Wow – what a ride! On Saturday I did the Jimmy Carter 300K permanent and reached my goal of earning the R-12 Award from Randonneurs USA (RUSA). The R-12 Award requires completing a 200K or longer RUSA event in each of 12 consecutive months. I started in December 2013 and did a 200K (approximately 124 miles) or 300K (approximately 186 miles) ride each month. Most of them were brevets, but I also did a few permanents. These two types of events are similar, having time limits (13½ hours for a 200K and 20 hours for a 300K) and controls (checkpoints) that must be visited during designated windows of time. Brevets are organized events that are scheduled for a particular date and generally draw a number of riders. Permanents, however, are managed by individual route owners and can be ridden any time. A rider contacts the permanent owner to set a start date and time. Other riders certainly can come along on a permanent, too.
Initially, I thought I would ride a brevet this month to complete my R-12 requirements, but a permanent turned out to work better with my schedule. As if a 200K weren’t long enough, I wound up going with a 300K. Actually, I was kind of glad for the extra challenge. For one thing, this was a brand new route that Daniel McKinley just got approved, and it was fun to join him on the inaugural ride! But this strenuous ride was also particularly meaningful to me because it was the culmination of an amazing series of events following one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.
In April 2012 I had a serious, unavoidable crash in a cycling road race. I broke my upper jaw, messed up my front upper teeth, and got a huge gash in my chin. It was a long, difficult recovery, but thanks to excellent doctors and love and prayers from many friends, I finally was feeling, functioning, and looking well again. I really didn’t think it was possible. I was – and continue to be – so thankful for my recovery.
Although I no longer had the desire to do mass-start races, I wanted to keep challenging myself on the bike. I came up with a plan: I would ride one century a month throughout 2013. Then, I had an even better idea; I would ride on behalf of 12 different charities. In this way, I could ride for something bigger than just myself. I called my project A Year of Centuries (www.ayearofcenturies.blogspot.com). It became a profound way for me to express my gratitude for my recovery.
During my June century, I met a cyclist named David Bolocan. He told me about randonneuring and RUSA. It sounded interesting, but I just mentally filed it because at the time I was so focused on A Year of Centuries. Several months later I was trying to plan my December century. I preferred an organized ride if possible, but I was having trouble finding one because there aren’t many during the cold months. Finally, an on-line search led me to the Silk Sheets 200K brevet, hosted by the Audax Atlanta chapter of RUSA. Perfect! It would be a grand finale for A Year of Centuries – a little over 100 miles! – and serve as a bridge to a whole new world of cycling.
I joined RUSA, and from the members’ handbook I learned about the R-12 Award. Of course I couldn’t pass up another challenge! So, that’s how I got to Saturday’s ride. Interestingly, Saturday also marked two years to the day since my final dental work following my bicycle crash. What better way to celebrate than with a ride of gratitude and triumph!
The starting point for Saturday’s ride was at Waffle House in Thomaston, GA. I got there about 6:30 A.M. to have plenty of time to get set up before the 7:00 A.M. start. Was it cold! 30 degrees, to be exact. As I gathered my gear and went over my checklist in the subfreezing dark, I fleetingly questioned my sanity. I did my best Patsy Cline, singing “Crazy.” Shortly thereafter, Daniel showed up on his bicycle, having ridden the few miles from his house. The first thing he said to me was, “We must be crazy!” (Insert maniacal laugh)
When it comes to randonneuring, I’m rather a minimalist, at least compared to my fellow riders. Whereas they typically ride heavier duty, often customized (and cool!) bikes designed more specifically for randonneuring, I ride my regular road bike, a Marin Stelvio, which is lightweight and made for racing (or trying to keep up with the guys at Tuesday Worlds and Peach Peloton!). Our respective approaches translate to how we carry our stuff, too. Other randonneurs tend to have more and bigger bags. In contrast, on 200Ks I put my brevet/permanent card, food, etc. in my jersey pockets. On 300Ks, however, I do use a bag on a rack that attaches to my seat post. My husband Robert has been jury-rigging it together, using electrical tape or aluminum foil to fill in the slight gap between the rack’s clamp and my seat post. Because this isn’t a good long-term solution, I finally came up with a permanent fix this past week in preparation for yesterday’s ride. I got a shim from the bike shop, and it works perfectly with a lot less hassle.
