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Monday, May 17, 2010

400km Randonneur "Brevet" May 15th

This is truly the craziest thing I have ever done in my life. Ohio Randonneurs are in the business of ultra-long-distance bike trecks. This one was 400km (250 miles). Starting at Rt 23 and I-270, the route went Northeast to Lodi, by way of Butler, then turned west to Tiffin, then South to Columbus by way of Bucyrus. You had 27 hours to complete the ride, called a brevet. I made it in a less-than-stunning 25 hours, 5 minutes. The Randies have shorter rides (200-300km), and longer ones, (400-600km), but they all lead up to the Granddaddy of them all, the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris Ride. (There are also a couple equivalent North American rides of that length.)

I had been planning for some time for this particular 400km event and was very faithful to the letter and spirit of the instructions provided on the Ohio Randonneur website. Therefore, when I showed up it distressed me to find most bikers on race bikes with nothing but a pack of chewing gum in their back pocket for good luck! No fenders, no racks, no bags, no nothing. (I exaggerate to some extent, but you get the idea.) I brought a loaded touring bike to the party, and it was clear after 35 miles that I would not be keeping up with the herd. This event was not "social" or friendly. Among the racing herd there is a competitive spirit. If you don't know your stuff, people are not there to explain it to you. The Randonneuring ethic is one of self-reliance and mental and physical endurance. I guess that's how it was in the beginning. Now things have evolved. There are two modifications I would make to my bike if I ever do this again. One is a front dynamo hub to supply electricity. This eliminates the need to carry, stop and change battery packs. Second is a GPS navigation system. I studied the route thoroughly and had map sets with me, but the problem is, you have to keep stopping to figure out your next move. GPS computers tell you where to turn on the fly, eliminating the mental-endurance part of the test. OK, so I did it the old-fashioned way, and plodded along, but, just the same, made all the control points in the allotted time.

Heading west out of Lodi, the skies began to cloud up, and a cold breeze was coming down off Lake Erie. Later it began to rain. So, I was glad I packed rain gear both for warmth and to keep dry, even though neither cold nor rain were expected. Along the way I met up with another loaded tourer by name of Doug. It was a good thing I met this guy, little did I know he would save my skin on the coming night ride. Made Tiffin at nightfall. Made Bucyrus around midnight. Doug rolled in a little bit after me. He offered me one of his battery packs. I had one charged one left, which was good for three hours, but we had 5 hours to go. I had two Cateyes as spare lights, but out in the countryside in the dark of night they are virtually good for nothing. I had badly miscalculated how much juice I would need to get through the night. In fact, I thought I would knock the whole thing off in 20 hours. But Doug had experience and could see I wouldn't make it. I gratefully accepted his help. Doug and I agreed to travel together through the night for safety's sake. Biking through the night after being awake for twenty hours is probably similar to the all-night marches that occurred during the Civil War.

At one point we missed our turn. Taking a good hard look at the maps I brought along, we decided to take a road parallel to the designated route until there was an opportunity to cross back to it. This is not in strict conformity to Randonneur rules, but when you have been at it for 22 hours, you cease to care about such things! Well, it might have been better to care about it, because the parallel road was full of viscous potholes. And when it couldn't get worse, it turned to gravel. We stopped to access the situation. Fortunately we both had beefy tires to withstand the coming punishment, and after pinging and tractoring and wobbling this way and that, after what seemed like eternity, we made it out of there - Only to discover this sign - BRIDGE OUT, ROAD CLOSED. A nightmare that never ends? We decided to check it out and see if we couldn't ford the stream. Anything but return by that gravel road! The bridge was down in a ravine. Fortunately, the bridge was built, we only had to go around the barriers to use it. After that we were back on track. We were getting close to the end at this point, and were surprised to meet two other Randies. They had missed a turn earlier in the day and had gone 14 miles off course and 14 miles back to get on track, for a total of 28 extra miles. Just talking about it hurt. The word "hill" hurt at this point. My posterior hurt, it had been well broken in by my Brooks saddle, rather than the other way around. So, this is my conclusion: what some call misery, pain and discomfort - Randies call that everyday life! Crossing Polaris Parkway the sun started to rise and by 6:05 the four of us - the final four of 45 cyclists - arrived back at the starting point.



gazer said...

Wait, your first brevet was a 400km?!?! That is truly insane.

Are you now considering the 600k?

Honestly, one of the main points of the shorter distances is to help you shake out your route-finding skills and equipment choices.

That said, you finished 1:55 before the time limit. Bravo! I'd say that this group is a little skewed towards really fast riders, but there are a good number who aren't so much. For better or worse, the starts tend to be pretty quick, and I'm still trying to figure out for how long I should hold onto the nice draft in the group versus going my own more comfortable pace.

I used a B&M Ixon IQ light for this ride, and it was plenty of light - even on the low setting, which supposedly has a 20 hour run time (5 hours on high - which is really bright). Runs on 4xAA batteries, which are easily replaced if needed.

I rode the final leg with a couple of other guys with battery only lights. I'm not sure exactly what they were, but they were plenty bright. (Although one of the riders had a whole bunch of AAs tucked into the side of his camelbak).

A few pictures from the first part of the ride here (I was apparently too tired to pull out the camera for the rest of the ride!):
Ohio 400k on Flickr

Brett Allen said...

I couldn't make any of the other rides, but in preparation I did three centuries. Not at night though. Thanks for the tip about lights, actually I'd rather not give up my Phil Wood hub for a dynamo.

Doug Oda said...

Congratulations on your finish, it was good riding with you. This is also my first 400k and I have discovered that the absolutely worst part of the 400k is returning to work.

I arrived at my desk Monday morning and looked at the days work load and did nothing all day but wish that I was back on the road. Perhaps the 600k will not have this effect or next year these rides will feel common. The 8-5 is a harsh reality after the thrill of the 400k experience.

I’ll see you at the 600k (if you drift way-way-way toward the back of the “pack”)

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