By Mike Dayton
In many parts of the country, the regular brevet season is winding down. But the relatively new RUSA Permanents program allows members to continuing racking up official miles.
I've been interested in Permanents ever since RUSA established the program, and I decided to set up the first Permanent in my home state of North Carolina. I'm delighted to announce that my route, Blackbeard's Permanent, won approval in June.
My route draws its name from Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, dubbed "the most notorious pirate in the history of seafaring," who rose to dubious fame during the Golden Age of Piracy (1689 to 1718).
Randonneurs can appreciate one of Blackbeard's skills — he was apparently an early pioneer in nighttime visibility. Wrote one historian, "[H]e would strike terror into the hearts of his victims, according to some early accounts, by weaving wicks laced with gunpowder into his hair, and lighting them during battle. A big man, he added to his menacing appearance by wearing a crimson coat, two swords at his waist, and bandoleers stuffed with numerous pistols and knives across his chest."
Blackbeard's Permanent passes through one of Blackbeard's haunts and ends a short ferry ride from another.
• The historic town of Bath, where Blackbeard socialized with North Carolina Governor Charles Eden. Governor Eden was widely rumored to look the other way regarding Blackbeard's illegal exploits in exchange for a share of the booty.
• The quaint village of Ocracoke on Ocracoke Island, where Blackbeard was rumored to have a house. Blackbeard met his demise in Ocracoke Inlet on Nov. 22, 1718.
A Permanent Defined
A Permanent is akin to a brevet but in theory can be ridden at any time, not just on one specific date. Like brevets, routes can start and finish in the same location, but they can also run point-to-point and can be any distance of 200 kilometers or more. Routes of 100 to 199 kilometers are known as Perm-anent Populaires.
Organizers tout permanents as a way to train for the brevet season, explore new scenery or work toward RUSA awards, such as the newly established R-12.
Explains RUSA's Permanents Coordinator Robert Fry: "The primary purpose of the Permanents program is to give RUSA members additional opportunities to undertake challenging rides in a structured brevet format, and in a way that can conveniently be fitted into almost anyone's schedule. They mirror a long tradition of similar rides in Europe, notably in France and the UK."
Fry, a native of England, was instrumental in launching the Permanents program here.
"I first spoke to [former RUSA president] Jennifer Wise about the possibility of Permanents in the USA when I met her in France at Paris- Brest-Paris in 1999," Fry said. "In 2001 I contacted Jennifer again, and offered to help set up the program. Things had to wait a little longer while other necessary steps were taken by the Board, such as setting up liability insurance and establishing a domestic validation program."
Fry was accepted by the RUSA Board as Permanents Coordinator in 2003 and immediately got to work.
"The first routes were submitted to me in the Fall and Winter of 2003," he said. "Permanents officially became available on Jan. 1, 2004. The first ride took place March 29, 2004, in the Dallas region."
At press time, the RUSA Permanents page listed more than 60 routes in a dozen states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
Many of the current routes were developed by Fry. Another big contributor is Dan Driscoll, one of the Texas RBAs.
Some of the routes carry colorful titles—the Moss Beach Ramble, the Full Monty Populaire, the Possum Pedal and the Space Shot.
I began riding my own Permanent route about 10 years ago, long before I discovered randonneuring.
Every summer, I spend a week with my family on the Outer Banks, a four-hour car trip from my home in Raleigh. After growing bored with that long drive, I began biking out to our vacation. Initially, I did the trip in two days, spending the night at the 110-mile mark in "Little Washington," a waterfront town on North Carolina's Tar and Pamlico rivers, then finishing with a 60-mile ride to the Swan Quarter ferry on day 2.
Now, inspired by my brevet riding, I make it a single-day event. The trick is to time the ride to catch the 4 p.m. ferry in Swan Quarter. Make it and you'll enjoy a serene two-hour ferry ride to Ocracoke Island. Miss it and you're either stuck overnight in a local motel or forced to take an extra 100-mile loop to the north.
I leave my home in Raleigh in the small hours of the night and head through the eastern edge of the Piedmont, with its slight rolling hills, then drop into the coastal plain where wind, heat, humidity and the afternoon thunderstorm are likely to be the primary summertime obstacles.
North Carolina's eastern region is largely rural, dappled with tobacco and corn and cotton fields, finally giving way to immense swamps and wetlands where bear sightings are common. The final 60 miles of my Permanent traces North Carolina's Bike Route 2, a ribbon of road that begins in the mountain town of Murphy, nearly 600 miles to the west.
