Now that I've decided to try PBP in 2019—and fortunately this decision came at least a year and a half before it's August 18 start-date—my first concern is being denied entry. I'd hate to plan and train and day dream for nothing.
Being turned down can happen for two primary reasons: 1) The organizers decided to cap the number of riders from the USA, and this number turns out to be greater than the number of registrants; and 2) you fail to complete the required Super Randonneur series in 2019 before the cut-off date for qualifying rides.
It's too soon for me to worry about #2—that will have to wait until late next March when the ride calendar begins. So what can I do about Worry Number One? Other than simply hope that no one who completes the qualifiers is turned away, I can take advantage of a rule that says, The longer you ride in 2018, the sooner you get to register in 2019."
If you complete a 1000 or 1200K in 2018, you can register beginning 1/14/19; 660K begins 1/28; 400K, 2/11, etc.
So the first order of business on my road to PBP '19 is to complete a 1000K this year in order to insure entry in the case of an imposed cut-off.
Given that 600K is the longest brevet I've ever completed in my 12 years randonneuring, this is a big ask of myself. And the fact that so far this year the longest ride I've completed is an unofficial 200K, it looks even more daunting.
But in two months there is a 1000K in Ontario that's very flat, so that's where I'm heading! Hopefully between now and then I'll get some long rides in!
Today I took an important first step on the road to Paris. No, I didn't buy a new bike, or book a plane or a hotel. No, I didn't complete my first 1200K—I've yet to do that, after three attempts. In fact, I only logged 40 miles today, just tooling around town.
What I did was to start this blog—and while each word I type won't get me more prepared, or add to my needed amount of funds, they will make this far-off, far-above-my-current-ability goal that much more a reality.
And so it begins. Watch this space.
I published 20 issues of this digital cycling journal between May 2010 and January 2012. The site is no longer active, but you can download issues here—over 200 articles by cyclists, for cyclists, about cyclists:
No matter how hard I try to prepare for "the big ride" before going to bed—the alarm clock set for 2am—I somehow manage to bungle a thing or two. On my very first brevet (a 200K in 2005, also out of Princeton), I was so about preparation that I booked a room at the Westin, driving down the afternoon before the ride. (Yes, a sunny afternoon it was, which would help explain how I forgot my glasses, and had to ride in the dark the next morning, wearing prescription shades.)
But thinking back to this past Saturday, I can't recall anything typical of my rando-fails. No forgotten shoes; no custom-formatted cue sheet with the misaligned columns (don't try this); no headlight-sans-batteries or empty water bottles. [Back in April, as I bent down to open the car door to head down to the Cranbury 200K, I poured a cup of milk onto my sandaled foot.] This time, I seemed to have gotten it right for once.
For instance, no matter how warm they are predicting for the day—or how warm it seems as I head out the door at 2:30am—I'm always, always shivering during the bike inspection and over the first dozen miles of a ride. Perhaps it's nerves, or blood sugar, or circadian something, but this Saturday was different: I brought a super-light down vest—as un-cycling-kit-appropriate as that sounds—and for once was comfortable in the morning fog and chill.
Things were humming along just fine. I was having a conversation with myself about cue sheets: how much I appreciate one that utilizes the TR and TL notations (April's 200K did not). When I look down at my Q-Box and see a TR or TL—or SS or TFL, for that matter—I read it as, "go back to sleep." Some vigilant part of my brain goes from Drive into Neutral, and I'm able to bask in the sun-kissed mist rising above the sleepy barns, not focused on spying a certain fog-shrouded, gray-lit street sign. I was so busy discussing the merits of the TL with myself, that I turned left prematurely and went a couple miles off-track; but once back on course, I went the rest of the day without a tangent, never once looking at my bike's odometer, relying only on the well-written cues.
The Blairstown controle afforded a lesson in artisinal-speak: First, I asked for a milkshake. This was met with a blank stare, which I couldn't understand, since I was standing in front of an ice cream freezer, and saw a blender on the counter. I looked up at the menu board and recognized the term Bostonian's use for milkshake, frappe, so I asked for one of those, instead. Horrors. I pronounced it like a true New Englander, frap, and this was met with an even blanker stare, if such a thing were possible. How foolish of me not to notice the accent aigu. So let's try again: Can you make me a coffee frappé? Non, just the four complicated, farm-to-table concoctions with the cutesy names spelled out on the board. OK, how about a dish of coffee ice cream? We don't have any ice cream. Huh? We only have gelato. [What-ever.] I'll have a dish of coffee gelato, please. We don't have coffee. Just cappuccino. Fine. Here's $5. Keep the change. Oh, I owe you $1.50 more? [That seems fair, since we are in Roma, after all.]
Next came the climb up Jenny Jump, which sparked a conversation with myself on the merits of a 30-34 gear ratio, and a pleasant visit with Secret Controller Steve. Last year, during my pleasant visit with Steve, I mentioned to him that in a previous year I had descended Jenny Jump and had turned right, instead of left, and had gone miles before realizing my mistake. When I shoved off he shouted after me, 'don't forget to turn left!' I chuckled to myself and gave him an appreciative wave. Hours later, a car passed me, then suddenly pulled over, and Steve hopped out and flagged me down. He wanted to apologize for his remark, hoping that he hadn't insulted me by implying that I might make the same mistake again. Wow! I'm certainly not that nice! If I flagged down everyone I might have insulted (let alone the ones I do insult deliberately), I'd might as well just permanently park on the side of the road.
The only blip between Jenny Jump and Hacklebarney that interrupted my slow and steady progress was coming upon the accident scene of a fellow rider. Having sustained a pothole-induced fractured C-2 a couple years ago, I was bracing for the worst, and was very relieved to find a battered-but-not-fried trouper who assured me that things were OK. I hope this continues to be the case, and that he (and his bloodied-kneed friend) heal quickly and completely.
