Over five years of increasing distances on the bike I’ve learned a thing or two about a lot of things. I now know the difference between a glucose bonk, a sodium bonk, and a potassium bonk. I have figured out what I need to eat and drink to avoid these less than enjoyable experiences MOST of the time. I have spent countless hours rolling down the road on a pair of 23mm tires with nothing but my thoughts, the random song stuck in my brain, and a prayer that the padding in my shorts would not be squished into oblivion before I returned to my car or home or hotel room. I have learned to road trip like a pro, carrying a bike and all of my gear along with a well-stocked traveler’s kitchen, making a stay in Motel 6 an almost pleasurable experience. An electric kettle and a French press have become my standard answer to the inevitable “We have complimentary coffee in the lobby starting at 6am, please enjoy your stay.” when my event begins at 4am. While the healthcare provider in me recommends caffeine as a substance to limit, I’ve learned that it has profound medicinal benefits and can make the difference between a fun ride and complete misery.
So what does a person do after completing six rides of 200 miles or more? Randonneuring is a sport where people ride a bicycle for a crazy long distance, self supported. The short rides are 200 kilometers (approximately 128 miles), and events can be as long as 1200 kilometers (approximately 750 miles). Rides have “controls” where riders are required to stop and prove they’ve been there – often by providing a receipt from a local business. You must reach each control before a cut-off time which is predetermined by the route creator, and the entire ride has a time limit for completion for there to be an “official” finish. This year, I am trying to achieve a “Super Randonneur Series”, which means I will need to complete at least one 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k ride.
What do you get for an official finish? A card from the parent organization in Paris, documenting your success. The ability to purchase a medal commemorating your accomplishment. Perhaps mention in a national publication that you have joined the ranks of several thousand other people with the insane desire to see just how far they can pedal a two wheeled vehicle before dropping dead of exhaustion. And, most importantly (to me, anyway!), the sense of accomplishment which comes from picking a difficult goal and systematically going for it and getting it done.
In January I rode my 200k, and I completed the 300k in February. Three weeks ago, I attempted my first ride of 400 kilometers. For those of you who are metrically challenged, that is about 250 miles. In one day. The rules of the game allow a maximum of 27 hours to complete a 400 kilometer course, regardless of the terrain, weather, or other conditions. For a variety of reasons, I was unable to complete that ride.
This weekend was attempt number two. I drove to Anaheim on Friday night, spent the evening in a Motel 6, got my rear end (and the rest of me) out of bed at 4am, stuffed more calories down the hatch than many people eat in a day along with most of the contents of that French press, and got onto my bike at 5am.
The route was spectacular – mostly bike paths, low traffic, with scenery ranging from the Santa Ana River to the estuaries along Seal Beach, Long Beach Harbor, and inland ranch land, canyons, and mountains. We rode from Anaheim to East LA, back to Anaheim, then out to Corona, Norco, Loma Linda, Redlands, and finally Beaumont. Then back through Riverside to Anaheim. I rode strong, ate well, felt good, had good company all day. My head is full of random images from the ride – watching a roadrunner fly over a fence, oil pumps and pipelines all over LA, the sign saying “discharge of firearms prohibited” along a canyon in Norco, the sensation of flying as I hurtled down a 5% grade after dark with the lights of Riverside spread out below me, the hot vegetable stew provided at one of the controls at 11pm, night birds calling to each other along the Santa Ana River at 2am.
I finished this ride at 3:04am, 22 hours and 4 minutes after I started. My first successful completion of a 400 kilometer event. I took Monday and Tuesday off from seeing patients because I am often tired, hungry, and brain dead for several days after riding 200 miles or more. Instead of going to the office, I have been teaching myself how to use WordPress and writing my first two blog posts. I have eaten enough protein for at least two training line backers in the last two days, had a massage, and slept about 12 hours per night since returning from Anaheim. Tomorrow, I return to the office and resume my “normal” life.
Welcome to my world, the world of the ultradistance cyclist. You’ll read more about this obsession in future posts because it is one of the pillars of my personal universe. It is the insanity which keeps me sane. For now, 400 kilometers is my longest ride ever. Stay tuned for news of 600 kilometers coming in May!