By Amy Rafferty
I'm a single woman cyclist in a male dominated sport. I don't ride a tandem. I don't have a buddy to ride with. I don't have a spouse supporting me. But because of the companionship of friends that I made riding the Brevets, I never feel like I am alone on the rides. In fact, I find myself thinking that the support of my randonneuring friends is more critical in helping me finish the rides, than my own willpower. I have been dabbling in racing (without much success) for a couple of years, so I have good fitness and riding skills, but in seven years of serious riding I had only done two double centuries before last year. I was interested in PBP but concerned about my ability to ride all day and most of the night and then get up and do it again and again.
I am very fortunate to be a member of the Davis Bike Club, which is chock full of experienced Randonneurs who like to lead long training rides and share their knowledge with beginners like me. In November of 1998, the "Bees," an odd group of guys whose last names all start with the letter B, started a club tradition called the Wednesday Night Century. All through the winter and early spring, the Bees would meet in the midafternoon every Wednesday for a 100-mile ride, generally returning to Davis between 10 and 11 p.m. Dan Barcellos, Dan Barrus, Bob Brouhard and Larry Burdick taught me that there's more to cycling than short sleeves and sunshine: I could ride my bike any time, any where and in any conditions. It's fun riding with the guys. If you need some calories, and the only place open in the middle of nowhere is a smoke-filled saloon, well, you just walk in, belly up to the bar and order "a pitcher of coke, no ice." I also learned you can laugh really hard while fixing a flat with cold hands on a 30-degree night---it's all a matter of perspective.
Even though I had gained confidence about distance riding through the winter, I was still nervous about riding the brevets and qualifying for PBP. Not only was this brevet series going to be my only shot to qualify, the longer brevets were going to be my only chance to learn how my body responds to constant riding day and night. After my first 200k brevet---which felt like a triple century afterwards because I stayed with a group of four good tandems over rolling terrain---I decided I really had to ride the brevets at my own pace. While I was accustomed to making myself hurt a little in order to stay with a good group, the only way I was going to finish the 750-mile PBP in the time limit, was to ride a pace I could maintain for several days. I did two more 200k brevets with this philosophy: the first one I rode alone and the second one I rode with a group of friends who kindly waited for me when I got dropped on the climbs. I had a wonderful time on both, which taught me another key to randonneuring: learn to enjoy riding in a group, and learn to enjoy riding on your own.
As my fitness improved over the spring, and as I learned to move through brevet controls efficiently, I noticed that I was able to hang with various friends. On the 300, 400 and 600k brevets, I spent a lot of time riding with tandem pairs Bill Bryant/Lois Springsteen and Pierre Neu/Marcia Gibbs and singles Dan Barcellos and Steve Buck. I began to hope that during PBP I might be fortunate enough to spend time riding with these folks. The two tandem couples in particular, all veterans of PBP, were very willing to talk about how to plan for such a challenging ride, and they patiently answered all my questions. On the 400 and 600, I also learned that I am a night person. As soon as the sun set, I felt as though a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders and found myself laughing, talking and telling stories. This annoyed my riding buddies, I'm sure, but I think it also helped keep everyone awake. My euphoria would last until about 2 a.m., when I would start coming down in increments, and by dawn I would feel so lousy that I was tempted to ask my friends to dig me a grave by the side of the road and kindly put me out of my misery. It generally took a couple of hours of sunlight, a good breakfast and a cup or two of coffee to get me back on track.
Before I went to France, several of the Dave Bike Club fatherly types kept pestering me: "Amy, you have a buddy to ride with, right?" I would reply, "I'm taking the 90-hour start. I have 2,000 buddies to ride with," and although I said it jokingly, I really meant it. Most of my friends had opted for the 84-hour limit, and my plan was to ride with people I met along the way until my friends caught me from behind, hopefully at a time when I needed to see a friendly face. My plan worked pretty well. Over the course of PBP I found many buddies to ride with and made many new friends, American and European. During the second half of the event, I also got to ride with and talk to many of my faster friends as they caught up with me on the road and in the controls. Ninety hours and 41 minutes after starting PBP, I finished. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
President, Davis Bike Club
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Ed Note: Of the 3689 PBP 1999 participants, only 240 were women. (182 finished) Of the 411 Americans who signed up for PBP, 56 were women. ( 40 finished) The Davis Bike Club sent the largest contingent of women to PBP - 17 in all. Amy Rafferty was among the 14 who finished.
President, Davis Bike Club