By Brent Fisher
My first randonneuring event was the 200k Brevet in January. My training preparation consisted of a three-month sabbatical from the bike. So, for the 300k in February I decided to switch tactics by actually spending some time on the bike and pedal many of the roads that made up the designated route.
While 53 riders registered for the 200k, there were only about half as many who did so for the 300k. I was one of several who elected to get a room at the Executive Inn in Brookshire the night before. The notion of getting up at 3:00 AM and driving for nearly an hour to get to the ride start was not all that appealing. Worrying about oversleeping, I packed my own alarm clock. It was a good thing because the motel room was devoid of such amenities as a clock or coffee maker. (It made me wonder what "executive" would willfully choose to book a room there.)
My alarm went off at 4:00 in order for me to make final preparations for the 6:00 start. As I walked to the truck stop café across the street, I was approached by a young man who cheerfully asked for some money and then by an older man who had an engaging tale that also requested a hand-out. I ate my hotcakes and ham alone in relative silence.
There was a wide variety of headlights and tail lights mounted on bikes and helmets as we pedaled out of the Executive Inn parking lot. The temperature was 48 degrees, but with the wind and humidity felt colder. The blanket of clouds rendered the sky as very dark, but with practically no traffic, also quite serene. As I spun in a low gear to warm up my legs, I could not remember closing the trunk of my car. That unresolved question gnawed at my peace of mind for the next 180+ miles.
After riding for about an hour on flat, smooth roads, I could see well enough to turn off my headlights. With it being so overcast, I opted to keep my tail lights flashing to reduce the likelihood of being run over from behind. I had installed an inexpensive tail light with 15 LED lights that looks like something off a '79 Chrysler Cordoba. It didn't weigh much—despite its size—but was effective.
After the first 40 miles on relatively flat terrain, we faced a series of rolling hills for the next 45 miles into Fayetteville. My time was aided by a slight tailwind, for which I knew would exact its toll on the return leg. In addition to including riding as part of my training, I scheduled what to eat and when instead of just going on my feelings. I also made sure that I was taking in enough fluids. By the time I reached Fayetteville, my dietary plan was on schedule and I was 45 minutes ahead of my target time.
The sun shone briefly near Fayetteville, but I shed only one of my five layers during the daylight hours and never did take off my headband that covered my ears. The maximum elevation and farthest northwest point from Brookshire was Ledbetter. We were told that there were only 20 more miles of hills. I begged to differ because I had been on all those roads and knew that there were a good 40-45 more miles of hills.
At the 200k mark I was 90 minutes ahead of my time from last month's brevet and mentally reset my target time to finish. However, those 45 miles of hills—into the wind—began to extract energy from my legs. Unlike a series of rollers where momentum can be transferred from one downhill to assist attacking the next climb, these hills lacked such continuity. After flying down one hill, the road leveled out, then began to gradually increase in elevation, and finally markedly grow steeper.
Near Cat Spring a "dually" Diesel pick-up ran me off the road when an oncoming car happened to arrive simultaneously. Rather than let off the accelerator, the truck barreled on past me. With no shoulder, I had no choice but to veer off onto the grass. After Cat Spring, I remembered that there were two or three more hills before flattening out for the remaining five miles to Bellville. As it turned out, there were five more hills.
My pre-ride desire was to get to Bellville before it got dark because I did not want to be sharing the road with speedy drivers on roads with limited visibility. I arrived in Bellville still 30 minutes ahead of my target time. It was there that two other riders suggested we ride together for the final 28 miles. After riding for the majority of the first 160 miles solo, the idea of having some company was attractive. The belief was that three bikes outfitted with headlights and tail lights would be more visible from behind as well as providing more illumination up ahead.
John, on a diamond frame, had a monster headlight and took the lead. The other rider, was also named John, and, like me, was riding a recumbent. I took up the rear because I had the Cordoba-sized tail light. We rode in somewhat of a staggered tripod formation to provide maximum visibility. We enjoyed the smooth asphalt and the minimal traffic. Oddly enough, the few vehicles that passed us were significantly more courteous than the ones who had buzzed us during the daylight hours.
Kay Ogden, the Regional Brevet Administrator, had finished the course well ahead of us and greeted us at the finish with her typical enthusiasm and encouragement. She did a great job organizing the ride. We were blessed to have moderate temperatures, light wind, and no rain. The 188 miles included nearly one mile of elevation gain. As glad as I was to finish 30 minutes ahead of my goal, I was most relieved to see that my car had not been stolen and that my trunk was closed.