hope it goes away.

The "ignore it and hope it goes away" fix is a staple of randonneuring. When it comes to physical issues -- saddle sores, stressed ligaments, swollen knees, numb hands, hot foot, strained backs, or dementia from sleep deprivation -- the maxim is this: "If it'll heal in two weeks, ignore it."

If it is important to you to finish the ride and get credit for it, this is the only way that you can keep going. My problem is that, as I rode along in the fading light on Saturday, I began to ask that most dangerous question:


Why is bad. Some things are not meant to be questioned but should just be accepted on faith, because the kind of close examination that results from Why will cause it to fall apart.

And randonneuring has become that for me. It's not really important that I be able to look at brevet results over the eight years that I've been doing this and say, "Wow. I almost did that January 200K in under eight hours." Or, "Yeah, I did do a full series that year."

The sense of accomplishment is no longer there, and that sense of accomplishment must be an internal thing. Nobody is ever going to stop you on the street and say, "Hey, aren't you Judy Ridesalot, who did the Insufferable Hills 1200K in 82 hours? Can I have your autograph?"

No one except other randonneurs or randonneuses knows who finished what, or how quickly they were. As a friend of mine says, "It's a fringe arm of a fringe sport."

This blog is one of the parts of randonneuring that I still like, in part because I enjoy coming back and reading ride reports from those brevets. But we all know that these reports are full of cherry-picked nuggets, and often when I read them painful flashbacks seep back in over the rampant randonesia: "Oh, yeah, I remember that store. That guy in the picture? He was crazy." "Yeah, but do you remember why were at that store for so long? Waiting for the thunderstorm to end, scarfing Hostess Ding-Dongs to try to overcome that huge bonk? And then you had to hammer the last 40 miles to the finish and barely missed DNFing?"

We're supposed to enjoy the challenges that we overcame, and generally I do. But it's tiring. The thrill is -- more or less -- gone, and the pleasure of finishing a ride over 150 miles is no longer commensurate with the cost.

I call it "Insufficient funs."

When I began planning my rides this year, the goal was to ride the Cascade 1200K. After that, I was going to decide if I wanted to keep randonneuring and do Paris-Brest-Paris next year.

I thought that it was just a question of fitness. Was I strong enough, both in my legs and in my head? Had I found the right mixture of bicycle, components, and clothing so that I could do that kind of distance without things -- both on the bike and on my body -- breaking down to the point that I could no longer carry on?

But about two months ago I decided that Paris-Brest-Paris was out. Doing all of the qualifying rides and traveling to another continent to suffer on a bike through French countryside that I would not really have time to enjoy was definitely Insufficient Funs. After the 400Ks, I told myself that I would go ahead and qualify and do the Cascade 1200K, and then hang up my spurs ... or cleats, as the case may be.

With that decision, I found myself grinding towards the Cascade 1200K, thinking that once it was over I would finally be free. I actually kept wishing that I had never resolved to do even that ride, at times hoping that some kind of physical malady would come up and give me an excuse to bail out.

When you find yourself fantasizing about having a bike wreck that breaks your collarbone just so you don't have to do a ride that nobody other than you really cares whether or not you do ... well, that's when you should man up and admit that you don't want to do the ride.

It was hard to admit it to myself, but as the sun was setting in Kentucky on Saturday night I did it. Then, when I finally got to the hotel and Jeff asked what time we should roll out the next morning, I couldn't admit it to him. When I woke up four hours later and did a physical assessment, I found that everything was pretty much good to ride. I was sore in the usual places and my pinkies were numb, but I was physically capable of riding that last 125 miles.

But I had made the admission, at least to myself. The will was gone, and to go back out and finish the ride would be an effort in futility perpetuating a madness whose fever had finally broken. The hard part was admitting it to Jeff that cold Sunday morning, and now admitting it to you.

So, what next? Can there be RandoBoy without "Rando?" I don't know. Generally, I still enjoy 200Ks. It's barely over a century, and there are some great routes out there. And I enjoy spending time with randonneurs. They have great stories and are excellent riding partners with reams of knowledge about fixing and preventing issues that can come up on a bicycle in the wilderness. I may not share their passion any more, but I respect their ability to ride hard when those of us with less dedication fall to the wayside.

But I don't want to waste a week of vacation doing a bike ride that requires a pace that does not afford time to stop and smell the road kill. I may still go out to Washington in June, but if I do it will be to ride a mini-tour with credit-card camping. A hardy randonneur would not consider that much of a challenge, but frankly I'm over that whole "challenge" thing and would just rather enjoy a pleasant bike ride seeing pretty places and stopping when the mood suits me.


  1. I've been following your accounts for some time, albeit silently, and I'll miss them. All good things come to an end, right? Either way, bonne route!

  2. Godspeed, Rando-boy! Maybe you just need some time off. Rando will be here if you ever feel tempted to return. Stay safe and keep the rubber side down.

  3. Cycling is about fun. Sounds like you're doing the perfect thing. Find the distance or ride that suits you and enjoy.

  4. Thanks for all of the comments and support, guys. I wrote this post the morning after quitting in Kentucky, sitting in a busy McDonald's with the post-church crowd. If randonesia ever begins to set in, maybe re-reading this post will bring my mind right again.

  5. I love this post. I'm at the point in randonneuring where it's my second season and I'm pressuring myself to do 400 and 600K brevets. I'm not certain that I really will enjoy these long rides, though I appreciate the challenge. A 200/300k bike ride feels sufficient, and at the end of the day, I like to get out there and meet people and see the countryside.

    1. You should try a 400K and 600K ... and do them both. Most experienced randonneurs say that a 400K is harder, since there are no opportunities for rest. A 600K shows how well some rest will let you recover. For many, there's a euphoria to overcoming that kind of distance. But it's kind of like touching the stove to see if it's still hot -- you gotta do it if you really want to know.

    2. Robert,

      Thanks, I definitely will try those distances. I can also see myself as a rando that might prefer harder 200 and 300K rides. I did Bundricks Revenge ride this past fall and I enjoyed the higher intensity and shorter duration. FWIW, please keep blogging, you're a good writer.

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