Thursday, July 21, 2011

Randonneuring Is a Team Sport

Randonneuring is a Team Sport and I'm fortunate to belong to one of the better teams around; the Severna Park Peloton.   Randonneurs USA (RUSA) emphasizes friendly camaraderie and that is absolutely the most appealing aspect of it to me.  But in my experience it often goes beyond that.

Any randonnee is by definition a long ride and will test the randonneur's readiness and preparation.  This includes his fitness, his equipment and a simple checklist of important things to bring along.  In temperate weather a 200K brevet can be a wonderful way to spend a day.  Fall colors or spring blooms show off nature at it's best in the mid-Atlantic region.  Throw in a couple of good companions and you have a recipe for a fantastic day on the bike.

But most of us aren't content to only ride on nice days.   We layer on some additional challenges to test ourselves.  Sometimes we fix the date for a brevet months in advance and short of extreme storms (or sometimes in spite of extreme storms), we ride in whatever weather Mother Nature provides that day: rain, heat, cold, wind, whatever.  Or we set out to repeat the 200K once each calendar month for 12 consecutive months in pursuit of the R-12 award.  This also forces us out on the bike throughout the year in periods of long daylight and short, in months when the temperatures average in the 20s or the 90s, an R-12 award winner has to confront it all.  We ride longer events that can stretch the adventure over several days with little time for sleep (did I mention each randonnee has a time limit?).

Randonneurs can and often do ride alone. Such adventures provide their own sense of satisfaction.  But in report after report, you'll read that when the going get's tough, camaraderie progressed beyond friendly banter.  It was those friends, team mates, that got everyone through the day when it might have been tempting to call it quits, or when the right tool or spare part repaired an otherwise catastrophic mechanical failure.  Sometimes we plan in advance to complete the event together and choose to stay together when one or the other member needs a break or a hand repairing a problem on the bike.  Other times these teams form spontaneously on the road as riders with a similar preference for a comfortable pace find themselves together.  Regardless of how they form, I find they are essential to the successful completion of many radonnee events when the circumstances become challenging.  Officially, each rider signs up and commits himself to take on the challenge (and the risk according to the waiver we sign) alone.  We don't formally obligate ourselves to look after one another.  Yet we often accomplish so much more together than we could alone.

My first brevet in January, 2010 was probably my coldest and toughest day on the bike I've ever had.  But Chris and I had agreed in advance we'd stick together.  Smartest plan we ever made.  I couldn't have finished that one alone. As my first event, a failure that day might have kept me from even trying again.

In December, 2010 I was down to my final month to complete the R-12. The weather is always suspect that time of year and daylight is a scarce commodity.  I was dreading the prospect of riding a 200K alone in such conditions but I had to finish the challenge.  I reached out to the team for a hand.  Clint and Earl answered the call to join me on a wet snowy morning at 6 am, well before dawn.  Schools were closed because the road conditions were deemed unsafe for bus travel. But we rode anyway.  I successfully completed my R-12 that day and celebrated the event in fine fashion that evening with friends.

In May of this year I was attempting my first ever 300K ride.  The weather was near perfect.  The challenge this time was pushing on 50% further than I ever had.  Three of us formed our team on the road.  My team mates that day were both PBP veterans, Nick and Justin. I was the rookie in the group.  But once we settled in together, their encouragement made the extra miles glide by without a problem.

Yesterday Earl Janssen and I teamed up to ride Eastern Shore Reversed 200K permanent.  This was Earl's 8th month in his pursuit of the R-12 (he started on that same snowy December ride).  July is another challenging month to complete a randonnee. It's usually HOT and humid.  Yesterday lived up to those expectations.  On paper the course from Wallops Island, VA to Cape Charles and back looks like one of the least challenging available.  Flat as a pancake it is estimated to involve only 500 ft of climbing.  We joked about the "hill" coming up if we could actually see a dip or rise of more than a 5 - 10 feet.  When I first rode this route last October it went as expected.  The weather was near perfect, temps between 60 and 72 deg F the whole day, low humidity, and a light Easterly breeze (cross wind) to help keep me cool.

This time we saw a high temp over 98 deg F and humidity over 90%.  The wind was negligible until the very end, when a light breeze lifted from the North, a slight headwind.   We started at 6 am hoping to cover as many miles as possible in the cooler parts of the morning and minimize our exposure to the toughest conditions.  But the heat would inevitably come at the END of the ride after we'd already been at it for a hundred miles.  By noon it was simply oppressive.  We finished successfully by working together, encouraging each other, and being smart enough to recognize the conditions were stressful and required prudent breaks. We also covered a LOT of ground quickly in the first part of the morning by alternating the lead every 5 - 10 minutes and drafting behind each other.  This let us hold a 19 - 20 mph pace early before the day got too hot and further cut our subsequent exposure to the tough conditions later in the day.  A solo ride in that heat would have been torture, and a good candidate for DNF (did not finish). 

These are just a few examples of the teamwork I enjoy so much while biking.  Poke around my blog and you'll find other examples big and small.  But it really IS why I keep riding.

Earl has also posted his thoughts about yesterday on his blog.

1 comment:

  1. Shortly after posting this I read that the US Naval Academy had cancelled a parade by the plebe class because of similar hot conditions to the ones Earl and I rode in yesterday. One of our key choices was to take some very prudent rest breaks where ever we could find shade when the afternoon started to get very hot.