The day finally came when I participated in my first randonneuring event in the form of a 204 kilometer (127 mile) permanent which started from Chesapeake, VA. For those not familiar with randonneuring, a “permanent” is a somewhat informal event, similar to a brevet, only it’s scheduled on short notice and is not sanctioned by Audax Club Parisien (ACP). A “brevet”is a self-supported ride, a minimum of 200 kilometers (124 miles) over a certified course within a specified time period, and is documented with ACP. I’m still learning the terminology. But I’m fairly certain that’s generally an accurate description in layman’s terms.
For me as the new guy, my planning began a week in advance. I wanted to know how I’d pack the bike/car for a swift exit the morning of the ride. I live an hour away from the ride’s starting point. So I didn’t want anything left behind. There were also a few things I wanted before the ride. Among them were a handlebar bag by Arkel, new pedals and a good rain shell. The handlebar bag is ordered. But it’s on back-order for two weeks. 😦 I use SPD pedals and had read that their small contact patch against the shoes can lead to “hot spots.” I’ve suffered from hot spots on long rides for a long time and just didn’t realize it had a name other than “sore feet.” 😛 Once I learned that a larger pedal can reduce foot discomfort, I felt I had to make a move before this ride. I like the recessed cleats on my mountain shoes. So I wanted to stay with SPDs. My Shimano XTR’s arrived Thursday evening, just two riding-days before the ride (I was out of town on Saturday). I installed them and took a test spin on Friday. They felt good enough to risk using them on my first event.
The rainy forecast was a point of concern. I wanted everything to fit in my TailRider trunk bag, especially since I didn’t receive the handlebar bag. Two of the five riders cancelled. I admit I considered bailing out as well. Riding in the rain is no fun. But two things crossed my mind: 1) ACP sanctioned brevets take place rain or shine. So I figured, “why not train in the rain?” 2) The ride organizer shared the quote, “There’s no such thing as bad weather… only bad clothing.” My Gore cycling jacket arrived to complement my Gore pants. So I should be covered, right? 🙂
I awoke at 4:30am Sunday and was packed and out the door at 5:20 with the goal of arriving 30 minutes before the 7am start time. There was A LOT of rain during my drive down to Chesapeake. But the forecast showed that it would clear up. I don’t place a lot of faith in weather reports. Still, I chose to be unusually optimistic. I made a quick stop for breakfast along the way. Sure enough, the rain was gone by the time I got to Chesapeake. I unpacked the car, loaded the bike, signed some paperwork, and rode to the 7-Eleven to get a receipt to mark the start of the ride. Of course, it didn’t go quite as smoothly as that last sentence reads. My rack was giving me fits and I couldn’t find my wind breaker. The darkness was making both tasks more difficult than expected. I got the rack sorted and I eventually found my black wind breaker in my black trunk. Yes, I know… lose the black jacket! 😉 The three of us still hit the road around 7:10.
My fellow riders included ride organizer Jacob Anderson and seasoned randonneur Tom Peck, both of whom ride recumbents and are strong riders. The first 25 miles or so were fairly uneventful and mostly a time for chit-chat. The roads were clear, dry, and there was almost no traffic. We stopped briefly to visit some trees off of Ballahack Rd about 14 miles into the ride. Our next stop was J&E Oasis in South Mill, NC approximately 27 miles into the ride. This was our first control point where we needed to acquire receipts to prove we rode the correct route. I don’t recall our average speed. But we spent a lot of time around 17-mph with several long stints at 19-mph. I felt good.
