All winter I've been anxiously anticipating the 2012 randonneuring season. Could I ride a 600K Brevet this year? Heck, could I even ride a 200K?
While the winter has been extremely mild so far, we've still gotten our full allotment of snow, which melts, then turns to ice. Riding on the trainer in the garage is fun, but there is still nothing like riding outside, like all of you folks know.
So, having gotten my "American Randonneur" magazine in mid-January, I poured over the 2012 Brevet schedule, and low and behold, there was a brevet in southern Illinois. Sponsored by the Little Egypt Randonneurs. I knew better than to expect desert-like temps, but the forecast was for a high in the mid-40's, so I sent an email to Miles Stoneman, the Regional Brevet Administrator for the Little Egypt club, and I headed down there on Friday night.
Early the next morning, we met in Marion, IL, and rolled out exactly at 7:00am, or maybe 30 seconds later. The group waited for me to take my front wheel off and turn it around. I put it on backwards, which isn't a big deal, but my bike computer wouldn't work. Miles asked if I had anymore bike repairs I'd like to do and right there I knew it was going to be a fun ride.
Unfortunately, my ailing camera battery finally died, even though I charged it all through the night. With numb fingers I pulled it from it's little bag I mounted on the bike stem, turned it on, and got the freakin' "Change the battery pack" message. Not having to worry about taking pictures, I at least was able to enjoy the scenery and the company.
I was able to talk to each of the 4 other folks on the ride. Ben was new to randonneuring, like me, and he lived about 2 hours away. He is probably one of the nicest people I've ever met. He seemed especially concerned when I would drop back a bit from the pack. Kevin drove down from the Chicago area for this ride, and Bill drove over from Louisville. My 6 1/2 hour drive didn't seem like such a loony idea after all.
I believe I was greatly out-classed riding with this group, but I pulled up my big boy shorts and toughed it out. After 35 miles, Ben, Bill (the other Bill, I'm not writing in third person), and Kevin worked their way ahead, and I knew better than to keep up. I spent a good bit of last year discovering where my red zone was located, and I went beyond it a couple of times trying to keep up with these guys on some uphills. Miles was up ahead also, riding not too far ahead.
Riding alone is what I do much of the time, though I was hoping to be able to ride with folks on this ride. But a sunny day in January with no ice on the road was good enough. It was about to get better.
Big Oak on Brevet Photo by Miles Stoneman
Once we got to DuQuoin, 57 miles into the ride, the 3 faster riders were waiting for Miles, then me, to catch up. It was good to talk to someone again, so I tried to make as much small talk as I could before everyone took off again. We all left in a group, and I decided to try to keep up. Miles yelled out to the three faster guys, "it's ok, you can go ahead and ride your 25 mph", and the 3 quickly picked up the pace and they gradually grew smaller up ahead in the distance. After each turn, they got farther ahead, their red and orange jerseys eventually becoming indistinguishable from oncoming cars off in the distance.
Little Egypt 200K Riders at 1st Control Photo by Miles Stoneman
DuQuoin Control - Big Oak's Arrival Photo by Miles Stoneman
No matter, for Miles was still riding with me. I was hoping he was tired, but I think he took pity on me. For the next 68 or so miles, he talked the entire way. Even uphill, he never seemed to break sentences in order to breathe.
Last season, I remarked how it is possible to get to know someone while riding silently side-by-side. This ride, I realized it's possible to learn infinitely more when riding side-by-side with someone talking. Talking most of the way. Miles talked at length about why he organized his group, spent time mapping out a full brevet series, plus a bunch of permanent rides. He talked of how he was honored to have given Johnny Bertrand, one of THE founders of Randonneurs USA a ride in his car. He encouraged me to map out some routes and submit to RUSA for establishing permanents in my area. Biking is very important to Miles. But of all the things Miles said, what struck me most, and what told me the most about him, was how excited he was in anticipation of teaching his grandson how to build a Pine Wood Derby car tomorrow (Sunday, the day after the brevet).
Miles and Big Oak at Thompsonville Control Photo by Miles Stoneman
The riding from DuQuoin on was much easier, as the wind was now at our backs. In fact until the final 9 miles, the wind was either directly behind us or quartering behind us. Soaking up the brilliant, Southern Illinois sky, I felt invigorated for much of the second half of the ride. One of my favorite sounds is rolling rubber bike tires on pavement, and my favorite sensation is balancing on a riding bike. I was filled to the brim with both sound and sensation. It was only when I started to feel punky when I realized I needed to suckle on my Perpetuem-bottle, or eat a candy bar. Then the joyful feeling would quickly return.
Although the final 9 miles was mostly into the headwind again, I was sad to roll into Marion, for the ride ended too quickly. I figured I would at the very least get a long ride in. What I got was a lot more - to be outside all day on a beautiful January day, to ride in a place I'd never been before, and to ride with people who like biking as much as I do.
Ben, Bill, and Kevin At The End in Marion, IL Photo by Miles Stoneman
I especially enjoyed Miles' gracious company, and the effort he made to put this ride together. Miles wrote up a great ride summary. Click here to read it.