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Monday, November 14, 2011

My First Randonneuring Adventure!

I remember the first time I heard about randonneuring. It was probably 2002 or 3 and there was a story about randonneuring in the now-dead Oregon Cycling newspaper/magazine. The person who wrote it was definitely a hard-core randonneur who did 1000 kilometre rides. She talked about taking quick naps while holding onto a signpost, still in the bike saddle, because they were that exhausted and did not have time to properly sleep. This did not appeal to me.* So "randonneuring" got pushed to the back of my mind.

Fast forward to the last couple years. I start hanging out with folks who are into randonneuring. I learn that it's not all about 1000k rides but more on the 2-300k. And that while there is definitely a "roadie" contingency to this recreational activity, it's not dominated by that type of bicyclist. My friends who randonneur aren't that type of cyclist. It started to sound more appealing. But I still didn't participate in a ride, mostly because most events are on the weekend, and I tended to work weekends.

And there's the whole "sport" aspect of it. I never was sports, got picked last for the team, hated gym, all that jazz. While getting some exercise could definitely be seen as a reason for getting into cycling, I got into it more because of the transportation and environmental aspects, not for competition. I don't really like competitive activities. And while randonneuring is no race, there is somewhat of a competitive aspect to it. My friends who liked randonneuring tended to be into other competitive bicycle things as well, like cyclocross.

Now since I've gotten back from the Cross-Con Bike Tour, I'm unemployed, so that means weekends are free! And then I caught word that the famed Verboort Sausage Ride would be happening on Saturday, November 5, so April and I signed up for it. 

Even though I felt I was ready for the ride, I still was nervous. Would I complete the ride? 
The two things I worried most about was the length of the ride and my bike.

I've done 100 miles on my bike fully loaded, so I know I could pull of riding 100 km (62 miles) unloaded. And with a little bit of preparation I could pull off 200 km (125 miles.) But I've never done a ride within a certain timeframe. And that is one of the core ideas of randonneuring: a time limit. I would have six and three-quarters hours to complete the 62 miles. This would mean I had to maintain an average speed above 10 miles per hour, including breaks. I know I can keep up a speed like that for awhile, but for how long? Would I get tired and wear out before I was done? Would I be at the back of the pack?

As for the bike worry, my primary "road" bike is the Long Haul Trucker. It's great for touring, but it's a heavy, not-fast bike. Would I need something with "low trail" and 650B wheels? Would everyone else have bikes with "low trail" and 650B wheels? Didn't somebody say that you couldn't have a handlebar bag on a Long Haul Trucker because "it doesn't work?"

Ryan and son on Ed's Santana tandem

Saturday morning, November 5. April and I wake up at 5:30am. Damn early. We shovel food and coffee down our throats and get ready. At 7am, James, our ride, picks us up. Normally I don't care for the idea of "driving to ride", but the start of this ride is in the far-west suburb of Forest Grove, a 30 mile ride from the house, or two hours by transit. Neither of us relished this idea. The ride to the start was dark and uneventful. A steady rain fell. It figures; the days before (and after) the ride were nice. The only rain all day type of day would be the day of the ride.

We got to the meeting point, McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, at 8am. People started to filter in. At first they seemed to be more "roadie" looking; older, lycra, nice road bikes. Then folks that are more my peer group started to show up, including some of my friends. As for me worrying about my bike, I spotted at least five other Long Haul Truckers. With 60 riders, that's 10% of the bikes! Besides a full array of Showers Pass jackets, the catalogs of both Rivendell and Velo Orange were well represented. 

We signed papers, paid a $2 entrance fee (the first time I've ever paid an entrance fee for a bike ride), got our brevet cards, and heard a speech by David, one of the organizers, it was 9am and time to go! 

Before the ride, April and I decided that we would go at our own pace, so I ended up ahead of her. The first segment to the manned checkpoint at Longbottoms Coffee** was pleasant. I got passed by riders and passed some riders. I got to Longbottoms just before 10am. I had kept up a pace near 14 m.p.h. Sweet.

The first segment was nice, but had some suburban aspects to it. After Longbottoms the ride changed over to rural. The route crept closer to the Tualatin Mountains and we had a few climbs. Passing through North Plains I had one of our few hiccups of the ride; a group of us got scolded by an Oregon State Trooper over his loudspeaker to "keep it single file unless passing."*** Dude, you are misinformed.
My bike against Ed's CETMA Long-John cargo bike (which he rode from Portland!) at the Snoozeville  control.

From North Plains it was a meandering, gentle upgrade along Dairy Creek Road to the "town" of Snoozeville. This seven miles one-way (14 round-trip) was my favorite. Low traffic, scenic, alpaca farms, other cyclists to keep me company. Snoozeville wasn't a town anymore, but Ed was there, waiting for us and providing vegan sausage. Yum! The descent was fun, though my hands were cold for the first mile or so.
Lovely bicycles at the Snoozeville checkpoint

By this point I was passed the half-way mark. I was feeling a little worn, but not much. I was happy that I managed to keep up the pace. When I started I didn't know if I would able to finish or not, but now I knew I would, and I was looking forward to finishing the route. More farms and woods were in store. The route passed through Banks so I made another bathroom and food pit stop.

I finally rolled to the endpoint in Verboort, right at 3pm, exactly six hours from when I started (and forty-five minutes before the event ends).
Can you see how tired I was passed the smile? Photo Theo Elliot.
My brevet card at completion.
And my cycle computer. 61.3 miles in 4h38? Average speed 13.2 mph? Not too shabby. Photo by Theo.

I was tired, hungry, happy, and excited. I completed my first randonee! And got a pin to prove it.

I waited for April to show up. She showed up right at 3:45pm with Elly. They were the last riders. April managed to get a flat which slowed her down. We hung out at the stop with Theo and Caroline and then rode another seven miles from Verboort to Hillsboro to catch the MAX into Portland. (We couldn't get a ride home).

I am happy with the outcome. I managed to overcome my fears and did something new. The completion of my first 100k rando event was a big confidence boost. I've been down a lot lately, struggling to get back into the swing of things, stressed and depressed about my financial situation and lack of job. Knowing that I still have it in me to see things through is encouraging.

And you know what? Randonneuring is fun. While I figured that I could probably complete 100km in 6:45, I didn't know if I'd necessarily enjoy doing it. Now since I've done it I can say I do. I will definitely pull a 100km Populaire at some point, and want to be able to do a 200km Brevet at some point too. Maybe even 300km after that. After that? Maybe I will come to enjoy sleeping while holding onto a signpost while still in the saddle.

For more perspective on this Verboort Sausage Populaire, check out April's writing here.
The fabulous Ms. Elly Blue wrote about it twice (twice!) at Taking the Lane and Grist. (and photos here.)
David Parsons, one of the ride organizers (he rode "sweep" behind Elly and April) has a report here.
Theo Roffe, another organizer, has photos here.
And Ryan "Captain Hairdo" Good, a rider who rode a tandem with his son, has shots here.

*Nor does it still. But who knows how I'll feel after a few more years of this?
**No, I do not like their coffee.
***The only other time I've ever had this happen while on bike was by another Oregon State Trooper going up to Mackenzie Pass. Don't know what it is about them.


  1. Congratulations on a finish well done!

  2. Congrats on the finish. Hopefully you'll come out and do the populaires in May and maybe the summer 200k. Or, if you're wanting to have more input into the route or day, try doing a 200k permanent. You can search for routes on the RUSA website.

    1. Thanks, Anon. I missed the 100k Populaire in March. I intend to do the May 12 100k Populaire, but won't be able to make the May 26th because I'll be biking to Silver Falls to camp!


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