Somewhere along the way I recall seeing a US flag being blown straight out by the wind that had been mostly at our backs. I recall saying, “That’s going to be turned around the other way on the way back, right?” We also spent most of the morning in overcast skies with about 10 minutes in sunshine. I took a photo to prove the sun came out at some point. But it turned out blurry. No photo for you! (“Soup Nazi” voice) We made a brief stop at a closed gas station in Belvidere, NC after about 19 miles. Jacob snapped this photo. I think it was at this stop where I got the feeling Tom is the rider who keeps his groups on task with no lolly-gagging at rest stops. I heard the term, “burning daylight,” from him at more than one stop. 😀
The next leg was relatively short at 11-12 miles. This took us to our second control point and lunch stop in Hertford, NC, approximately 60 miles into the ride. We ate at One Stop Grille. It started pouring right as our food came out. Our bikes were parked in the open. So the recumbent riders went to rescue their cushy seats while I watched their stuff inside. One of them kindly moved my bike under the overhang with their bikes. It was then that I got to see just how waterproof my Arkel Tailrider bag really is. There was a pool of water standing in the expansion baffle on the lid. Everything inside was still dry until ONE DROP of water landed on my control card (photo above). I experienced my next newbie issue as we were leaving our lunch stop. It was time to don the rain gear. It was easy enough to get to and unpack. It just took longer to put on than I wanted, especially the pants, especially outside with no chairs. My big shoes had to come off to get the pants on. No biggie. But I’m sure I burned some daylight. 😉
Jacob had given me an old helmet cover to use on the ride. It wouldn’t fit my helmet, especially since it has a visor. So I put the cover on my head and put the helmet on over that. It looked a little silly. But it was nice to have my ears covered. 🙂 We headed east toward Elizabeth City. This was our first segments with headwinds. It wasn’t too bad at first. The Gore suit was doing a great job of keeping me dry. However, I was having a hard time fighting the wind and keeping cool. This rider who usually rides 17-19 comfortably suddenly found himself on the small chain ring putting along at 13-mph. 😦 Jacob and Tom were patient. They rode far ahead without losing sight of me. Those two could just pedal and pedal and pedal… They’re MACHINES! We’d regroup at the occasional intersection and another time when we decided it was time to remove rain gear (I left my pants on). But, for the most part, I was on my own and just BEAT.
As we entered Elizabeth City, I managed to slowly catch up as we went through some turns and neighborhoods. It’s not that I was riding stronger. I think it’s more that the recumbents slowed down and traffic favored me a tad. Life was a little easier with trees to protect me from the wind, too. I mentioned to Tom that I could not stand on the pedals because I nearly pulled a quad. He asked if I cramped. I didn’t think that was the case since it’s unusual. He suggested I may be dehydrated. That seemed unlikely since I was drinking plenty. But I also had a headache. I never get headaches… not any that last more than a few seconds, anyway. So dehydration was most likely. Apparently, I sweat just as much or more during a cool rainy ride as I do on a hot ride. We reached our third control point after ~20 miles, or 83 miles into the ride. We stopped at Muddy Waters Coffeehouse in Elizabeth City, NC. Tom had stopped to take some photos and said he’d catch up. He got lost along the way and arrived after a while. That bought me some time to take off my pants and stretch my feet. I also took some Advil, something I usually don’t do due to other meds I take. But I needed something to dull some pain a little. I told Jacob that was the longest 20 miles I had ever ridden. 😦 I don’t think it was long after that before I heard, “burning daylight…” 😛
Next was our 15-mile return to J&E Oasis. We were on our return leg home. I don’t recall anything extraordinary about this leg. I still had wind in my face. But at least I was able to ride at 15-mph instead of 13. Jacob and Tom hung out ahead of me. I closed our gap at a few turns. But, for the most part, I was just shooting to maintain a pace and level of discomfort that would get me to the end of the ride… probably around 15 mph. I was staying plenty hydrated since I was aware I had a problem. I was also riding without a jacket to try to cool off and dry my clothing. For the record, my clothing was wet from sweat, not rain. Gore-Tex’s “Guaranteed To Keep You Dry” promise certainly did its job! I ate a snack at J&E and Jacob said, “We’re at the century mark. It’s the home stretch.”
Somehow I felt a little better after 20 miles of rehydrating. It was getting cooler. So I put on a vest. The remaining 27 miles went okay. My quads were still hammered. But at least my saddle was still comfortable. My hands had been bothering me a bit. My Brooks saddle is awesome. But it’s been a challenge to find the right balance between too much weight on nose of the saddle and too much weight on my hands. I move my hands around to keep the blood flowing. We stopped to visit the trees on Ballahack Rd again. I was feeling a lot better during that portion of the ride since we were in the trees. We were riding at 16-17 mph. The last five miles just went on FOREVER. The home stretch was REALLY straight. So it allowed me to see we had a long way to go. LOL! Regardless, I was far beyond the point of wondering whether I’d make it and was instead wondering when. As we arrived, we all agreed to stow our bicycles and regroup at the nearby Taco Bell to complete the paperwork. We finished the 127 miles in 10 hours 45 minutes (including ten minute late start). We had until 8pm to complete. So I finished with plenty of time to spare. Once I signed my papers and turned them in, Jacob said to me, “Congratulations. You’re now a randonneur!” Hearing that was an unexpected pleasure. My first permanent was a tough experience. But that won’t stop me from improving my technique by riding even more. 🙂
I’ll follow up with “My Rookie Mistakes” tomorrow…
Scott, RUSA #8059