Hell is the rhythm of others.
-- Paul Fornel, Need for the Bike
Randonneurs talk about "riding your own ride," about setting your own pace, cycling within your limits, feeling your own chain, finding the sweet pain in your legs that will carry you through the next 100k.
Fall into a group that is coming over the hills too slowly, or pushing too big of a gear in the flats, or accelerating at unexpected moments, and the game plan quickly goes out the window.
And so it was yesterday, on Tony G's 200K, a spectacular route deep in the Piedmont that took us through a host of towns with biblical names -- Mt. Gilead and Locust, and Faith, a town where JoeRay and Wes would lose their way.
A crew of 25 lined the street outside of a Salisbury bike shop for the 7:30 start and there were lots of familiar faces -- JoeRay, Jimmy, Wes, Jerry, Dean, Brother Rob, Gary, JoAnn, Tom, Mary, Chuck, John, Vance, JD, Lin, Joel, Ron and others I'm forgetting to name. A 27-degree start required cold weather gear, but we all knew we'd be baking in high 60s and sun by the afternoon. That 40-degree swing made it a hard day to dress for.
The group dropped it into social gear for the first 10 miles or so, and for a brief moment I thought we'd all hang together for the full 125 miles. That plan got derailed when Byron missed a shift and broke a chain on the first steep rise of the day. A few of us stopped to offer moral assistance only -- nobody wanted to get their hands oily. A true mechanic, Byron had the chain repaired in five minutes flat.
Rolling again, we chased the lead group to the first control in Oakboro. I left just in front of them for a nature break and had to chase again to latch on as the pace suddenly jumped up a couple clicks. I was expecting big things from this front bunch. Jimmy was there, a superb and stylish rider, and he'd brought along a buddy, Will from Greensboro, who once logged a 5th place finish on the Assault on Mt. Mitchell. Also along was Wes, John, JoeRay, Ron and Joel.
Our group motored down Hwy 731, a rolling stretch of smooth pavement to Mt. Gilead. Four of us -- me, JoeRay, Wes and John -- snuck out of the control first. Perhaps it had dawned on all of us that our only hope was in the pit stops, not on the course.
It's an odd phenomenon. One minute you have wings, you can fly and you're gliding effortlessly through a crisp landscape. The next you're tugging on the anchor rope, dragging a sunken dinghy up from the river bottom. For me, the transition occurred on Old US 52, a nasty excuse for a paved road. Anytime you see Old in front of a highway name, rest assured that the state has abandoned this stretch of asphalt to the cruel hands of time and weather. We bounced along into a headwind for a mere 1.8 miles -- just enough distance to chisel a few letters into my tombstone. I was cooked, but it would be another five miles before the buzzards started circling. Meantime, buddies JoeRay and Wes, danced up the hills. Glancing back, they could smell the stink of collapse on me; they know me too well.
We made it to the next control just in front of Will and Jimmy and Joel and a few others. I made the pretense of leaving with them, but now it was just a matter of time before my legs folded and gave the finger to every other body part that was counting on them to do forced labor. I was off the back in five miles, left alone with a sting in my lungs. I drifted along, all focus gone. But drifting is still forward motion, and on a brevet, sometimes that's all you need. It's taken years, but I now have faith that I will indeed recover. Just keep moving and wait for the shift, a click of some mental switch and all is right with the world once more, and the legs are back in the ring for Round 2.
It was on this stretch, at Barrier Store Road, that I checked the cue sheet and saw the mileage: 100.6. Another century in the books. That made 86 months in a row. I'd just taken the mantle from Brother Rich, the guy who inspired my streak and coaxed me into randonneuring.
Joel caught me and we rolled into the control at Locust, which had a McDonalds. I had a solitary burger and fries and a Coke, gathered myself together. We were 94 miles in. I could limp along for another 30 miles.
I waited for everyone else to clear the parking lot before striking out, solo, on the 20-mile run to the next control. We had a very favorable wind on this stretch. Pedaling was optional. By the final intermediate control at Mile 115, I felt fully recovered. I finished the day with Joel and Ron and JD. Brother Rich was there to greet us at the finish, and we capped the celebration off at a downtown Salisbury restaurant staffed by one of the world's chattiest waitresses.
On the way home I got a call from Brother Rob that he'd successfully finished. A big congratulations to him on what was a demanding but rewarding course.
There was one spot on the route that really captivated me. There was something magic about it, and I made a feeble effort to capture it on film. No luck.
Another great day on the bikes. Speaking of bikes, John M asked that I take a picture of his new ebay purchase. Iowa, if you're out there, here's the proof that she is being ridden and loved.
|From Feb 8 200k|
P.S. Dean sent along this picture. That's Brother Rob in the red.
|From Feb 8 200k|