Thursday, June 14, 2018

Channelling Flèche on the Portland Daytrip 400K

I'll be honest with you, the 400K has not been my favorite distance over the years. Oh, there have been 400s on which I've enjoyed myself and I generally feel the powerful sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing one, but as far as sheer joy goes, the 400K ranks pretty low.

Unlike the 200K and 300K, which are both essentially long days out on the bike, and the 600K, 1000K and 1200K, which are grueling multi-day adventures where just about anything can happen, the 400K often feels like a mind-numbing slog. It seems like a ride that should fit comfortably into one day, but it seldom does. Something was going to be fundamentally different about the Portland Daytrip, though, I could just feel it.

For one, the Portland Daytrip is a destination ride. Riding a bike from one major city to another (and back!) is an accomplishment tied up in the histories and cultures of the two locations. There is something fairly epic about it. Mention to someone in a control that you're riding from Boston to Portland and back and he or she immediately perks up and shows you some respect. "That's a long way in a car," they may say. Unlike much of randonneuring, civilians get it.

Second, the roads that New England Randonnuers selected for this brevet were out of this world. The route was quiet, scenic and took in a wide range of beauty over the course of 250 miles. We hugged the coast for a long stretch on the way north, for instance, and the views were simply spectacular, especially on this clear, dry day. At some points along the way, I felt like pinching myself to make sure I was awake.

It was more than these qualities, though, that made the Portland Daytrip so enjoyable: could it have been that a group of us simply decided to make it so? For much of the day, I rode with a somewhat eclectic group of between 4 to 8 riders, each of whom seemed to be having the time of his or her life. Our merry band included PBP anciens and 400K first-timers alike, men and women, locals and travelers.

The turnaround in Portland was especially fun for me since I arranged to meet up at the control with dear friends that I've not seen for a few years. After a few hugs, they handed me an awesome pair of lobster-themed cycling socks I will wear with fondness for my trip to Maine and convinced me that I need not cycle 250 miles to come back to see them next time.

Our group split up a bit at the turnaround control as often happens with each rider taking a slightly different amount of time to refuel and reorient. No one was in much of a hurry, though, and it was not long before our core group reassembled on the 50-mile stretch to the next control. It was here, as we sat in the lawn refueling, that Emily professed her love for the flèche. As she extolled the flèche's many virtues (teamwork, cycling at a relaxed pace, heterogeneous groups riding together undaunted by time pressures, etc.), we began to wonder why we could not simply apply these principles to our current ride. 

As night fell, we donned reflective gear, turned on lights and rode off into the quiet, still and mild evening with full bellies and a shared committment to each other and to fun itself. There were word games for those feeling drowsy and enough turns to keep things interesting. At one point, we passed by an amateur speedway with highly-tuned engines crying out, a reminder that we were not the only ones enjoying our time outdoors on this mild summer night. As we all rolled into the final control, it was clear that each of us had achieved something special on this long day and night in the saddle with the help of each other, whether it was one's first 400K or one's tenth, the day was a reminder that the social side of randonneuring is powerful and extraordinarily rewarding.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Southern Hospitality on The Gainesville (GA) 200K

How is it possible that my last post to this blog was made on December 4, 2017?!? I guess I've been busy . . . At any rate, the brevet I am about to describe took place on March 10, 2018 and it was quite special for several reasons that get right to the heart of why I love randonneuring so much.

Every year in late February/early March, thousands of independent school educators from around the country converge for an annual conference and this year’s event brought me to Atlanta where I’ve never really spent any time. Getting in an early 200K in the Northeast is always a risky proposition, so I scanned the RUSA calendar and realized that Audax Atlanta was hosting a 200K not far from Atlanta the day after the conference closed.

This realization led to a series of emails to the RBA and then the ride organizer to see how I could make this all work. When I asked about bike rental options, the organizer asked my frame size and quickly offered up one of his own bikes for the job. This would be the third time in two years that a generous randonneur loaned me a gorgeous bike for an out-of-town ride. A recent post in the "randon" listserv asked for input on the "spirit of randonneuring" and to my mind, it's generosity like this that goes straight to the top of the list.

It turns out that Atlanta is a pretty spectacular city. While I could easily have been trapped for days on end in the Georgia World Conference Center, I decided to buy a cheap monthly membership in the Atlanta bike share program, thanks to the recommendation of my Facebook friend and fellow randonneur Scott C., which allowed me to roam the city streets and bikeways with a light blue cruiser each day before, between and after my conference sessions. 

Once my conference ended on Friday, I took the train to the airport where I rented a car to drive out to the ride start in Gainesville 90 minutes north of the city. On the way out of town, I stopped at the ride organizer's house to get my loaner (a gorgeous and comfortable Rivendell complete with downtube shifters, handlebar bag and Brooks saddle) dialed in. Andy A. and I chewed the rando fat for a while before I drove the rest of the way to the cute college town of Gainesville in northern Georgia, had a nice meal and got to bed early in preparation for the big day ahead.

The ride began at 7:00 AM and, with a forecast for a day filled with rain, most of the field kept a steady pace early on to put some miles under our wheels before the skies opened up. Since I had very little mileage in my legs at this time of year, I decided to take it easy and settled in with a nice guy from Atlanta named Bradley D. with whom I rode most of the day.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect on this, my fist brevet south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The route, one of Audax Atlanta's oldest, weaves its way through the hills of Northern Georgia on quiet, low-trafficked roads with nice views. Since the roads never freeze like they do in the northeast, they are buttery smooth rather than frost-heaved and cratered as they are up north at this time of year. 

I'd heard that dogs tend to run a bit freer in the south than they do in the north and this proved to be true, but not dangerously so. While the sign below was a bit unsettling to see early on in the day - shortly after being chased up a hill by a barking hound - things settled down a bit and so my worst fears were not realized.

Luckily, the rain held off until mid-day after we hit the turnaround, where Andy met us with a carload of treats, but when it did arrive, it made for a pretty soggy slog back to the start. Bradley and I split up at the mid-point, as he was eager to see the lunch spot that involved "goats on the roof," whereas I preferred to keep the momentum going. 

The route is a classic out-and-back and the second time I passed Lake Rabun was as pleasant as the first. Unfortunately, when the rains really started hammering, I missed a cue, turned the wrong way at a T intersection, and added about six miles EACH WAY onto my ride. I would have cried if it would have done any good, but let's just say I was a bit grumpy as I slogged back in the pouring rain along the only heavily trafficked main road on the route. It started to get pretty cold and my fingers grew increasingly numb as I reached the penultimate control where I ran into Bradley and a few other randos including a strong recumbent rider named Graham S. who dragged be back in to the finish control. 

It was nice to have company on the final push and it was very pleasing to make it back before sunset. The Rivendell performed like a charm even if the rider was a bit rusty and everyone I met in my travels was welcoming and fun to spend time with. This Southern hospitality business is no joke! I'm already looking forward to my next opportunity to clip in and share the roads with the folks at Audax Atlanta. Thanks for the good times!