After refueling at Hacklebarney on chili—chased down with mac 'n' cheese—I braced myself for my personal hell: the descent down Lunar Lane—the pock-marked Black River Road. Since recovering from my broken neck I've had a crippling fear of potholes, and last year, this stretch was facing all my demons head-on. It wasn't pretty. But this time around, being one more year removed from the trauma, and riding in daylight (unlike last year), it failed to live up to my fears.
I can't say the rest was all down hill, but even counting the ascent out of Califon, it was all quite doable and relaxing. Well, not quite. I'm remembering now the angry motorists who honked and swore at the five of us, as we audaciously biked in the night on their turf, causing them to—can you believe it?—slow down in order to pass us at 60 mph. It was nerve wracking, navigating between potholes on the right and gearheads on the left, and I pulled into the Forrestal lot relieved to be done—in the battle over who owns the road, they had won. But only because they have faster, heavier vehicles, with airbags and four wheels.
And not before I got in a good 185-mile ride. So there.
When I engage the front door’s dead bolt, or remotely secure my car doors, I do it by habit, without much thought. Not so with my bicycle: I need to remember the lock, bear the burden of its weight (a function of its invulnerability, increasing with a cycle’s worth and the crime rate around it), then find an immovable object to which my bike can unbreakably bond. As I uncoil the cable then shut tight the shackle, I’m fighting the forces of another’s temptation—and when walking away, I look back to see things as they might, betting that theft appears more trouble than it’s worth. How lighter life would be if everyone were able to buy the bicycle of their dreams.
I have trouble with cue sheets:
--The type is always too small on the files supplied
--If it's pouring, when it comes time to turn the sheets over, and you must take them out of their holder, or bag, and they get soaked
--When I look down at the list of turns, it's very hard to figure out at a quick glance where I am on the sheet in order to figure out what the next turn should be. By the time I have, I've either missed the turn or crashed
So, this was my solution:
--First I reformat the file so that the type is much, much bigger. I eliminate all the columns except point-to-point milage, turn direction, and turn instructions (see photo below)
--Then I take the printed pages and trim them to around 6" in width, and tape them all together, end to end, resulting in a long, continuous sheet
--I tape the start to the top roller, roll it all up onto the roller, tape the bottom to the lower roller, then roll it all onto the lower roller—voilá—ready to roll.
Now, each time I make a turn I simply turn the crank to bring the next turn into view; each time I glance down at the cue sheet I see exactly what turn I'm headed for in an instant—no scanning a long list, trying to remember the last turn I took.
And there's never a need to take the sheets out of the water-tight box in the rain.
I take life one step at a time, and that's how my Q-Box serves it up.
Riding steeply up a New England road, I offered apologies to my flatlander friend for what must have been a foreign foe: Gravity. “Wind is much worse,” he boasted. “It erodes you as it did this once-jagged hilltop.” “But only one way,” I countered. “Later on, it will simply push you along.” “Not always so,” he chimed. “Wind’s fickle and capricious, even taunting at times. I’ve had it change direction and face me again just as I turned back towards home. You can curse the upturned earth while you climb, but you know you have its promise of payback once you crest—and unlike the untrustworthy wind, every mountain can be taken at its word.”--PSK
The last ride of any consequence I attempted was last summer—the Englewood 600K. At the 100-mile mark I was fading fast in the heat, my stomach in need of a plumber. I bailed. And satisfied myself until the snow came with short rides around town—jaunts that continued after the snow melted, months and months and months later. So last Sunday, standing in front of Knapps Cyclery waiting for the starting toot at 7 am, I had yet to put more than 20 miles on my odometer at one time in what seemed like years.
This is all said, not to set up a defense of my 11-hour-26-minute time, but to help explain why I'm so impressed with myself for finishing at all.
I won't give details of the ride, since there were no memorable climbs or descents, mishaps or misadventures. I didn't spend more than ten minutes riding with company. Ten minutes in total. It was, for the most part, just me and the wind (and the pollen that floated on it).
So what did I learn in my solitude? I came to realize a number of things:
--If I had any regrets over not trying PBP in 2011 after bailing 1/3 the way through 2007, I finally let them go: I realized that I couldn't have gone anyway, having broken my neck the month before. This had never occurred to me before, in the two-and-a-half years I've spent regretting not going back.
--I realized that I have never DNF'ed due to missing the close of a controle or finishing past the final cut-off. Since starting riding brevets in 2005, I have never DNF'ed for anything other than quitting. Wow. That's a take-away thought.
--I came to appreciate that momentum-loss (wind) is worse than elevation-gain (hills). [see my next post]
--There was a lot of flat-fixing going on, it seemed. I'd like to see some data on this, especially how the flats correlated to tire size. As I passed stopped riders wrestling with tubes of black vermicelli, I realized I'm happier rolling on wide, heavy tires than running the extra risk of a puncture. Fat beats flat to the unhandy.
--I learned that lack of preparation may not be a deal-breaker, but it sure don't help.
Photos of cyclists taken in remote areas are commonly shot from behind, the lone traveler heading off to who-knows-where, braving the elements, terrain and alien culture. What’s conveyed is a sense of both adventure and loneliness—like images from a dream quest, perhaps one with no end. From the back the riders are faceless, so they are Everyman—or at least everyone who has enough strength of body and independence of spirit to take on such a challenge. The next frame may have them a speck in the distance; in the following, they may have disappeared over the far and boundless horizon. I can’t help wondering: Who’s holding the camera? And I hold my empathetic feelings of isolation in check, because most likely this lone soul has companionship—and it’s even odds they’re on their return-trip home.