The endpoint of my Permanent is the ferry stop in Swan Quarter, which has three daily ferries to Ocracoke Island. Normally, the ferry ride is simply a brief interlude, a two-hour respite where I catch a nap before traversing the 13-mile highway on Ocracoke. Then I catch a second ferry to Hatteras Island, my ultimate destination. The full route is right at a double century.
I originally planned to end my route at the historic Hatteras lighthouse, but after discussions with Fry, I settled on Swan Quarter because of time considerations. Permanents follow the same time cut-offs as normal brevets, and the two-hour ferry ride might unfairly penalize some riders. The ferry station also provides an easy control because bicyclists crossing to Ocracoke Island must buy a $3 ticket.
Planning My Route
Step one in planning my route was to go to RUSA's website (www.RUSA.org) and read the rules for setting up a Permanent. I also downloaded a Permanent application and corresponded with Fry by e-mail when questions arose.
Even though I've been riding the Raleigh-Swan Quarter route for years, I still "wing" the middle 70 miles or so. My method was simple: I copied pages from a county road map book and roughed out an approximate "straight-line" route in yellow marker through towns with inspired names—Black Creek, Black Jack, Leechville, Grimesland. I took pains to minimize traffic by skirting two of the bigger cities, Wilson and Greenville, in eastern North Carolina.
For my Permanent, I needed to precisely define the route, much like a brevet, and set up some controls. With an eye toward setting up other Permanents, I purchased two mapping programs: De-Lorme's Topo USA Version 5 for around $50 and Microsoft's Streets & Trips 2005 for $30 after a hefty rebate.
I initially thought DeLorme would be the better of the two programs. After all, it's the company that publishes the topographic county maps that I use, and it has precise details on terrain and elevation changes. However, it proved frustratingly clunky for my use. It had limits on the number of "points" that could be used to define a course, and the program, when given a chance, sometimes drew nearly circular routes based on the type of roads (for instance, secondary roads) that were set as a preference.
Ultimately, I switched to the Microsoft program. It had some similar weaknesses—including the selection of bizarre routing when given even the slightest opportunity for input — but its marking system was easier to use, maps were easier to print and the program including services along the way, such as gas stations and restaurants, with phone numbers.
I made the final route by breaking the course down into segments of 40 miles or so per leg, then importing the directions from each into a spreadsheet and manually adjusting the mileage.
A word of caution: both the DeLorme and Microsoft programs misnamed or misnumbered roads, particularly when the route crossed county lines. In some cases, the programs even misspelled road names—not exactly the kind of precision a randonneur is looking for on a 170-mile trek.
In the end, I used the Microsoft maps and route as a preliminary course, then drove the middle portion of the route to firm up turns and road names. I also lined up two stores that agreed to serve as controls, and I found a few interesting signs and sights along the way for "secret" questions that must be answered by Permanent participants.
This month, I'll ride the route again as I head down for a week of fun and sun.
In the meantime, I highly recommend Blackbeard's Permanent to any randonneur who wants to mix a little riding with a little romance. Ocracoke is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway at one of the island's quiet bed-and-breakfasts. The local restaurants serve up superb seafood. And who knows — you and your loved one might dig up a bit of Blackbeard's buried treasure on Ocracoke's deserted beaches.
Interested in a Permanent ride? Visit www.RUSA.org to see if one exists in your area, or to establish a permanent route of your own.
A Primer On Permanents
• Better known in France and England, Permanents are a new addition to US randonneuring and the list of routes is steadily growing.
• Like brevets, Permanents have strict pace and checkpoint requirements.
• A Permanent is like a brevet but can be ridden at any time, not just on one specific date.
• Like brevets, routes can start and finish in the same location, but they can also run point-to-point, and can be any distance of 200 km or more.
• Routes of 100-199 km are called Permanent Populaires.
• Permanents are open to any RUSA member.
• Permanents can be ridden alone or with a group.
• Permanent rides in the US are validated by RUSA and do not count toward any ACP awards or PBP qualifying.
• Permanent routes can count once toward your yearly RUSA brevet kilometer totals. The one exception is that the same route can be ridden multiple times for the R-12.
• There are no "rain dates." You must use the permanent date you sign up for.
• One type of permanent, the Free-Route Permanent, is an individual ride over a given distance on an agreed date, like a normal Permanent. However, only certain basic route parameters are pre-defined. The exact route is by agreement between the rider and organizer.
• Unlike regular brevets, which are organized by RBAs, any RUSA member can organize a permanent. Go to www.rusa.org for more information.