My first randonee!

I finished my first randonee today!

First, what the hell is a randonee? A randonee is a long-distance ride (usually measured in hundreds of kilometers: 100, 200, 800) that is not a race, but you are given a time limit. You have to check in at “controls” where they stamp your card or you answer a question about the surroundings, in order to make sure people ride the whole thing. Some controls have food or beverages, but you are expected to otherwise be totally self-sufficient.

The one Shawn and I did today was 100km (okay, 102, whatever), about 65 miles, which means it’s a populaire. (The wikipedia article on the subject insists that it isn’t a proper randonee/brevet unless it’s over 200km, but I’m not sure how strict that really is.) The start time was 9am and you had to finish by 3:48. In addition, you had to check in at one of the controls within a two-hour window.

Shawn and I had a ride to the start location in Forest Grove, a far-flung west-side suburb. But even then, we had to drag ourselves out of bed at 5:30am. We are not early risers and I am not a morning person (on tour we usually got up around 8am, sometimes later), but I was excited and nervous, which helped me wake up and get ready. We got to the start location just as the sign-in opened up. It was so much fun to see other people arrive, including a handful of people we know. And thankfully, we weren’t the only ones who didn’t ride racing bikes. Plenty of touring bicycles in the crowd, and plenty of older bikes too. And of course, a handful of Surly Long Haul Truckers! Between that and all the Showers Pass gear in the crowd, it was very Portland.

There were sixty people total, and when 9am hit everyone left at once. I had just come back from a last restroom stop and was fumbling with my bag and ended up leaving a minute or two after most of the crowd. On the downside, I generally was in the back of the ride. On the plus side, not that many people had to pass me…

Shawn and I had previously agreed that it was okay to ride separately. Shawn is faster than I am, and while we try to stay together while touring, I didn’t want to hold him back or feel like I was constantly trying to keep up. So I was mostly alone for the first half of the ride. I did ride for short periods with a few other folks, or chatted them up as they passed me, and that was fine. The ride itself went through a lot of beautiful rural Washington County, much of it farmland. There were some lovely views of hills, with some of the trees changing color, everything enveloped in fog and clouds. It was doing that kind of rain that it does for most of the winter here–not a downpour, just a steady constant drip. I was layered enough that I usually didn’t feel cold except for my feet once I was riding, so except for the rain on my glasses (and the constant drip from my nose) I didn’t mind.

Our second control was the one with a time window, and I was a bit alarmed when I realized I’d arrived with only about ten minutes to spare. I ate a little hot food (yay Ed for working the stove!) and had some coffee, and while I was there, my friend Elly (also here) showed up, and we decided to ride together for a while. Turns out we liked riding together, so we kept it up for the rest of the ride, talking about all kinds of things, or just enjoying a companionable silence. (But we mostly talked.)

Near the end of the ride, we were coming up a steepish hill when I realized that my back tire felt squishy and was going “thump, thump, thump.” Gaaaah! I had a flat. I thought it might be a slow leak, but I tried just pumping it back up, and twice it started thumping in less than a mile. Dammit! By then David Parsons (one of the organizers of the ride) had caught up to us. I had a patch kit but not an extra tube, so David kindly lent me a fresh tube. The rear tire still had the thorn-resistant tube I’d put in during the trip, which made it really effing hard to get the bead over the rim. But I prevailed, and found the small shards of glass that were the culprit. David also gave me a small piece of duct tape to cover the hole in the tire, and even pumped it up since my pump is set up for Schraeder valves and the tube was Presta. I do know how to patch my own flats, I swear, and could have booted it with a dollar bill, but letting him help me was faster. Soon enough, the wheel was re-installed and my hands were completely gross from the road grime on my wheel and tire, badly enough that I refused to put my gloves back on lest I make them dirty on the inside, too.

At that point, Elly and I were convinced that we were too late to finish the ride on time, so we took it fairly easy, chatting with David the last few miles. Lo and behold: when we arrived in Verboort, we were informed that we made it with three minutes to spare! Many high-fives were exchanged. There’s a picture of the three of us arriving here.

Shawn and I decided to just start heading home after that, so we rode to Hillsboro, ate a little fast food at Taco Time, then got on the MAX light rail at the end of the west-side line. And now we’re home, and when I’m done writing this, it’s my turn to take a nice hot shower and then I get to be lazy all night and probably go to bed early.

The big thing I noticed was how very different randonneuring is from touring. Sure, the distance we did today would have been a perfectly good day of touring. And we even took similar roads–mostly back roads, a few busier multi-lane roads with bike lanes. However: first of all, we weren’t loaded up–Shawn had a handlebar bag and a saddle bag, like most of the folks there, and I had a single pannier that wasn’t carrying much. Secondly, when we’re touring we take our time. We ride a comfortable speed without pushing too much, we stop a lot and tend to take extended breaks. On this ride, I felt like I was constantly pushing myself to go a little faster. Breaks were a hurried affair, just long enough to eat a small snack and/or pee. And even then, I barely finished in time, although obviously the flat didn’t help.

A true brevet is 200km (about 124 miles), which I think I could do. With some training I think I might be able to do a 300km. I have no plans to pull the longer ones, since they’re sheer endurance–you have to keep up that fast pace over multiple days with very little rest. (People who ride the Paris-Brest-Paris–1200km in ninety hours!!–fall asleep on the side of the road for half an hour naps and sometimes end up hallucinating near the end, or crashing because they fell asleep while riding.)

All in all, it was a fun ride and I’m really glad I went. Plus I got a pin that has the RUSA logo and proudly announces that I finished a populaire!

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5 Responses to My first randonee!

  1. Ron Richings says:

    Congrats April — and of course to Elly too.
    If you want a little variety you can always come up to Vancouver and do the Pacific Populaire – a fun ride that is always well attended. Usually has at least a couple of hundred riders. And yes, I have my pin too. Have never really thought about doing a genuine brevet, although I suppose a 200 km ride would be possible. Not really all that much longer than each day of the Seattle to Portland ride.

  2. Elly says:

    Aw, thanks for writing this up. It was a lot of fun to ride with you!

  3. Pingback: Randonnerdery | Taking the Lane

  4. MG says:

    April, congratulations on your populaire! I’ve always used the term randonnee to refer to the 1200K distance, but I think it is actually more encompassing than that. RUSA even has a glossary: http://www.rusa.org/glossary.html. Again, congrats on your ride!

  5. rcgood says:

    Awesome! Just be careful, rando is very addictive!

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