Robert reminded me of how we even came to have this bag on the rack. Some years ago, when he started doing Peach Peloton (and before I joined in), it was a smaller group of guys, maybe half a dozen. These were some of the best, toughest cyclists in Middle Georgia. One Saturday morning they had a ride starting from the east side of Macon. Because it was wintertime, Robert had extra clothing that he planned to shed as the day got warmer. He assumed that the logical way to deal with this was to have some kind of carrier bag large enough to store things. Unfortunately, this was not the “cool” thing to do. When the other guys saw the bag, they teased him and asked him if he was going antiquing. I, for one, am glad that Robert bought the antiquing bag because it’s ideal – and pretty much essential – for my longer brevets and permanents.
Tour de Talbotton
The first control on Saturday’s permanent was at a convenience store in Talbotton. When Daniel and I got back on the road, almost immediately we came to a railroad crossing where a train was stopped. We couldn’t see the end in either direction, and it looked like the train wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon:
Neither of us had encountered a completely blocked railroad crossing before on a ride. We decided to go around it. Using the maps on our phones, we found a road that looped around and connected to our intended route. The only problem was, the train was blocking that crossing, too. So, we located yet another road that would put us back on track. This one worked! It was actually quite a pretty road. One section was particularly picturesque, with a white rail fence running parallel to the road, offsetting the colorful trees and bright blue sky. We crossed an old fashioned wooden bridge over some more railroad tracks. It seemed like an ideal detour – until the pavement ran out. Fortunately, the dirt part wasn’t too bad. It lasted a mile or so. My cyclocross experience on Frankenbike made me feel much more comfortable on this section that I would have otherwise. I was thankful that Daniel and I both made it through without flatting.
Surely You Jest (and Don’t Call me Shirley)
I love to laugh, and finding humor along the way certainly makes a long ride more enjoyable. Daniel and I shot the breeze a good bit, at least earlier in the ride before we got too tired. He commented that he never has taken the plunge to shave his legs. I replied that that’s really more of a racing thing for guys. However, I hang around cyclists so much that when I see a guy with hairy legs, it seems odd. I joked that I won’t worry about Robert shaving his legs unless he starts borrowing my lingerie. Daniel observed that that would be more aerodynamic. Good point, which I hadn’t thought of.
We turned onto one road that had a rather puzzling surface. It wasn’t quite as smooth as asphalt, yet it wasn’t quite as rough as chip seal. Daniel suggested that it was chipsalt. I thought a more appropriate name might be ass-seal.
My favorite laugh of the day, however, came from a sign that we passed on Highway 137 between Tazewell and Buena Vista. My goal was not to have this at the end of the day’s ride:
The route went through some places especially significant in Georgia history. Jimmy Carter, our 39th President and namesake of our ride, grew up in Sumter County. We rode through the Plains Historic District, which includes his presidential campaign headquarters. Then, after another 23 miles, we had a control in Andersonville. Camp Sumter at Andersonville was one of the largest Confederate prisons during the Civil War. Today it’s a memorial to all prisoners of war throughout America’s history. Although I’ve visited Plains and Andersonville in the past, I’d like to go back again when I can linger.
I did take the time for this cheesy photo opp in downtown Andersonville:
One of my rules in life is never to pass by any photo opp thing where you stick your face in.
The photo opp was right next to the museum and a good little restaurant. Daniel and I both were in need of refreshment. He got a giant dill pickle, some pickle juice (good for preventing/easing cramping), and a brownie. I warmed up with some hot chocolate and ate some of my bike food (a couple of hard boiled eggs for protein and some trail mix). It’s not magic, but it’s amazing how some calories will really get you going again on a long ride.
Most of the areas we rode through were agricultural. Farming practices always intrigue me. I’ve seen a good bit of cotton that was ready to be harvested, but I had never seen it after the fact. I didn’t know that it’s baled into rolls similar to hay:
The shadows were lengthening, and I knew that we didn’t have a whole lot of daylight left. The afternoon light was particularly spectacular as it shone on the peach trees in their fall finery:
As we climbed the hills in the final miles, I started pulling ahead of Daniel, who is bigger than I am and was riding a much heavier bike. He encouraged me to go on. It was dark by then. I thought I had gotten a good bit ahead of Daniel because I didn’t see his lights anywhere behind me. I turned onto Allen Road, where we were to ride to Auchumpkee Covered Bridge for an information control. (This same information control is on the West Georgia Fall Line 200K permanent that I did last month.) I immediately pulled to the side of the road for a much needed nature break, not even looking for brush to hide in since it was a deserted, pitch black road. I was just getting back on my bike when, lo and behold, here comes Daniel! We met up at the bridge, which was about another mile down the road.
