I like long rides, and I like the idea of randonneuring: mostly non-competitive long-distance riding where your goal is to ride a certain distance within certain time limits. While still living in Ithaca, I never got around to doing a sanctioned brevet, partly because I wasn't quite sure if I could ride 200km or more, partly because none of the brevets start in or very close to Ithaca -- and I both don't like the idea of driving several hours to the start of ride and it's also not exactly practical if you don't have a car.
In Montreal, the practical aspect was much easier: all the rides start at the same place, only about 10km from our apartment. In terms of the physical aspect, I have also grown more confident in my abilities to be able to do at least a 200km ride -- after all, in 2010 I had done 230km on one occasion, and just two weeks ago I rode an average of 150km a day for 4 days in a row.
Thus, I decided to give to give the CVRM (Club Vélo Randonneurs de Montréal) rides a try. I was a bit intimated by the fact that their website is all in French whereas my French skills are still pretty limited. But whatever, last week I sent an email to the ride coordinator and signed up for their first Populaire of the year. Populaires are intended to introduce riders to randonneuring, primarily by being shorter than regular brevets which start at 200km. The ride on Saturday was announced to be 147km with a time limit of 10 hours.
I left the house around 8 o'clock and it was still around freezing. I had decided to do the ride on Wolfgang, my all-purpose, fully decked-out Cross-Check. As the forecast had predicted cold but dry conditions and the ride would be entirely during day light I might as well have ridden on the sporty Gunnar. After arriving at the start at 8:30 Wolfgang looked decidedly out of place: He was the only bike with fenders and dynohub lighting, and there were only a few other bikes with steel frames, racks, or non-system wheelsets. The rest was mostly racy crabon bikes, with a few titanium frames mixed in.
After a very cold half hour -- the icy wind was blowing relentlessly -- and a quick group photo, we finally got going with about 20 riders. And going we were! I tried hanging on with the guys in the front, and for the first 15km or so we were averaging well over 30 km/h. It was pretty obvious to me that this pace was absolutely unsustainable for me and I slowly fell back to what I think was the middle of the field. Supported by a strong tailwind I nonetheless kept my speed up and every once in a while saw some riders ahead of me. The first controle -- these are the waypoints where riders have to stop and get their brevet cards stamped -- was at a depanneur in the little village Saint-Paul-de-L'Île-Aux-Noix. There I caught up with a larger group of riders. Following Jan Heine's advice, I tried to limit my stopped time (the time limits on brevets count the total time, not only the moving time), and got going ahead of most of the rest of the group. Whereas most of the ride so far had been going south, i.e. in the same direction as the strong wind, the route now turned west or northwest, right into the wind. This slowed me down immensely, and I was quickly passed by the faster group. It would have been nice to ride in a group to better withstand the winds, but I knew that I wouldn't be strong enough to hang on with them. So I just continued on alone. At a long straightaway I got a glimpse of the group again -- and they were going straight where they should have turned right. The next controle was a gas station at km 95, and maybe 10 km before that the wrong-turn riders caught up with me and insisted that I ride with them. My legs weren't too excited but I went along anyway, channeling my inner Jens Voigt and telling the legs to shut up. Riding in a small group was clearly more effective in the wind and just before the controle we caught up with another small group (I guess they had taken the right turn).
According to the cue sheet, the second controle was a Shell gas station at the intersection of highways 219 and 221. I therefore was surprised and confused when the group left the Shell station on the right and stopped at PetroCanada 100 meters down the road. As a rule-abiding randonneur, I went over to the in my opinion correct gas station and met up with one other rider there. He wasn't quite sure what was going on with the others, too, speculating that they might be abandoning because of the wind. Well, we had a nice chat and decided to do the rest of the ride together. He had done a couple of rides with the CVRM before and he confirmed my impression of the club being somewhat more competitive than what I had randonneuring imagined to be.
Our abilities were fairly well-matched and while I in general don't mind riding alone, it was great to ride with him for the final 55 km. At some point we had to cross the A10 which added a little cyclocross element to our ride: the bridge was being rebuilt, with the surface at this point only consisting of the steel armaments without the final layer of concrete. A detour was not available and so carried our bikes across the narrow cantilevered pathway built for the construction workers. The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful, and at 3:50 pm, after 6 hours and 50 minutes, we checked in at the final controle.
At this point I was out of water, my legs were very tired, and my upper back and arms hurt. The final 10km back to our apartment I took it extremely slowly. This clearly had been the hardest ride I had done in a long time, surpassed probably only by my failed attempt of the "Terrible Hills involving the letter 'B'" in Ithaca and my ride up the Stelvio pass last summer.
Today, randonesia, the phenomenon that you very quickly forget about all the hardships a ride brings, has already started kicking in, and only my very sore legs are there to prevent me from immediately signing up for another brevet.