By Jill Mackey
On Saturday, May 28 at 5:00 in the morning, Dan Clinkinbeard, Karen Bataille, and I rode out of Edwardsville, Illinois. Twenty-three hours and 37 minutes later, we rode back in. My first and last 400 km brevet began for me in a spirit of desperation. I desperately did not want to do this. For the first 50 or so miles of our 250-mile trek, I looked for an escape route back to Edwardsville and the Comfort Inn, a nice bed, my book, and a day spent loafing about this lovely college town. I could make myself available to Karen and Danny if they got in trouble, couldn't I?
It's not that I doubted either my bicycle or my physical capability to complete the ride. Karen and I had been training all year for our brevet series. At the longer distances, the challenge becomes mental. Traversing a variation of the same routes we had covered in our 200 and 300 km brevets, I knew what I'd be facing and when. I just couldn't wrap my mind around spending the next 24 hours on my bike. I actually prefer to sleep at night.
Karen treated the day as a fun adventure. "Gee! Let's see how far I can go on my bicycle!" Dan was the grizzled veteran of Paris-Brest-Paris. A mere 400 was nothing to him. I, on the other hand, lapsed Catholic if not outright agnostic, was taking no chances. I had dug out my old scapular medal and put it around my neck the day before departing for Edwardsville. And as a backup, I was wearing a Navajo-made silver bracelet. I had Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to invoke, and if that didn't suffice, well, hoka-hey.
I grumbled and groused for several hours as the morning wore on. A hot sandwich in a Subway in Okawville helped lift my spirits; GU packets and Fig Newtons go only so far. But it wasn't until about a hundred miles or so into the ride that I began to get into the spirit of the event. At that distance, it made no sense to think about turning around—just as well to push on.
It is no overstatement to call southern Illinois a delight. Narrow yet paved county roads through gently rolling hills made for pleasant viewing. At one point, on the colorfully named Indian Trail Road, a road so narrow you could picture its being traveled by a horse and wagon, we stopped for a break. In every direction I saw postcard-appropriate vistas. Stands of hardwood trees gave way to fields of new corn and green, waving wheat. Tall grasses lined the sides of the road, and the only sound was the wind sighing through the seed-tops. The setting demanded a rest period of lying in the grass and staring at the few white clouds lazily drifting across the sky, but we had a long way to go.
If you're going to ride a bicycle at night, this is the place to do it. What little traffic we faced gave us plenty of room. The wind had dropped, and a gibbous moon played hide-and-seek behind a few ragged clouds as rain moved into the area north of us. Our speed might have lessened as we rode through the long night, but curiously, my strength increased. I was actually enjoying the ride and the quiet companionship. Sometimes miles passed in silence, broken only by the comforting whish of our smoothly- running machines. As we neared Edwardsville, the familiar roads and the prospect of finishing buoyed my spirits.
Turning onto Main St. in downtown Edwardsville, I let out a loud "woo- hoo!"—something I had done upon finishing the 200 and the 300. The sky was just beginning to lighten, and the whoop echoed off the marble walls of the Madison County courthouse, the brick walkways and empty streets. This was a dawn that I was going to enjoy. As we had done before, we dropped off our brevet cards at the Edwardsville Police Station and rode one more block to the parking lot where we quickly dismantled our bicycles, took off our cycling shoes (what a relief!), threw everything into our vehicles and beat a hasty path to the Comfort Inn some miles away for some Zees.
The 400 under my belt, I realized that my randonneuring was over for this year. Karen, I knew, was contemplating the 600, two short weeks away. Danny, of course, was gearing up for a 1200 in Seattle in June. And more power to them. Don't get me wrong; I love my bicycle. I just don't want to live on it.