When I got to the bridge, I couldn’t unclip my left shoe from my pedal! No matter how much I twisted, it wouldn’t come out. I finally had to leave my shoe clipped in and take my foot out. Later at home, I discovered that two of the three bolts in my cleat had come out, which made it impossible for me to twist out. My right shoe was missing a bolt, too! Fortunately, a few new bolts fixed the problem. In the future, I’ll pay more attention and keep them tightened.
On 300K or longer RUSA events, which always involve some night riding, participants must have a white front light; a red, solid (not flashing) rear light; a reflective vest; and reflective ankle bands. I use battery-powered lights, and because the days are so short this time of year, I anticipated needing two sets of lights on Saturday. I predicted correctly. With only one mile to go (ack!), my front light went out. I stopped to put on my second front light and realized that my rear light had gone out, too. Uh, oh. I should have noticed that sooner. Later at the finish, Daniel told me that he had noticed that my rear light was out as I pulled away from him for the last time. He just couldn’t catch up to tell me. So, on future rides I definitely will be aware of my rear light status. Even with all of the riding I’ve done over the years, I’m still learning!
Keep on Rolling
I had started the day with a song, and I ended the day with one, too. Sometimes when I’m riding hard – whether it’s with intensity during a time trial or just a long, grueling permanent – a song gets stuck in my head, usually a particular line. Actually, it’s very helpful, like a mantra to keep me focused. For about the last 10 miles on Saturday, I stayed motivated by the song running through my head, REO Speedwagon’s “Roll with the Changes”: Keep on rolling! Keep on rolling! Ooo! Ooo! Ooo!
And I did!
|At the finish - 13 hours and 55 minutes after I started|
With All Your Strength
Saturday was only my third 300K, and I think I had forgotten how much more challenging it is than a 200K. I’ve gotten to where I can knock out a 200K relatively easily, but a 300K really does wear me out. As I rode the last stretch through downtown Thomaston, I passed a friendly man who greeted me with, “How are you?” Chuckling, I replied, “Tired!”
This kind of endurance cycling is so different than the other types of cycling I do. It’s very low intensity, but you have to keep it up – for a LONG time. During the ride it’s often more mental than physical, but afterwards there’s no denying the physical aspect. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it. Even other endurance athletes who don’t do ultra distances don’t always get it. A couple of weeks ago after the Fried Green 50 (see my post on 11/2/14), I was telling a friend about being so tired that I fell asleep as Robert drove us home. In fact, I was so exhausted that I slept in the car in the garage for another hour! My friend, who runs distances as long as marathons, asked me in kind yet misguided concern, “Do you think you’re coming down with something?”
The tiredness I feel after a 300K is different even from this. It’s not muscle ache; it’s a deep-seated fatigue that radiates from my core and feels like it’s reaching out into my limbs. Usually, it lasts for about a day. I was particularly aware of it during church yesterday morning. Although I didn’t feel like I might fall asleep, I found myself focusing on this fatigue that permeated my body, seeming to envelop my entire being. It was actually rather pleasant. Then, it became almost holy to me.
I don’t have answers to life’s big questions. I’m not always sure if I’m on the right path, but I give and take the best that I can. I do know that we are meant to enjoy God and all of God’s good creation. Truth and love are the common denominator. We love because God first loved us. I often ponder the greatest commandment, which is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. (You can’t separate this from the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, because that’s the most concrete way to love God.) Loving God with my heart and mind pretty much makes sense. The soul part of loving God is kind of mystifying, but I think it has to do with the eternal aspect of our beings. Then there’s the part about loving God with all your strength. For the longest time, I thought of this as kind of a catch-all term; love God not only with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul, but with every fiber of what makes you, you. A former pastor of mine opened my eyes to an even simpler interpretation: love God with your physical body. Of course! I still like my original understanding, though, and so I take both of them.
As I sat in the quietly in the church sanctuary yesterday morning, it was as if I knew for the first time what loving God with all my strength is. It’s a total giving of self, until nothing is left. Paradoxically, it’s the most fulfilling thing we can ever do.
|"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." - John 10:10|