I wrote this last October (2012), after the San Francisco Randonneurs’ Del Puerto Canyon ride, my second 200k brevet. Just found it again. It hasn’t been edited at all.
Coming up out of the canyon, around mile 75 or 80—before, I should say, the big hill starts—I get what I think is a glimpse of what makes people ride ever-longer distances.
I am over the halfway mark, just past the point where setting out becomes returning. And while there’s a comfort and a victory in this—as What if I don’t make it? turns slowly into Let’s get this thing done, there’s a sadness too, like the way that afternoons are more melancholy and less hopeful than mornings. The course was mapped out all along, but the illusion to the mind is that the first half was more indeterminate. Then, we were headed away from the world and our problems. Now we’re headed back. That’s what it is, more than anything else. There’s a potent feeling of escape in a long brevet (long, for me, is 200k now, and I understand now how this distance might have to ratchet up, longer and longer distances being necessary, as one’s skill and familiarity with the activity improves, to provide equal-sized quanta of escape, in the well-known pattern of an escalating drug addiction). In the early morning hours, and the night before, all my attention was focused on the ride. Phone calls and email and work and friends were squeezed out. It was: how are your tires? Where’s the maltodextrin? Have you boiled the potatoes? It was the knowledge that there’d be no snoozing when the alarm clock went off, no fucking around, none of the choice that defines and, sometimes, sucks the life out of an ordinary day. For once, my purpose was singular.
For the first 15 miles of the course, my purpose was singular. It was: catch up. Find people. Get to the first control. Our BART train was late and we missed the formal set-off. There were four of us on the train. We found the volunteer and got our brevet cards. Jesse zoomed off, saying “I have to catch those guys!,” and for a moment I though no you don’t, felt like the martyred girlfriend. I left the parking lot with David and almost fell off the bike before even leaving it. I followed him as long as I could, trying to make it to the back of the peloton, pushing myself (“Find other riders and stay with them, even if it’s painful,” Jesse said once), worrying because conventional wisdom for getting through a long ride is not to push yourself in the first third, to save something.