I love riding with first-year randonneurs.
It was not that long ago that I was in their shoes. I can identify with the fear in their eyes as they line up for each successively longer event.
I remember the sweet and utter joy of crossing the finish line after that first 300K or 400K, distances that once seemed hopelessly out of reach.
I was lucky enough to ride with Durham rider Branson Kimball on his very first RUSA event. We set off on my Kerr Lake Loop permanent on a freezing day back in February. I knew Branson had Paris Brest Paris on his radar -- Raleigh News & Observer reporter Joe Miller did a phenomenal article about Branson’s quest to ride in that fabled 1200K randonnée.
After riding with Branson on his first 200K, I had no doubts about his physical abilities to finish PBP. As for his mental tenacity? Well, I've since discovered that he's as stubborn as an old mule.
I watched with dismay as Branson abandoned with an unbearable leg pain just 100 miles into the pre-ride of our local 600K brevet. I headed down the course without him. An hour later, my phone rang. Branson had worked through the pain and was back in the saddle.
About 26 hours later, as we reached the final control, Branson achieved Super Randonneur status and qualified for Paris Brest Paris.
This morning I sent Branson an e-mail Q&A to get his thoughts on his first season of randonneuring. His comments are below.
Look for Branson in Paris. He’ll be the guy on that monster yellow Serotta. With the big smile on his face....
How many brevets have you done? I finished 8 brevets, not including the Lake Loop permanent in February.
What was the hardest event you did? Why? Without a doubt, it was the DC Randonneurs' Middletown 600k. 21,000+ feet of climbing and temperatures in the mid-90s with very little shade. The jaw-dropping scenery and terrific company kept it fun though.
Easiest event and why? Only in looking back does the NCBC 200k seem easy. Surely didn't at the time when Wes Johnson punched it up to 30mph on the return and left most of us behind.
What was the biggest surprise about doing the brevets? That I could ride that far! I felt that way every time the distance got a bump. Until February's permanent, I had never ridden more than 105 or 106 miles at one time.
Lowest point? Throwing in the towel on the NCBC 600k pre-ride and watching my buddy ride off with 300 miles to do solo.
Best moment? Oh man, hard to say since there are so many. Two that leap out: 1) summiting Caesar’s Head on Bethany Davison’s Spartanburg 200k; 2) getting back on the bike after a close call with abandoning on the NCBC 600k pre-ride.
Make any rookie mistakes along the way? Learning the hard way to always get your brevet card stamped first-thing at the control. As I said, I nearly abandoned on the 600K, and when I decided to continue an hour and a half later, I forgot that I never got my card stamped. A phone call to my riding partner to tell him I was back on the route clued me in. First thing Mike asked, "Did you get your card stamped?" Uhhhhh -- no. Back to the control. Cost me another hour and a half and maybe a dozen extra miles.
Any pains along the way? Just the usual -- some saddle sores and learning how to keep the feet happy by adjusting the straps often.
What do you typically eat while riding? I love Fig Newtons and orange Gatorade on the bike. A can of Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso during the night hours. A Subway veggie sandwich with extra cheese is my favorite sit-down meal on the longer brevets.
Best pre-ride meal? Best post-ride meal? My rides go so much better when I can have a Deluxe Veggie Burrito from Cosmic Cantina the night before a brevet. The only times I've had troubles are on brevets where I couldn't get that CC fix beforehand. So I'm trying to convince the owners to franchise in Brittany by August. Post-ride, I'm not nearly as finicky and love any good, cold stout and a salad.
What are your ride and training plans from now until PBP? Lots of shorter, faster rides a couple of times a week with a century on the weekends. Maybe the NCBC 1000k and BikeFest as well.
I noticed you switched bikes and are now riding a steel Serotta Why’d you settle on that bike? Yep, it's a custom steel Serotta circa 2000. My wife Loree was keen to list it on eBay if I didn't start riding it. I'd been on my old Cannondale exclusively for the last couple of years. The Cannondale was for racing and I purposefully bought it too small to keep the weight down and make it stiffer. You guys were extolling the virtues of being comfortable, posting "Comfort uber alles" and I decided the thought of riding insane distances of 130 miles or more meant bringing the Serotta out of mothballs.
Will you be back next year? Oh yeah -- I'll be back but maybe not as a rider. My wife Loree and I are adopting a child so I'll probably be volunteering with our main man Alan Johnson more so than riding. But we've met so many incredible people that I can't imagine being away completely so yes -- I'll be back in some capacity.