Sunday, December 12, 2010

My First Brevet

My alarm is going off.  Again.  It’s 5:48 on a Saturday morning in December, a time rarely seen save on Christmas, and I’m lying in bed trying to decide if I really want to get up and ride my bike 200km (125 miles) over the next several hours, in uncertain weather, with a group of complete strangers. In the corner against my going are: a chest cold; torn cartilage in my knee; being gone from my family; lack of recent riding; and the comfort of a warm bed. The primary motivator: ego; and a knowledge that I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.

Two years ago, I ran across the cycling subculture known as randonneuring. Essentially ultra-long distance cycling, with an emphasis on self-sufficiency and camaraderie, the sport seemed to match my own riding style perfectly. Rather than list event results in finishing order, they are given alphabetically: there is no competition between riders, but rather the clock. The shortest event (also known a brevet) is 200km with a 13.5 hour time limit, and they just get longer from there, eventually topping out at 1200km or longer.

I hadn’t done a brevet before, but after my great experience on October’s century, I felt I was ready. The local club, Hill Country Randonneurs, was sponsoring a 200km brevet in December, which seemed like a great time to try my hand at the sport. I spent the several days leading up to the brevet on a business trip away from my bike, but still visualizing a successful ride. I read everything I could online, and even solicited feedback from email lists. I was going to do this brevet.

After hitting the snooze button yet again, I decide not to go, get back in bed, and then proceed to castigate myself for being such a wimp. A few minutes' dozing later, I make a rather rash decision, jump out of bed, get dressed and throw down some breakfast before kissing my wife goodbye for what I hope isn’t the last time. As I drive through the darkness to the organizer’s house, our starting point, I envision riding up the road at the end of my ride.

After some paperwork, and a few preride pleasantries, the organizer tells us "my son has a trombone concert at 3, so I’ll be riding a fast pace." He’s good on his word, and after mile 5, I don’t see him again. Instead, I ride with the rest of the group, maybe a dozen souls who know I’m the new guy, but are happy to have me along. They even share words of wisdom as we ride, and we pass the time by getting to know each other.

The weather is fairly cooperative throughout the ride, with temperatures staying steady in the 60s. We have some fog in the morning, but that eventually brakes. The only drawback is the wind. Oh, the wind. The forecast for the day indicated a south wind, with a front moving through late in the day. I interpreted "late in the day" to mean "after the ride was over," but the weather didn’t get that memo. Instead, we find ourselves riding into the wind most of the day, but the most ferocious wind a 15-25mph beast over the last 50 miles. I even manage to take a few turns pulling, for which I’m glad.

The route wanders through South Austin before heading east through tiny Texas towns. The first stop (or "control" in randoneurring parlance) is the Lytton Springs General Store, where I down a chocolate milk and a Clif bar just in time to get back on and continue riding. The rest of day is like this, small towns, Clif bars and lots of chocolate milk and sports drink. The most excitement comes when the rider I’m following hits a orange traffic barrel as we ride through a construction zone. The barrel dances toward me, and I barely escape, while the other rider was lucky not the hit the pavement. Dogs I can handle, but moving barrels are uncharted territory.

The best part of the day, of course, is meeting new people, including a rider all the way down from Seattle. I am impressed by their stamina, and also the fact that I’m one of the youngest in the group, giving me hope for continued randonneuring enjoyment for years to come.

It’s been a long day, and I come to the last and biggest climb, a short but steep pitch a mile 119. I’d been warned about this climb, and had attempted to leave some gas in the tank, but the wind has really taken a toll by this point. I find my lowest gear, and just grind up the hill, waiting at the top for a few folks behind. The last few miles are a familiar jaunt toward the setting sun down the same road I’d driven in the dark hours earlier. I finish with a time of 9 hours, 36 minutes, which isn’t bad for a rookie.

As the euphoria wears off, things start to hurt. My knee, which has been bothering my for a long time, is aching, in spite of a generous helping of Vitamin I (ibuprofen). My legs don't ache so much, but I feel like they will the next day. My upper back muscles ache, and both knees feel like they have IT band soreness. I'm coughing and trying to convince my chest cold to stay in remission. Above all, I’m questioning my sanity in attempting such an event, but less than 24 hours later, I’m already planning my next brevet.

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